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Portland Parks signs Forest Park trail agreement with MTB advocates

Posted by on June 25th, 2009 at 11:11 am

PUMP's Forest Park mountain bike tour

Bikes in Forest Park.
(Photo © J. Maus)

The efforts by the Northwest Trail Alliance (NWTA, formerly the Portland United Mountain Pedalers) to thaw relations with Portland Parks and Recreation (PP&R) and the Forest Park Conservancy (FPC) in order to hasten increased access for bikes in Forest Park are moving faster than I can keep up with.

I am working on a story about the recently completed White Paper drawn up by a committee put together by the FPC, and now, Parks has put out a press release about a trail agreement signed by the three groups.

According to PP&R, the agreement,

“…clarifies the role of Northwest Trail Alliance in providing needed resources to help maintain the park’s existing trail network and assist in outreach to cyclists and other users of Portland’s signature natural area.”

Story continues below


“I applaud the NWTA for partnering with Portland Parks & Recreation and the Conservancy to help us maintain Forest Park trails for all users.”
— David McAllister, Portland Parks

Covering more than 5,000 acres, Forest Park is one of the largest urban parks in the U.S.. It includes 70 miles of recreational trails, but bikes are allowed only on fire access roads and about 1/3 of a mile of highly coveted singletrack trail.

Speaking about the new agreement, PP&R’s City Nature Manager David McAllister said they depend on non-profit groups to help maintain parks and added that, “I applaud the NWTA for partnering with Portland Parks & Recreation and the Conservancy to help us maintain Forest Park trails for all users.”

Sellwood Cycle Repair owner and local racer Erik Tonkin, who is the NWTA’s lead on Forest Park issues, said in the statement,

“As an active and growing user group of Forest Park, cyclists can bring much needed resources to help maintain trails, and to expand our outreach and education efforts to cyclists and other users.”

Off-road trails roundtable discussion-104

Tom Archer is director of advocacy
for the Northwest Trail Alliance.

It’s important to note that the NWTA will work on trail maintenance projects and will help organize volunteer trail work parties even on trails — like the marquee Wildwood Trail — where bikes are not allowed.

Tom Archer, director of advocacy for the NWTA, evokes the new tone of mountain bike advocacy in Portland when he says that, “Our interest goes beyond the park’s trails that are currently accessible to bikes. We want to be recognized as stewards for the entire park.”

Along with the agreement are four planned outreach events which PP&R says are aimed at educating park users about regulations, proper trail use etiquette, and passing out maps and other resources.

The first outreach event is scheduled for June 27. For more information, contact Mark Pickett (owner of Revolver Bikes on N. Interstate), NWTA Trail Care Coordinator for Forest Park, at or visit

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    Lord Nelson June 25, 2009 at 11:44 am

    NWTA (in the form of PUMP) has been doing this for years.

    So now their fine work is expanded and in return mtn bikers get…what, exactly?

    Continued assurances that someday, somewhere, you might get some singletrack to ride in FP?

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    BURR June 25, 2009 at 12:14 pm

    the fact is plenty of single track is being ridden in Washington Park every day, it’s just not legal.

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    Paul S June 25, 2009 at 12:25 pm

    This is a fantastic step forward and represents a lot of hard work by Tonkin, PUMP, and others.

    One of the biggest fears on the FFP side is that mtnbikers won’t be serious stewards of the park, or will be inconsiderate users. Refusing to engage with FFP until they “give us” some singletrack reinforces that fear. It also creates an unnecessarily adversarial atmosphere, and cedes all the “bargaining power” to the party with veto stamp (i.e. FFP).

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    Lord Nelson June 25, 2009 at 12:32 pm

    Who’s “refusing to engage with FFP until they ‘give us’ some singletrack”? NWTA is engaging despite apparently no progress on mtn bike singletrack in FP.

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    Paul S June 25, 2009 at 12:39 pm

    Lord Nelson:

    Yes. Exactly.

    Did you read the whitepaper?

    or the stewardship agreement?

    This is what progress looks like.

