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Unauthorized bike trail damages “pristine habitat” in Forest Park – UPDATED

Posted by on February 23rd, 2010 at 1:22 pm

Illegal trail in Forest Park-16

Parks employee Dan Moeller with the
illegal trail behind him.
– Slideshow below –
(Photo © J. Maus)

Portland Parks & Recreation staff have discovered an unauthorized mountain bike trail built in the northern end of Forest Park. Parks spokesperson Beth Sorensen said the trail was found at the end of last week in “one of the most pristine habitat areas in the park.”

According to Sorensen, the trail is “pretty damaging” and whoever built it cut down trees, removed large rocks, and dammed a stream. The trail was created where elk and deer are active and Sorensen says it has “destroyed an area of highest habitat value.” The location of the trail is about 200 yards off of the Forest Park entrance on Harborton Drive, about 10 miles north of downtown Portland.

Illegal trail in Forest Park-4

The Northwest Trail Alliance has posted an “Outreach Alert” about this on their website. The alert was written by the organization’s Advocacy Director Tom Archer and it implores mountain bikers to “abstain from unauthorized trail building.”

Here’s more from the NWTA statement:

“While riding is currently allowed on some roads and trails in the North Management Unit, the area is not being considered for expansion of off-road riding opportunities, primarily because of its habitat value. This is clearly spelled out in the Forest Park Natural Resource Management Plan, and Northwest Trail Alliance fully supports this management approach.

Northwest Trail Alliance asks all bike riders to abide by the regulations that are currently in effect in Forest Park. Unauthorized trail building and illegal riding negatively impact our on-going discussions with Portland Parks – and with other land managers – to create more riding opportunities in and around Portland.”

As Archer refers to in the statement, the discovery of this unauthorized trail comes at a sensitive time for off-road advocates looking to expand riding opportunities in Forest Park. A committee put together last year by Parks Commissioner Nick Fish is in the process of vetting several different options for how to create more riding areas in the park. That committee is set to meet again this Thursday from 5-7:30 pm in City Hall.

“The goal of the committee has ben toward filling a need for off-road cycling and finding a solution the right way,” said Sorensen today, “and this trail undermines it by finding a solution the wrong way.”

I’m hopping in a truck with Portland Parks Natural Resource Supervisor Dan Moeller in about a half-hour. I’ll report back with photos and more information later tonight.

UPDATE, 3:43 (View slideshow below):
I just returned from a tour of the illegal trail with Parks’ Natural Area Supervisor Dan Moeller. Moeller says the trail was likely built within the last month. It was discovered by an owl researcher who came across the trail last week.

Illegal trail in Forest Park-22

The trail is purposely hidden from
view of the main road (it begins
in the upper right of this photo).

As we walked up BPA Road just above Highway 30, Moeller pointed out the huge Oregon oaks that dotted the hillside. We then walked off the road (which is one of the roads in Forest Park where bikes are allowed) about 40 yards and came to a small hole in the vegetation where the rogue trail began (it was obviously made this way to stay hidden).

Once on the trail, it was clear that whoever built it worked very hard at it. We soon came to a creek where the builders created an entirely new trail on a ridgeline above a creek. Moeller pointed out that they used rocks and cut down live western red cedars to fortify the crib wall on the downside of the trail. Further along they dammed a creek to provide an easier crossing for their bikes.

Illegal trail in Forest Park-17

A stream has been dammed with boulders.

Moeller is a rider himself (he rides a cyclocross bike) and while he’s disappointed by what happened, he hopes it serves as a educational opportunity for the community. On the drive out he described the extremely sensitive ecosystem this trail has been cut through. “This area is relatively undisturbed, that’s why there’s such an outcry about this.”

Moeller likened the trail to “putting a road through a roadless forest.” He said the trail will “create a highway” for invasive plants and it will allow animals (like skunks and possums) to access an area that otherwise couldn’t have — bringing them right to more sensitive species like nesting owls and bald eagles.

Illegal trail in Forest Park-5

This entire trail section is newly built.

