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Rogue bike trail deja-vu: More bad PR for trail builders

Posted by on May 7th, 2010 at 8:29 am

KGW-TV video of bike trail discovered in Madrona Park in North Portland. If video does not load, see KGW story here.

Portland Parks and Recreation is once again in the news with the discovery of an unauthorized bike trail in one of their natural areas. This time, according to a report by KGW TV, the trail is in a far less pristine location than the rogue trail in Forest Park that grabbed headlines back in February.

A series of a jumps and a single track trail has been discovered in the woods below a bluff above Swan Island in North Portland (off of N. Willamette Blvd.). Here’s a snip from the KGW story:

Parks officials have discovered the beginning of a dirt bike trail in what’s supposed to be a natural habitat area on the North Portland bluff.

Bikers carved trail embankments and small jumps into the earth.

I’m not sure what triggered KGW’s interest in this story (I didn’t see any formal press release from Parks about it), but there are a lot of illegal trails in Portland parks — and they’re made by all types of users (not just people that bike). Regardless, this is more bad PR for off-road advocates who are working to improve off-road bike trail access throughout the city.

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  • A.K. May 7, 2010 at 9:14 am

    Jonathan wrote: “I’m not sure what triggered KGW’s interest in this story”.

    Of course you do. The local media here in “Bike City USA” just LOVES to drive a wedge between cyclists and “everyone else”. I’m sure it drives up ratings, because it’s an “easy and sensational” story to create, and it always drives their online commentators into a froth (i.e. OregonLive posters, ugh).

    I wouldn’t trust them to put out a neutral story on cycling to save their lives.

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  • robert May 7, 2010 at 9:35 am

    The Madrona Park coverage was pretty thin.

    I’m pretty sure that a local organizer was already working with Parks before this story broke to help make the Madrona Park trails legit.

    Considering that what the mountain biking issue needs more attention, not less, I’m not sure there is such a thing as bad PR.

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  • Paul May 7, 2010 at 9:36 am

    Unauthorized trails are a huge issue for any park manager – it shouldn’t be a surprise. This is also true in more remote areas – social trails develop in sensitive habitats frequently.

    Education is an important tool to help folks understand why creating a trail leads to a cascade of other management problems.

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  • robert May 7, 2010 at 9:39 am

    There’s no such thing as bad PR:

    When I was a kid this is the way the skateboarding issue evolved. There was nowhere legit to do it. We were always trespassing into abandoned pools and other building features. Now we got skate parks!

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  • fredlf May 7, 2010 at 9:48 am

    I’m with AK@1. The local TV media have little to no interest in reporting that benefits the community. They like to create conflict and invent controversy in order to increase their bottom line, plain and simple. The O as gone this route too. We are all poorer for it.

    I would even speculate that fluffed up anti-bike stories actually endanger cyclists lives by creating animosity that emerges as road rage.

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  • karl d May 7, 2010 at 10:06 am

    Until parks gets rid of the huge transient camp in Madrona park, they should not worry about a poorly built trail.

    Put some water bars on it, to get the water off it.

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  • Nick V May 7, 2010 at 11:07 am

    The target audience for the TV media is the people who don’t likely ever ride bikes. Just saying….

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  • matt picio May 7, 2010 at 11:18 am

    The trail in Madrona Park looks like the BMX trails that my friends used to build as kids – like the ones near The Grotto at the base of Rocky Butte. Is the area clearly signed? The park is adjacent to a neighborhood – these things are going to happen in that environment if there isn’t awareness and enforcement.

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  • trail user May 7, 2010 at 11:28 am

    Dirty greedy old men and their parks. Dirty old men should stay out of the parks and let the kids play. Shouldn’t the geezers be at the strippy bar or something?

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  • Anonymous May 7, 2010 at 11:34 am

    Water bars are not a solution to a badly designed and built trail.

    They just move the problem off the trail and somewhere else.

    Well built trails don’t require water bars. Well built trails take into consideration the terrain.

    These trails will cause problems to more than just the land they scarred.

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  • Dan Porter May 7, 2010 at 12:02 pm

    I found it interesting that the clip repeatedly stated that “Parks” is repairing and rehabilitating the illegal trail in Forest Park, but did not mention (even once) that NWTA is also actively involved in repairing and rehabilitating it.

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  • Marcus Griffith May 7, 2010 at 1:02 pm

    The video was pretty neutral: its focus was on the illegal trails. There was no mud slinging towards the bike community, trail riders or not.

