The time is now to comment on new trails at Powell Butte

Powell Butte could become a
nicer place to ride.
(Graphic: City of Portland)

The Portland Water Bureau is constructing a second reservoir at Powell Butte Nature Park and the project comes with an exciting opportunity to improve the park’s off-road trail network.

The 600-plus acre extinct cinder cone in outer southeast Portland already allows multiple uses — including mountain biking — on about nine miles of trails, but Cecily Norris, a regional representative with the Northwest Trail Alliance (NWTA) says this project gives the community a chance to vastly improve those trails. Norris sits on the 11-member advisory committee that is helping the Water Bureau decide on what the renovated park will look like.

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“There are many opportunities for trail improvements – better trail head entrances, increased trail access for mountain bikers, re-design of trails.”
— Cecily Norris, regional rep for the NWTA

The committee has met several times since October and they are now very close to making a final recommendation based on review of several different plans. There are no more public hearings on the project, but the Water Bureau has launched an online survey that will act as the public comment form for the project. The survey will be open until the end of the year.

Norris says, “It is vital that we make our voices heard and show support for increased, sustainable trails on Powell Butte and that increased trail access does not have to come at the determinant of wildlife and habitat.”

There are three different trail concepts under consideration. Each one focuses trail improvements in a different section of the park. You can view and comment on each concept, as well as download a detailed PDF about them, via the online survey.

Detail from one of three trail design concepts.

As for possibilities for improving biking in the park, according to Norris, “There are many opportunities for trail improvements – better trail head entrances, increased trail access for mountain bikers, re-design of trails.”

If the project is successful, Powell Butte will be a much nicer place to ride. Take a few minutes to fill out the comment form/survey and stay tuned for more updates.

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)

Founder of BikePortland (in 2005). Father of three. North Portlander. Basketball lover. Car owner and driver. If you have questions or feedback about this site or my work, feel free to contact me at @jonathan_maus on Twitter, via email at, or phone/text at 503-706-8804. Also, if you read and appreciate this site, please become a supporter.

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14 years ago

Ok- does anyone have some suggestions on what comments I need to make to have an impact

14 years ago

I just spent the last two hours working on this survey. It’s sort of complicated, but there are three main options impacting mountain bike use of the trail system:

Option 1 seems to preserve the trail system pretty much as it is. It would make the upper Cedar Grove Trail (north of the Elderberry Trail) closed to bikes. I thought it already was, myself. I think the sign at the intersection said hikers only. Next time I go back (April???) I’ll try riding it, I guess.

Option 2 would add a small new system on the northeast corner of the park (open to bikes or not, I’m not real clear on that- though it does seem that they want to grandfather in the informal trails north of Old Holgate Road, and that they intend them to be for less skilled bikers). The most notable thing about this proposal is allowing uphill only bike traffic on Wild Hawthorne Trail (there is no access currently). In exchange for that, bikes would lose uphill access to the Pioneer Orchard Trail. Very odd, I think. The stated goal is to provide a route that would allow hikers to avoid having to overtake uphill-bound cyclists. I love climbing that trail, and would really miss the opportunity to do so, even if I got the opportunity to climb Wild Hawthorne as a trade. Also, I’ve never been overtake by hikers on that trail (duh!) and don’t know what the heck they’re talking about. Hikers would lose access to some of the other trails that go from bottom to top (Mt. Hood and Cougar) so maybe that’s what they’re worried about.

Option 3 look like a great plan at first glance, but the proposal is vague enough to mean that we either

1. gain several new short trails and a new longer trail


2. we’d lose access to the Pioneer Orchard Trail COMPLETELY!!! In exchange, we’d gain access to one connector trail in the northwest corner of the park (between Holgate and Elderberry, and Holgate and new trails down from the road). They’re apparently thinking about closing the Pioneer Orchard Trail down completely, in order to enlarge the Wildlife area.

To sum it up, the third option doesn’t explicitly state which of the new trails are multi-use, so they could all end up being hiker only (save one short connector that is clearly listed at Hiker/Biker), and it includes an “Option to remove P. Orchard Trail and enlarge wildlife refuge”. As this is the longest singletrack trail in the park, and the most fun, challenging climb and descent, this would be a great loss. These two factors make this option like a nice birthday cake with a cyanide pill inside- you could cut out a nice piece of cake, or you could accidentally cut out the piece of cake with the death pill. I wish they were more clear about this plan.

I wasn’t able to attend the meetings (I live closer to Forest Park, so it takes me quite a while to get over to the Powell Butte area), so I didn’t actually get to hear from the horse’s mouth what that plan would likely entail. I don’t know why they don’t come out and say clearly whether or not they’d close off the Pioneer Orchard Trail. But listing it as an option in this plan (the option isn’t in any of the opther plans) makes it seem like a strong possibility. Even though the Proposal is unclear about which of the new trails in the northwest corner would be open to bikes, we’d gain trail access in that part of the park, no matter what. So if the proposal didn’t mention closing Pioneer Orchard Trail, this would be the best option.

I’m frustrated by this complication, and would appreciate anyone’s insight, especially if they’ve gone to a meeting and heard a more clear picture of what’s currently proposed.


Paul Johnson
Paul Johnson
14 years ago

Please let me know when it’s finalized so I can map the daylights out of it, since it looks like the detail map is missing detail.

14 years ago

While I support Mt. biking, I dislike that one of my favorite, and most accessible with out hauling in, trail riding areas (horses that is)is no longer viable because of the bikes on the trails. I have been riding my horses in this park for almost twenty years and now have to haul my horses elsewhere. It was great to bike out to the barn and train. I wish there could have been a compromise but its not safe any more. So, if the horses are gone then biking it is.

14 years ago

It is strange to think that the entire trail network on Powell Butte was originally made by motorcyclists. They used to ride in on the railroad tracks that we now know as the Springwater Trail and then cut up the South side of Powell Butte. I agree that the area must be preserved to a certain extent, but at the same time it seems to be in pretty good shape considering its history. I am curious as to what the outcome of this renovation will be.