To help mitigate the damage Moeller says he’ll work with advocacy groups like the NWTA and the Parks ecologist. They won’t work on it now because the trail is so muddy that each step taken compacts the soil and makes the problem worse. Once it dries up a bit, they’ll start dragging branches and other material across the trail to create a physical barrier and discourage further use. Then, he says, “We’ll let it recover a bit,” before going in again and they’ll immediately monitor the area for the “recolonization of invasives.”

This fall, Moeller says they’ll do a comprehensive re-planting that will include thousands of plants to help reestablish the native species and promote recovery. He estimates it could take up to 15 years of ongoing maintenance for the habitat to fully recover.

Whoever built this trail was committed as it must have taken an immense effort to complete. Moeller said it’s a crime to destroy Parks property and they’re currently gathering evidence to try and find out who is responsible for it.

It remains to be seen how this trail will impact the current discussion on whether to allow more singletrack trail access in the park. It is not a new phenomenon, but this is a pretty egregious example. Off-road riding advocates — who wholly condemn this type of rogue trail — could point out that this is the type of behavior that will continue to occur until new trails are built (or opened). The biggest impact from this (besides environmental of course) could be in terms of bad PR for bike advocates, but on the flip-side this is likely to spur some heated (and hopefully productive) dialogue in the committee and add a new urgency to their discussions.

Moeller is far from ready to write off the good, working relationship he and mountain bike advocates have. “This is a good opportunity for some education… I’m glad that at least now we have a place to come together and talk about this issue.”

For more images of the trail, view the slideshow below:

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

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Charley
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Charley

Good grief. I bet the people that built this thing had no idea of all the work that NWTA has been done with the intent of getting LEGAL access to singletrack in the park. Thanks for trying to ruin it, selfish @#%*&^@.
Charley

Northwest Girl
Guest
Northwest Girl

This initial account sickens me. I am looking forward to Jonathan’s further report.

For the month of January, I kept a daily log of where I saw unauthorized mountain bike tracks in Forest Park. I ran and hiked on every trail in the entire park. The resulting log is in the hands of both Tom Archer and another member of the committee.

Let’s just say that the constant poaching of trails by mountain bikers isn’t going to win them many friends by those who are opposed to potential future new bike trails.

Anonymous
Guest
Anonymous

Go look at Hagg Lake if you want to see bad trails.

jon
Guest
jon

how about a headline that you could write every day of the year: un-leashed dogs destroy all wild habitat in Forest Park. This is a supply & demand issue. There are no trails to ridc near town and very little movement to improve the situation. I don’t approve of trails like this, but I understand why they get made.

Psyfalcon
Guest
Psyfalcon

Bad, for a number of reasons.

But… how does this ““destroyed an area of highest habitat value.” The location of the trail is about 200 yards off of the Forest Park entrance on Harborton Drive”

With respect to erosion and such things, but how does a dirt path destroy pristine habitat that is only 200 yards from a road?

Northwest Boy
Guest
Northwest Boy

I would like to say whomever did this was a complete moron and does not represent the majority of cyclists. They are just an idiot who happens to ride a bike.

Northwest Girl:
Did you also keep track of the number and locations of dogs off leash? That seems like it is happening far more frequently than people poaching trails. Or how about all of the plastic bags that line the trails filled with their excrement?

I find it funny that a person would take the time to do such an unscientific study strictly so that they could deny someone the use of the park in a way they disagree with. The data you gathered seems useless. Maybe one day there will be a real study that shows what the impact of the cycling is and not that it just exists.

Let’s just say that poaching trails is going to continue until there is access to trails in FP for mountain biking. I don’t poach, but I am almost at the point where I am just going to start poaching because there hasn’t been any movement forward on this at all. There really seems to be no ramifications to poaching other than some crazy person in forest park taking notes on nonsensical things, so why not?

If you look at the long term impact of things in forest park, I would hope that you are looking at invasive species. These have been doing more damage and will continue to do more damage than any cyclist ever will. We need to get more people involved in dealing with these issues and I think expanding the user base/volunteer base by having actual single track is a great start.

