Joe Bike

Kicking the dirt at Gateway Green

Posted by on February 10th, 2009 at 8:18 am

A show of momentum in and of itself, the invite-only group that showed up to the Gateway Green “Kick the Dirt” event included a wide range of stakeholders — from agencies like ODOT and PBOT to citizen activists and trail planning experts.
(Photos © J. Maus)

An effort to re-claim 35 acres of vacant land in East Portland and turn it into a bike recreation hub is building some serious momentum.

Gateway Green Kick the Dirt event-4

Standing at the southern end of the site.
This is the highest point on the site.

On Saturday, a select group of trail experts, bureaucrats, citizen advocates, neighborhood representatives, and agency stakeholders kicked off a focused planning effort for how bicycles might fit into the Gateway Green vision.

The “Kick the Dirt” event was funded by a grant from REI and was organized by trail advocate Tom Archer, parks advocate Linda Robinson, and the visionary developer behind the Gateway Green project, Ted Gilbert. The group spent the better half of a sunny Saturday getting to know the site firsthand and brainstorming ideas that will be organized into a forthcoming “concept plan”.

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The day’s first order of business was to split into groups and walk through the site with volunteer guides. Guides passed out maps of the area and answered questions as attendees got a sense of the possible.

Gateway Green Kick the Dirt event-2

IMBA’s Jill Van Winkle points out
where bike facilities could go
in the proposed site for Gateway
(Photos © J. Maus)

From the top of highest point on the site — just north of Halsey Blvd and east of I-205 — Jill Van Winkle from the International Mountain Bicycling Association pointed out the land’s bike-friendly topography. “Up here, you can get a feel for the space and see the connection possibilities over to Rocky Butte.”

Rocky Butte, an 85-acre natural area just west (and across I-205) from the proposed Gateway Green site is a key part of the project. If all goes according to plan, bike and pedestrian bridges would be built to connect the two sites, and in the process, open up a combined 140 acres of land for Portlanders to bike, walk, and explore.

The 35 acre parcel sits right between I-84 and I-205.
(Graphic: BikePortland/Google Earth)

Erik Tonkin, a local racer and co-owner of Sellwood Cycle Repair is very familiar with this area. Tonkin was all smiles on Saturday at the prospect of developing the Gateway Green site into a bike recreation mecca. “As a kid,” he recalled, “I would ride in here all the time.”

If the vision is fully realized, Gateway Green could house a wide array of riding opportunities; jumps for more skilled riders, pump tracks for all ages, a slalom course, cross-country trails, cyclocross trails, and more.

At the forefront of this vision is developer Ted Gilbert. Gilbert is the project’s public face and its evangelist. Gilbert owns many properties in the surrounding area and he has been trying to lead an economic resurgence of the Gateway area for years. By focusing this land on bikes (and sustainability), he thinks he has finally found the winning formula.

Gateway Green Kick the Dirt event-13

Ted Gilberg (L) shares an idea
with Bike Gallery owner Jay Graves.

“When Fred Meyer built his shopping center (which lies just south of the Gateway Green site adjacent to the Gateway Transit Center) back in the 1950s’,” beamed Gilbert, “he called it ‘Gateway’ for a reason. Wouldn’t it be great to turn this vacant land into a true symbol of Portland and Oregon!?”

Gilbert is bullish on the project’s potential. He said he’s already lined up a private investor (himself perhaps?) that guarantees a $1,000,000 donation if Gateway Green becomes a “world class” bike facility. Gilbert has also applied for a $1,000,000 grant through Metro’s Nature in Neighborhoods program.

With its location at the nexus of I-84 and I-205 and having a MAX light rail line go right through it, Gilbert says an estimated 65 million people pass by the site each year.

Gilbert began working on this project over three years ago when he floated the idea by Matt Garrett. At the time, Garret was the Region 1 manager for the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT). ODOT owns the land and they must approve a transfer and/or sale if the project is to go forward.

Gateway Green Kick the Dirt event-11

TriMet has said they would
build a new stop inside Gateway
Green if the project materializes.

At the site on Saturday, as we traded ideas about how to deal with railroad right-of-way and visitor access, Gilbert told us that Garrett was supportive of the idea from the get-go.

Karla Keller, a maintenance operations manager for ODOT was at Saturday’s event. Keller was around at the beginning, when off-road trails advocate Cedar Kyes first identified this parcel and brought it to her attention. It was Keller who connected Cedar and the mountain biking community with Gilbert’s vision.