    Not everything dealing with a bike should be supported as the second coming of the savior. There is more than enough room for discussion.

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  • Opus the Poet May 7, 2010 at 1:30 pm

    I think there is a disconnect here. This would be like people with cars making a place to drive them because there were no roads. If there are illegal trails popping up everywhere that means there is unfulfilled demand for trails. By the laws of supply and demand if there is demand there will be supply sooner or later, if there is no legal supply then there will be illegal supply. Just look at the amount of drugs coming into this country as another example…

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  • f5 May 7, 2010 at 2:21 pm


    Corporate news does not have a primary goal of informing citizens on issues that matter, they are in the business of generating advertising dollars, and play up controversy whenever they can as a quick way to get there.

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  • matt f May 7, 2010 at 2:31 pm

    Why are illegal trails bad PR for trail builders who build legal trails like the NWTA and IMBA? Please explain.

    If anything, you could say that it’s good PR: these trails are “bad” because they are illegal but these organizations are good because they are for building legail trails and are against illegal trails.

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  • Blah Blah Blah May 7, 2010 at 6:00 pm

    Why is everybody using this photo? Which appears to be a legit trail to ride on.

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  • Tom Archer May 8, 2010 at 5:36 am

    While we don’t condone illegal trail building, in the big picture, I hardly think this event is newsworthy. I’ve seen this “trail” – it is maybe 50 yards long and built over an existing cat track that cuts through the area. It looks to me like some kids built it in an attempt to create some place to ride in their neighborhood. The area is highly degraded, has been a dumpsite and there is trash scattered throughout. There have been homeless camps in the area for years. The City (I believe BES owns the land and not Parks) has been restoring the area, spraying for invasives, etc. over the past couple years.

    The news story does a very poor job of providing context. The picture used for the on-line story is certainly not Madrona Park. The threat of a landslide is exaggerated and no equipment would be necessary to restore the area, at least to the condition it was prior to the bike trail being constructed.

    To their credit, I was contacted by KGW regarding the work party we organized for the Forest Park Trail Restoration (in conjunction with Parks staff). Given we are a volunteer organization and I have a regular job, I could not make time to do an interview.

    Sometime last year, I actually met with Parks staff to discuss the possibility of creating a legitimate natural surface trail in this area that would serve as a connection from Greeley Ave to Going and Swan Island, and encourage alternate modes of travel for the 15,000 or so people that commute to the island every day. It would have followed the existing primitive road and would not have required any significant excavation, clearing, etc. The revised Bicycle Master Plan now has a section discussing off-road cycling and we thought this might make a great demonstration project. Our suggestions were met with resistance from Parks staff. They consider preservation the “highest use” of the site. I still believe there is an opportunity there and would like to see it explored.

    Not to justify the actions of whoever did this work, but it again points to a need to create sanctioned areas for our kids (and us big kids too!) to ride. I’ve suggested to Parks that if we could get access to small parcels of land, we would build and maintain- at our expense – some pumptracks, skillsparks, etc. Those discussions continue, but at a slow pace.

    Tom Archer
    President-Northwest Trail Alliance

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  • Tankagnolo Bob May 8, 2010 at 8:18 am

    I live along the bluff. It is NOT natural habitat (except for feral cats), as said in the story. The police do not stop folks from throwing their garbage over the side every day. Folks take wheel barrows of yard debris across Willamette and look up at the “NO DUMPING” signs, and over the bank it goes.

    Also, below is miles of polluted land from industries past. So a few jumps, wow, where do kids go to play. MAYBE SOME LEGAL JUMPS, SINGLE TRACK, AND BIKE PARKS would help stop all this kids trying to have fun illegality.

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  • wsbob May 8, 2010 at 12:13 pm

    Having looked a the video above, and noting from Portland Parks page on Madrona Park that it’s just 8+ acres in size, I tend to think along the lines of Tom Archer’s #17 comment. Seems like this park might be a great candidate for the easy going meandering trail kind of off-road biking some people have referred to in the various single track in Forest Park discussions.

    From the construction of this trail though, it seems clear that the builders were seeking a different type of riding experience than that type of trail is suggested to offer.

    While having that type of experience eventually provided somewhere in the city’s stock of natural areas may be fine, this latest incident again emphasizes the importance of being very specific about what type of trail experience people are referring to when they request ‘single track’ from the people of Portland by way of the City and Portland Parks.