AaronF
Guest
AaronF

Psyfalcon, see the second paragraph of the article. Stream beds, elk trail path…

jon – reading your comment it sounds like mtn bikers are Entitled to multiple paths near the city, and should be immune to the political process others go through to get anything done. Is that right?

a.O
Guest
a.O

Is anyone really surprised by this?

This was about as predictible as getting wet in the rain.

When you delay and delay and require endless process and committee meetings, it is tantamount to a refusal to share the park with others.

People who insist on killing the idea of single-track bike trails in Forest Park with endless administrative process and inane environmental arguments ought to think twice before they decide they know the “right way.”

To clarify, I do not condone this action and agree wholeheartedly with the NWTA statement.

I’m just saying that when you cause unreasonable delay and refuse to act in good faith to share the public space, you’re going to get people riding illegally and building trail illegally.

jocko
Guest
jocko

“when you outlaw mtn. biking only outlaws will have mtn bikes.”

Bob_M
Guest
Bob_M

When only outlaws have mountain bikes, law abiding citizens will hound legislators to enact fees for bicycle ownership/usage to pay for the damage caused by outlaws on mt. bikes.

(It will be the hater’s latest excuse to levy fees on cyclists)

Brad
Guest
Brad

That’s truly frightening, Bob M, because I can see it happening. It could even be sold to non-riding, Prius and Subaru driving liberals in Portland as a proper thing to do “for the environment”.

rixtir
Guest
rixtir

a.O., you argument is premised on the idea that the people who built this trail would be respectful of Park rules if ONLY there were increased access.

And there’s no supporting evidence for this premise. in fact, there’s only supporting evidence for the opposite premise– that these people have no respect for anything other than their own selfish desires, and regardless of increased access, if Park rules are on conflict with their own selfish desires, they will do what they please, rules and habitat be damned.

Jonathan Maus (Editor-in-Chief)
Guest

Hey folks,

just got back from a tour of the illegal trail. i’ll have photos and full report by end of day. stay tuned.

jocko
Guest
jocko

rixtir while I agree that there will always be folks that despite our best efforts to accomodate, will continue to try and do their own thing (we are a nation of rugged individualists remember). I do think that fun trails in Forest Park will go a long way to prevent most folks from taking the time to make something this extensive. For context go out and ride the legal trails in forest park, they are a good workout but that’s about it.

Bob_m- good point.

Active Recreation
Guest
Active Recreation

I think the name says it all

Portland Parks & Recreation

Not Portland Preservation Society

Forest Park is not a preserve, it is Public Park, that is there for the whole city to use, not just the luck few that have houses that back up to it, and don’t want other people to know how great it is.

are
Guest

there’s no place near town where you can hunt elk from a helicopter, either

Psyfalcon
Guest
Psyfalcon

AaronF:

I am just worried that those cited reasons might be taken too far… and it can be a problem in all recreation management, not restricted to this.

Elk seem fine with roads in Yellowstone, but this one, ugly trail destroyed their habitat here? Does a few stream crossings really damage salmon habitat if there are landslides all along the bank? Do significant numbers of salmon actually use these streams?

I don’t know.

Daniel (teknotus) Johnson
Guest
Daniel (teknotus) Johnson

Logging companies do way worse than that all the time with a government stamp of approval. Actually the gravel road that everyone uses today in forest park was built when then intended to replace the whole forest with the a neighborhood. Actually if you cross Skyline you will notice that they got away with doing that with the rest of the forest. I don’t condone what they did. Portland is lucky to have so much wildlife, nearly continuous wild lands all the way to the golden gate bridge. What little is left is precious. The thing is that wild lands that nobody visits is unappreciated. People will protect their favorite spot, but the vast lands between Portland, and San Francisco only gets a few defenders.

Paul
Guest
Paul

Seems a lot like skateboarding a few years back when it was illegal to ride in Portland streets and there were no skateparks….People were getting tickets for riding their skateboard. Sounds silly now.