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    anonymoose June 25, 2009 at 12:54 pm

    The dudes that illegaly ride the Washington park trails (Wildwood) are LAZY CHEATERS.
    I wish they would crack down…….

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    redhippie June 25, 2009 at 1:29 pm

    First a point of clarification, mountain bikes are not allowed on all the fire access roads. Fire Lane 7 which is one of the few interesting areas of mountain biking in the park is technically off limits. Supposedly it has been reserved for hiker and equestrian usage.

    Although not approved on the map, FL 7 has been one of the prime locations for riders in the park. Over the years, I have literally seen hundreds of other riders here, compared to maybe 10 to 20 hikers and no horses. NWTA efforts have resulted in the park bureau’s re-enforcing their ban of riding in this area. Now NWTA will be hosting a rider education outreach at the top of FL 7. So, since NWTA has gotten involved there has actually been a major loss of rideable area within Forest Park.

    The agreement with the bureau has not charted out a pathway for the development of future riding nor made any indication of a concession in the support of developing more rideable areas. Where as the discussion about further development of already rideable area is admirable, this will only serve to force more riders into a more limited area.

    I encourage everyone to reed the actual agreement and point out where I am wrong.

    Thank you for your attention.

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    Kris S June 25, 2009 at 3:11 pm


    Sorry, but your statement that “NWTA efforts have resulted in the park bureau’s re-enforcing their ban of riding in this area (FL 7)” is incorrect.

    NWTA has had no role in PP&R’s decision to create more clarity about bicycle access – or the lack thereof – to Firelane 7 through added trail signage and an updated MTB map for Forest Park. However, we are fully supportive of any efforts that help clarify where you can ride your bike in Forest Park (or any other park) and where you cannot. And we will actively participate in these efforts through our outreach events.

    This won’t result in any loss – even a minor one – of rideable area within Forest Park. Instead, our hope is that it will help the further the image – with PP&R and others – that mountain bikers are responsible users and stewards of the park, which in turn will make us more effective when advocating for increased access.

    As far as the development of new riding opportunities in Forest Park goes, that falls outside the scope of the Trail Maintenance Agreement. We are working on that through other channels and our hope is to see tangible progress on that in the not-so-distant future. See Tom Archer’s recently posted progress report (

    – Kris Schamp
    Communications Director
    Northwest Trail Alliance

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    fredlf June 25, 2009 at 3:15 pm

    It always blows my mind when horses (or mules) are allowed on a trail where bikes are forbidden. There’s just no way to justify it on the grounds of safety or impact. It’s purely romantic/ideological cowboy worship.

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    brian June 25, 2009 at 4:48 pm

    so we are working for the man now. I did not hear anything about singletrack access.

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    Lord Nelson June 25, 2009 at 5:41 pm

    “This is what progress looks like.” -Paul S, #5.

    Really? I used to never get hassled for riding FL7. Now I do (so I stopped). I’ll be doing more trail and outreach work (which I don’t mind, by the way), but not get any more access to single track.

    I don’t see any progress toward my goal of getting more singletrack to ride in FP. What am I missing? What’s your goal?

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    toowacky June 25, 2009 at 6:19 pm

    Lord Nelson wrote:
    “I don’t see any progress toward my goal of getting more singletrack to ride in FP. What am I missing? What’s your goal?”

    Per the Northwest Trail Allisnce (NWTA) website, regarding the White Paper :

    “Prospective Riding Areas in the Park

    The paper identifies some of the issues surrounding cycling in the park and attempts to inform decisions for expanding off-road cycling opportunities. There was general agreement among the group that there is a place for cyclists in the Park and that there are ways to do that in a manner that respects the natural resources and recognizes growing user demands. In general terms, it was agreed that the most appropriate locations for expanding riding were between FL 1 and Germantown Road, the middle of the Park. The south part of the park is already crowded due to the access at Thurman gate, and the north part of the Park has a higher ecological value as outlined in the Forest Park Management Plan. The paper includes some recommendations for possible expansion of trails including FL 1, FL4, (the power line easement that connects to lower Saltzman), FL7, Tolinda Trail and others.”