Gateway Green Kick the Dirt event-20

ODOT maintenance operations
manager Karla Keller.

“We’ve come a long way,” said Keller, “But we’ve got a long way to go.” Keller says many people have tried to do something with this site in the past, but they have lacked organization and a broad, united vision that multiple groups would support.

ODOT says the project must meet three key criteria for them to consider signing off on it: the new stewards of the land must do all required maintenance; ODOT must be absolved from all liability exposure; and they must preserve their right-of-way expansion rights into the future (meaning they need to be assured that they can widen I-205 if they’d like).

But if those were the only obstacles to this project, Ted Gilbert would probably already have his shovels ready.

Gateway Green Kick the Dirt event-21

PBOT continues to show their
interest in off-road trails.
This is Bicycle Master Plan
update project manager
Ellen Vanderslice (L).

During the walk-through of the site, I met David Hampsten (brother of famous American pro road racer Andy Hampsten). Hampsten is on the board of the Hazelwood Neighborhood Association, one of several neighborhoods that will likely weigh in on this project as it moves forward.

As we walked down a gravel service road in the middle of the site, Hampsten said Gateway Green has a lot of support in his neighborhood. The problem will be, he said, “between current users and potential users.” Many people currently use the space as a dog park and Hampsten is convinced the dogs vs. bikes topic will become “an issue” at some point.

Another key issue will be how to handle an influx of new visitors to the site. Even with great transit accessibility, and even once the Sullivan’s Gulch Trail connects to the I-205 bike path, there is no avoiding the fact that people will drive to Gateway Green. Where will they park? Will that have a negative impact on surrounding residents (an estimated 300,000 within five square miles)?

The folks at Saturday’s event realize that the space will be used for more than just bike-related activities, but it’s clear that creating a “world-class” bike facility is priority #1 for the project.

Chris Distefano is a bike industry veteran (he served a 10-year stint as PR guy for Shimano America) who now works as marketing and advocacy director for Chris King Precision Components.

Distefano — an outspoken supporter of more off-road biking opportunities in Portland — said he’s excited about the potential for Gateway Green to follow in the footsteps of other bike parks that are popping up across the country. He cited successes like the I-5 Colonnade project in Seattle, the new Valmont Bike Park in Boulder, and Fantasy Island in Tuscon.

Gateway Green Kick the Dirt event-23

With pens and maps, all
ideas were on the table.

After the site walk-through, attendees met at a local church for lunch and a brainstorming session. The ideas discussed at that meeting will be organized and collected into a more refined “concept plan”. That plan will be presented to agency reps from Oregon State Parks, ODOT, the City of Portland, Metro, and others. From there, the plan will be unveiled at a public open house that is likely to take place in March.

Stay tuned for details about the open house and more developments on this exciting project. See more photos from this event, including landscape shots of the site in the photo gallery. Also, browse the Gateway Green tag for our previous coverage.

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  • Avatar
    Blah Blah Blah February 10, 2009 at 8:31 am

    This is awesome news!!!

    I can’t wait to get involved with the building process!!!

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    Jim Labbe February 10, 2009 at 8:49 am

    It’s spectacular to see this project move forward with gathering steam. The bike-oriented vision for Gateway Green emerged early from a number of initial ideas and it is good to see that is building. It makes a lot of sense given the intersection of existing and pending regional trails and the desire to see more off-road/pavement bike trails within the City of Portland.

    In addition to providing a signature greenspace for the Gateway Regional Center- expected to be home of 100,000 people by 2040- the project also has great potential to address the deficiencies in neighborhood park access in Parkrose and Parkrose Heights neighborhoods. The Coalition for a Livable Future’s Regional Equity Atlas identified both these neighborhoods as deficient in access to both public parks and natural areas.

    Jim Labbe

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  • oat-tchmil and coffee « Ira Ryan Cycles February 10, 2009 at 8:50 am

    […] at 3pm with a visit from cd from chris king fresh from standing up for all that is good for cycling in p town. thank you chris! after a little group of folks stopped by in the middle of their bike ride and i […]

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    Jill February 10, 2009 at 9:45 am

    Thanks for the great coverage, as always!

    Following Tom Archer’s request for assistance, IMBA selected the project for one of its REI Stewardship grant awards.
    IMBA is also devoting resources from its Trailbuilding Fund to provide technical assistance in the development of a conceptual site plan with Alta Planning and Design.

    IMBA sees this as a great opportunity for volunteers with PUMP, Westside Trail Federation, and community organizations to help create and sustain a diverse (and aptly named) Gateway Trail system.