Jason VH
Guest

I agree with a.O.

I can’t condone this, but it does display that there is a need for multi-use trails that offer the user experience and challenge that mountain bikers crave.

There are hundreds of miles of forest surrounding Portland. Why not protest about the logging and development there? Why do specific user groups feel the need to limit the recreational experience to only their specific user group? Could it be they simply don’t want to share?

Most illegal trails are built out of necessity. For a bicycle friendly city, Portland offers nothing for advanced mountain bikers. Indeed, it’s a joke.

Instead, we regularly utilize motorized vehicles to travel considerable distance to ride our bikes, all while there is suitable green space all over the metropolitan area.

I can tell you now- these trail builders will simply move to a new location and renew their efforts. I have a feeling they will have learned their lesson, and select a better location, and not such a political hot spot.

Nick
Guest
Nick

It’s amazing how many are willing to excuse this by naming other bad deeds. I thought it was common knowledge that two wrongs don’t make a right?

Forest Park is a shared public space, and vigilante habitat destruction there is simply selfish. If we can all agree on plans for more bike trails, awesome. If not, you need to get over it. That’s part of living in society.

Northwest Girl
Guest
Northwest Girl

Northwest Boy @#6

Wow. Lots of assumptions here…

First, I do not want to deny anyone anything. I am not opposed to larger access to Forest Park by mountain bikers. Nowhere did I state or have I ever stated that I am opposed. I have had great conversations with Tom Archer on this topic. I am in favor of increased mountain bike access.

It’s not like my recorded observations took me any more time than coming home after a run or hike and writing down the trail name and what I saw.

I am not claiming this to be anything other than a log of my observations. It’s not scientific and both Tom and the other member of the committee were interested in receiving the log with my observations. I am not “some crazy person” unless you consider someone who runs 60 miles a week crazy! I am a retired Olympic runner. I am also a cyclist.

I agree with you about the unsightly dog bags, the unleashed dogs and the issue of invasive species. I wasn’t writing about those things. I was writing about the discovery of an illegal trail constructed in Forest Park.

Nick
Guest
Nick

Paul (#18):

I doubt that destroying pristine rainforest will ever be seen as silly. Skateboarders are generally confined to pavement.

fredlf
Guest
fredlf

I would show up, as an off-road rider myself, to help work crews undo the damage done here. Hopefully someone with more time and skill than me will organize something like that.

sabes
Guest
sabes

The more I read the comment on this site, the more disgusted I get with the cyclists in Portland. I’ve only been here about two years and I ride my bike to work about half the time, but it seems to me the attitudes of many in the cycling community lead me to dislike the community in general. It’s sad to say, but true. I understand the whole ‘a few bad apples’ idea, but it’s way more than a few. It’s a lot. And it’s disturbing.

a.O
Guest
a.O

@ #12:

On the contrary, Rixter, mine is the simpler premise.

Your assumption does not pass the basic test of logic because it supposes that people would go through all the time and effort it takes to build a trail instead of riding one they were already able to ride.

From the story, these people moved rocks (must have moved them to “use” them), “cut down live western red cedars,” and “dammed a creek.”

This must have taken many man-hours and lots of hard labor. That is time they could have and would have spent riding, if they had easily-accessible trails.

But eternal study of invented environmental issues is bad faith and a mere excuse to exclude mountain bikers from Forest Park.

You also inaccurately imply that people who break the law must be bad actors, but we know from historical example that isn’t necessarily true.

Get involved in the “process” for giving mtn bikers access to Forest Park and then report who it is who has “no respect for anything other than their own selfish desires.”

rixtir
Guest
rixtir

a.O. they are already going through the time and trouble of building trails instead of riding trails they are already allowed to ride.