    NWTA is attempting to build a solid foundation for continued access with future expansion. Being recognized (via the Trail Agreement) on paper as a steward of Forest Park Trails through this agreement is part of that foundation. The outreach days and commitment to continued trailwork is also part of that foundation.

    I think the fact that PP&R put out a PR release about this speaks volumes in itself.

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    Lord Nelson June 25, 2009 at 7:50 pm

    Thanks for that. I read the White Paper and the Agreement. I think we just disagree on what “progress” means.

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    red hippie June 25, 2009 at 10:08 pm

    Progress is that a paper has been written. Unfortunately, this is the paper that will be used to restrict any future development of the area north of Germantown Road. This area suffered a massive high intensity fire in the late 40’s early 50’s and the result are primarily stands of mature red alder. There is nothing ecologically sensitive or unique about this ecosystem. Admittedly there are stands of late succession (old growth) doug fir but these are highly localized and it would be relatively simple to route around these or use the existing roads that go through them.

    The white paper is also identifying other current prime riding locations (water line) and essentially putting them up on the negotiation block. Yet another opportunity to loose more ridable area.

    What we need is a plan that
    1. Quantifies the actual usage rates of these areas. i.e. how many bikers, hikers, runners, dogs, horses etc. Why has this basic element of recreational forest management not been performed?
    2. Do some actual studies to understand what is the quality of the forest relative to the level of use.
    3. Do some studies to determine the current water quality and rates of erosion and compare them to pristine reference sites. Use this information as a basis for later study.
    4. Do some studies on the impact of a properly built mountain bike trails on erosion and water quality.

    I’m not seeing this reflected in the white paper which tells me that the purpose of it is not to study the issue with a scientifically based approach. Rather it’s purpose is to deflect the momentum to develop the park in a manner to more equitably serve the recreational needs of all the citizens of portland. Other wise we would have a couple of professors up from the Recreational Forestry program at OSU and they would have developed a plan to protect the forest ecology and promote recreational opportunity. These are not mutually exclusive issue. This is about protecting the environment, this is about stopping development and limiting access.

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    Frank Selker June 25, 2009 at 11:21 pm

    I can relate to both the frustration and the optimism, but here’s why the optimism wins out for me.

    Commissioner Fish’s said “I am committed to finding ways to significantly expand our current inventory of singletrack trails,” and I think this agreement is a tangible indication that Parks shares that commitment. And I’m hopeful that we’ll see more signs of progress in the coming weeks. And this is at a time when Parks has sufferred tough budget cuts, so it shows real commitment. And we are also seeing more companies coming forward and expressing the importance of this to them and their willingness to help provide resources.

    I believe that the question now is not IF added single track will be available in FP, but how much, where, and when. It won’t be everything we want or instant, but I think it will be meaningful and – in the scheme of things – reasonably soon.

    Shutting FL7 seems a bit odd, but there is a reasonable desire to see that cyclists are willing to abide by the rules, and that is the rule for now. If that rule doesn’t make sense, perhaps it can be changed.

    There will be give and take and bumps in the road as cyclists work more closely with Parks, but this agreement is a brick in the foundation of a good relationship.

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    kgb June 26, 2009 at 12:37 pm

    Thank you to everyone who has worked so hard to push the ball forward.

    It is interesting that ground nest birds are mentioned with reference to bicycles, the group least likely to impact them. But now that the issue has been raised I’m sure we can all agree that if we really want to protect them then there is no other choice than to ban dogs from the park during nesting season. Any official plan that discusses ground nesting birds without mentioning dogs should be dismissed out of hand on face value.

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    Roger Louton July 18, 2009 at 12:31 pm

    The reason FL 7 anf FL &a are NOT open to bikes is because of the way they end: a huge trench that is eroding further and further every year. This is simply due to the construction of the trail, and is stated in the 1995 Forest Park Plan.
    How about we re-route the end, using the same kind of cheap, easy to plan and build technique we used on the bottom of FL 5? We would then de-commission the existing terminus of the trail, and open FL7 and 7A to bicycles. Also, the end of FL 7 could be easily revised frm it’s current cliff like stature and made usable for bikes and hikers.

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