    Looking at the video, this trails’ builders clearly wanted jumps and steeply banked radius’s for a more exciting ride than for them could probably be had by simply tooling down a meandering trail. Something legitimate, somewhere…needs to provided for these people too.

    It’s quite a small park, but constructive establishment of off-road biking in this type of park seems to me to be the kind of development that could introduce ideas to the public about adding additional parcels of land or easements for continuity…creating a longer off-road trail for ‘point A to point B’ purposes.

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  • SkidMark May 8, 2010 at 9:16 pm

    Singletrack NOW!

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  • Coaster May 8, 2010 at 11:02 pm

    hilarious! for years its been an unused space between industrial land and an illegal dumping ground, a place where no one interested in nature cares to go.. but wait! There’s BIKE JUMPS! whoa… we better preserve this pristine part of nature before they have any more fun there.

    The reason the kids built there, was because no one else wants to be there. a place of refuge from the anti-fun lobby.

    How about we find an old mine site, or maybe a nuclear dumping ground? Maybe that would be a good place where we aren’t concerned with the ‘nature’ issue.. and a great place to let our CHILDREN play.

    sheesh. The media is so silly.
    We need a ‘playground’ people! We are talking about kids who build jumps, who wanna (gasp) ride bicycles! Why is this so difficult? We don’t even need to build it for them. Just an empty hill… they’ll even bring their own shovels.

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  • Wheels May 9, 2010 at 9:50 pm

    I couldn’t express my thoughts on the issue better Coaster.. “We must preserve the invasive English Ivy, blackberry bushes, rusted grocery carts! “This will take at least four paychecks for me to restore the natural habitat!”
    I built a BMX track when I was a kid in the forest above Terwilliger Boulevard…it was 50 yards from a homeless camp of about 8 people and it rocked!
    A great childhood!

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  • Wheels May 9, 2010 at 9:50 pm

    I couldn’t express my thoughts on the issue better Coaster.. “We must preserve the invasive English Ivy, blackberry bushes, rusted grocery carts! “This will take at least four paychecks for me to restore the natural habitat!”
    I built a BMX track when I was a kid in the forest above Terwilliger Boulevard…it was 50 yards from a homeless camp of about 8 people and it rocked!
    A great childhood!

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  • John May 10, 2010 at 10:32 am

    I’ve never been to the Madrona Park, so I won’t make any claims to how natural or unnatural it is. In general, though, illegal trails are a really bad practice. The trail may have been made by teenagers but do we really want teenagers to decide what constitutes a worthwhile ecosystem? I can understand that BMX riders want their trails but some people, including bicyclists like myself, want to live in a City with some corners that haven’t been carved into special uses–where the natural order can creep back in.

    Portland is full of countless pet projects that fulfill people’s personal hobbies. By all means, find a way to get your projects off the ground. But find a way to do it that doesn’t involve vandalizing public spaces, grandstanding as though your hobby is a natural born right, or trying to make a moral equivalency to homeless camps.

    I mean… homeless camps? Really?

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  • Dabby May 12, 2010 at 2:05 pm

    I for one do not condone Illegal trail building as it has for years undermined the effort( albeit somewhat useless) to create fun and legal trails within the city limits.

    I have been involved in a lot of trail building myself.
    This has been done on private land of course, with permission.

    People might be amazed to find that just asking about building some trails on property near you can open doors.

    For example, I was at a meeting in vancouver, talking about how we need more off road riding here, as there are so many connectable greenspaces. Right off the bat someone spoke up and offered a couple of hundred acres in town (Cascade Park) to build on.

    Then after the meeting, a police officer spoke up, said they were building a new firing range,and the area would be perfect to include off road riding.

    Opportunities abound for building trails that will not irk anyone, ’cause lame news coverage, or lawsuits..

    At my rental house I have built a large pump track, 3/4 of the big yard, and, amazingly, the landlord is cool with it. http://bowelsofjohn.blogspot.com/

    I am throwing the NW Pump Track Championships on June 12th, 2PM, all are invited.

    In conclusion, I think that the trail building in parks should be left to those qualified to ensure that the trails are authorized, properly built, and properly maintained. We have quite a number of great organizations working towards this here in Portland and SW Washington.

    All other guerilla trail building is like spitting on the hard work these people are doing.

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