As I’ve said elsewhere, lots of people have “reasons” for destroying the environment. The fact that they have “reasons” doesn’t mean they’re not bad actors.

are
Guest

re comment 15. part of the stated mission of parks and recreation is “safeguarding” the urban forest. where this conflicts with creating a playground for humans, maybe safeguarding should win out. if the only way to preserve forest park were to close it entirely, that might be the necessary choice. if my chosen recreation required pavement or floodlights or sound systems, would that be okay, too? after all forest park is “not a preserve.” you could probably get by with just one or two trees.

maxadders
Guest
maxadders

I, too, am not surprised. First of all, I’ve heard of illegal trails in Washington Park, Forest Park, etc for years now. I also frequently see mention of bicyclists riding restricted trails at night. So while this isn’t “cool” and probably came at an inconvenient time for mtb advocates, it just seems like an inevitability.

Still, why act like it’s a three-alarm fire? Whether you want to acknowledge it or not, many great trails started off as unsanctioned or even illegal.

I’m not happy about this, and I wouldn’t ride it– but I understand the temptation.

electric
Guest
electric

Geeze, it doesn’t look like it is DESTROYED. Where are the bulldozer tracks and asphalt? Why do people get their underwear in knots over a 2 foot wide trail, do you have any idea about the scale of operations happening elsewhere in regards to natural resource harvesting.

To the woman acting like little miss world police, busy body taking notes on where every tire track appears – get a life.

If you don’t want it close the trail down, take the 20 rocks out of the stream, turn the riders away… I wonder why are those riders there anyways when there local options?

Pristine habitat… sure, hypocrites.

a.O
Guest
a.O

# @27: Although it may be literally true that the rogue trail-builders could use a motor vehicle (if they have one) and take a nearly hour-long trip each way to reach decent trails, that is beside the point I was making and you know it.

There simply are no trails in the Portland Parks system that any experienced mountain biker would want to ride. The trails at Powell Butte are far too short and are not challenging. And there is — what — some fraction of a mile of legal single-track in FP?

So, no rixter, they are not really “already going through the time and trouble of building trails instead of riding trails they are already allowed to ride,” because there are no such trails in or within riding distance of town.

wsbob
Guest
wsbob

The imposition of this trail is likely driven by people with a mentality similar to and responsible for most of graffiti and tagging. One of the oft stated arguments made by taggers for throwing paint where they shouldn’t be doing so, also goes along the lines of ‘Either give us what we want or we’ll take it from you’.

Also similar im mentality to the great ‘sportsman’ with guns and rifles that go into the backcountry and shoot up every conceivable sign, building, tree or other object in sight.

A number of people commenting to this thread so far appear to echo a threat that’s very similar…’Either provide single width bike trail (a.k.a. ‘singletrack’)in Forest Park, or else.’.

It’s helpful that the mountain bike enthusiast group, The Northwest Trail Alliance, has promptly come forward to firmly oppose the illegal construction of this trail in Portland’s Forest Park nature park. Removing all trace of the trail is another chore added atop the list the enthusiast group might think about tackling as part of persuading Portland residents that single width trail for mountain bikes in Forest Park is a great idea.

q'Ztal
Guest
q'Ztal

This just in: without enforcement rules and laws will be ignored.
This is important enought to get riled up over but not important enough to fund.

rixtir
Guest
rixtir

@ 30: “There simply are no trails in the Portland Parks system that any experienced mountain biker would want to ride. The trails at Powell Butte are far too short and are not challenging. And there is — what — some fraction of a mile of legal single-track in FP?”

Wow, a rationale. Well, that’s all we need to justify anything, isn’t it?

I mean, W had a rationale for lying to Congress about WMDs, Dick Cheney had a rationale for saying that torture is not torture, and anyway, torture is justified and necessary, Congress was justified in suspending environmental laws in the 90s in order to facilitate logging… The list goes on forever.

Ok, those were big things, and this is just a little thing, so having a rationale is acceptable when it’s just a little thing, especially when it’s rationalizing in support of something you believe in, right?