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    Blah Blah Blah February 10, 2009 at 10:03 am

    Any idea when we’ll be able to start digging?

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    Brian Johnson February 10, 2009 at 10:18 am

    Wow. This is pretty exciting!

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    aaron hayes February 10, 2009 at 10:27 am

    This would be fantastic! And I didn’t realize there are hills in that area… Thanks to all involved for your efforts!

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    zach vanderkooy February 10, 2009 at 10:59 am

    Wonderful work, Portlanders! I wish I could be there to help.

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    davidio February 10, 2009 at 11:42 am


    I know that there are no bike trails currently built on this site, but what is the access situation right now? I see that ODOT owns the property – is it available for public use?

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    Dan February 10, 2009 at 12:54 pm

    davidio – I ride through there 3-5 days a week going to work (on the “205 trail”). It is marked “No Trespassing” multiple times, yet there are a couple of single track trails pretty well burned into the ground, as well as a gravel access road.

    Living in the area, I hope I can find some way to be involved. This is a great opportunity for both cyclists and the community in general.

    It’ll be interesting to see how the concerns get worked out such as: Parking for those who don’t MAX/ride (I see Fred Meyers and Maywood Park taking the brunt of it), and the Dog Park issue as I rarely go through there withough seeing someone walking their dog(s) in the proposed area.

    Keep up the great coverage!

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    maxadders February 10, 2009 at 4:26 pm

    Wow, this looks great! I’ve often wondered about this swath of land as I head through on the 205 path. Glad to see it put towards additional singletrack in-town.

    I lived in Tucson for a couple years and rode Fantasy Island often. It was an incredible asset to have in-town, and began much the same way: as a disused piece of public land that was largely ignored until the mtb community invested time and effort into its development.

    Having singletrack at a moment’s notice was amazing in Tucson– there was good riding on the outskirts of almost every end of town due to the mountain ranges surrounding the city. Bringing some of that convenience here (and putting it on a MAX line!) would be awesome.

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    Frank February 10, 2009 at 7:07 pm

    The level of enthusiasm, realism, and expertise was really impressive – This will be a great success for cyclists in Portland. Thanks to Ted Gilbert, Linda Robinson, IMBA, ODOT, Tom Archer and all!

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    chris February 10, 2009 at 7:08 pm

    The project seems like a good idea, but I must say that in our current economic state, building a pedestrian bridge(s) across I-205 is a terrible waste of money. There is absolutely no need to connect the two parks. Even if the grant money were to cover the cost of the bridge, there are better things it could be spent on.

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    Brian February 11, 2009 at 6:11 am

    A huge thanks to everyone who has put time an effort into this project. I look forward to getting my hands dirty and helping in any way needed. Having lived and mtb’ed in Portland for 11 years, it’s very exciting to see that a place for us is actually going to happen. And on top of that, a place we can actually ride to! Also, local businesses in the area (now and those yet to be opened) will surely see a very positive impact.

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    Jim Labbe February 11, 2009 at 6:45 am

    Chris (#14). I disagree. While we have a long ways to go before we could see the pedestrian bridges built, they are critical to the project in providing access to the site and to jump starting Gateways redevelopment. Gateway has many of the ingredients of being a vibrant urban core: proximity to downtown, diverse transportation choices, properties with high redevelopment potential. What it is missing is walkable access to parks. Providing that access will provide needed park access to surrounding neighborhoods and help foster the high density urban living planned for the regional center.

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    toowacky February 11, 2009 at 9:44 am

    This is great. Thanks to all those involved! Hopefully this will gain some steam, become a reality and fill the off-road trail gap that the League of American Bicyclists kindly overlooked when initially granting Portland Platinum status as a cycling city.

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    bikieboy February 11, 2009 at 12:17 pm

    A bike/pedestrian bridge over I-205 in this area would be fantastic, and not just to serve the Gateway Green access. The only freeway crossings in this area that are even remotely bike/pedestrian friendly are Burnside and NE Prescott — that’s over 2 miles apart.

    Keep at it!

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    DaHoos February 11, 2009 at 1:08 pm

    This is amazing and exciting news. I hope it becomes a reality. I know I’m willing to volunteer my time and whatever else needs to be done, in order to see this through. Urban dirt for all!

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    Oregonism February 14, 2009 at 7:43 am

    Outstanding news! As I progress back into mountain biking, it’ll be nice to finally have somewhere legitimate to ride. I’d gladly lend a hand in this!

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