So what happens when Forest Park has increased access, but somebody thinks the existing trails are too crowded? Or that there aren’t enough trails? Or the trails don;t go where they want them to go? Or they want something more challenging, or want ramps, or stream crossings, or whatever they think they should be able to have? Under your own theory, they will build what they want, because it doesn’t exist– and that contradicts your argument that once they have increased access, they will not want to put in the effort to build what is “lacking.”

gabriel amadeus
Guest

Honestly it looks like they did a pretty decent job building the trail. It is a bummer that it erodes the good work the NWTA has done with Friends of Forest Park, but really, a decently built guerrilla trail in a small part of an urban forest isn’t hurting anything.

rixtir
Guest
rixtir

They did a pretty good job building Gitmo too. And according to them, it wasn’t hurting anything.

rixtir
Guest
rixtir

One can never hear enough of the endless lies and rationalizations that have come to define human behavior.

are
Guest

re comment 35, i was reading somewhere about creating a path for influx of invasive species, no harm.

Glen
Guest
Glen

I’m a city planner and I’ll admit, we spend far too much time on ‘process’. I’ve been wanting better bike trails in Portland for over 20 years now. Yes there are multiple uses for the Park and multiple users, but surely it’s big enough to accommodate all. I don’t know the history of building the wildwood trail, or even the firelanes, but I can’t imagine that people would have discussed them for decades before building them.

Heck, the trail looks fun. Maybe we should just fix it up a bit and keep it.

Ted
Guest
Ted

Wrong, selfish, sneaky. Don’t defend these guys, cycling community. This trail didn’t make anyone’s commute safer. It damaged a community asset without the consensus of the community. It doesn’t matter if other things damage the environment, or if our political process is frustrating. It’s still wrong to assume you are so entitled to what you want that you go out and create it illegally.

Don’t defend this entitled behavior. What are we really entitled to? Safe bicycle transportation and fair protection under the law. Eyes on the prize, guys. Eyes on the prize. Just because this has something to do with bikes doesn’t mean we need to throw morality and common sense away to defend it.

rixtir
Guest
rixtir

@ #38: And through sensitive habitat.

Maybe all of these apologists for habitat destruction (e.g., see # 17, #35) can see conservation biologists from their porches (you know, just like Sarah Palin can see climatologists from her porch).

Anonymous
Guest
Anonymous

I hope you guys NEVER get a decent trail in forest park! This comment section reeks of false entitlement and weak rationalizations.

Steven J
Guest
Steven J

wait till they realize it was built by parks & rec to start with…and someone couldn’t read a map.

a.O
Guest
a.O

@ #34: Rixter, you know damn well that I am not attempting to supply a “rationale…to justify” this, because I know you read my comment at # 8 where I said I did not condone this.

Please stop intentionally twisting my words. I said this result was TOTALLY PREDICTABLE. Apparently we agree on that but disagree on the reasons why. Again, go follow the fake process for allowing mtn bike access and you will have a much better understanding of why this happened.

Joe
Guest
Joe

look at all the litter? come on!

Joe
Guest
Joe

The park is fine people, bunch of heavy belly fokes moaning bout nonsence.

a.O
Guest
a.O

@ #34, last para: reductum ad absurdum

rixtir
Guest
rixtir

I always take my habitat advice from people who know jack.

Thanks for the reassurances.

Now I need to go get reassured by Sarah Palin about all this global warming “nonsence.”

Tbird
Guest
Tbird

This is what happens when there is not sufficient LEGAL MTB access in a place like Forest Park. People will break the law, and just like other clandestine operations, those same people will not care about ethics and sustainability.
Sad.

electric
Guest
electric

#38, are..

By invasive species you mean humans, yes?

People are unnatural. Mountain bikers are parasites. I get it. Mountains erode to nothing, plants and animals migrate. Perhaps these conservation types are the unnatural ones.

are
Guest

no, did you read the article? nonnative plants and animals come in on the opened path and drive out the existing ecosystem. read first, ask questions later. but humans also, yes.

i would like to imagine that the idiots who did this would be surprised to learn that it will take at least fifteen years to put things back “the way they were.”

“we” could decide to hell with it, turn forest park into a rec center, but that decision should not be made unilaterally by a handful of self-absorbed goofs sneaking around.