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Advocate cries foul at City Club’s Forest Park report

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Cover of Forest Park: A Call to Action.

A recent report on the health of Forest Park published by the City Club of Portland has a noted off-road biking advocate crying foul. Frank Selker, the man who launched an effort to improve biking opportunities in the park back in December 2008 and who sits on the City of Portland’s Forest Park Single Track Cycling Committee says the report contains false, potentially libelous statements and he wants City Club to make several edits before it is officially adopted tomorrow.

The 65-page report, Forest Park: A Call to Action is an in-depth look at all the issues surrounding the park, outlining the urgent need to devote more resources to its care and management. The report touches on mountain biking in several sections and recommends that no new bike access is granted until several studies can be done on the park. (For more analysis of the report, see our story published on May 24th.)

“Unfortunately, they repeated things that are misleading and false that they heard from a few cycling opponents.”
— Frank Selker

In a letter to City Club outlining his concerns, Selker pointed out two major areas where he feels the report’s authors have significantly erred: By repeating messages (nearly verbatim) often used by biking opponents; and by accusing the City, the Parks Bureau committee, and others of not following the legally binding Forest Park Natural Resources Management Plan of 1995.

Selker accuses City Club of “parroting” points used by opponents of more biking in the park:

“Unfortunately, they repeated things that are misleading and false that they heard from a few cycling opponents… As a result, it reads as highly partisan in opposition to bicyclists… They didn’t do their homework on this and it weakens their report, their credibility, and risks alienating a large population that should be part of the solution.”

In particular, Selker points to a passage in the report that states, “The off-road cycling community has become very well organized.” This same statement has been made repeatedly by Marcy Houle, a member of the Forest Park cycling committee who has been adamantly opposed to more biking and who was interviewed by City Club for their report. Houle — who sent an inflammatory letter opposing bike access to The Oregonian before the committee process started last October — has used this line in recent committee meetings as a way to negatively paint those in favor of more biking as being part of a well-oiled lobbying machine only out to serve its interests.

Frank Selker.
(Photo © J. Maus)

Selker is also concerned that the City Club report contains false and misleading information about the impact of bikes on park ecology. The report states, “In particular, off-road cycling can lead to rutted trails that gather water and create erosion and other potential ecological impacts.” But Selker says that statement is “preposterous” and the impact of bike tires has not been scientifically proven to be worse than hiking boots, running shoes, dog paws, horse hooves, or other uses. To Selker, this is scapegoating:

“People who don’t like user groups try to pin he ecological problems of the park on those groups it is nonsense that I have heard repeatedly from opponents.”

Beyond these statements, Selker is concerned that the report accuses himself, the City of Portland, and the committee tasked with addressing this issue, of breaking the law. Here’s the section of the report Selker has asked City Club to remove:

C-9. Currently there is organized pressure to increase biking activity in the park. The process established in the 1995 Management Plan to assess such requests has not been followed. Instead, the city established a committee whose stated goal is to increase biking in the park, without having first done the studies required in the 1995 plan.

It’s important to note that the committee — which includes Ms. Houle and a diverse range of stakeholders — has come to consensus on several proposals that would increase biking in the park and none of them runs afoul of the 1995 Management Plan.

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

On page 22 of the Forest Park Management plan, “bicycling” is listed as a type of “passive recreation” of which “opportunities should be created for.”

Saying that no expanded bike access can happen in the park without first doing “studies required” is one interpretation of the plan’s intent and one that biking opponents have used repeatedly. However, there is not a clear statement in the Plan saying that the Parks Department cannot consider changes to recreational uses until certain steps are taken. Here’s how Selker puts it:

“Opponents have tried to wave the plan as a defense against cyclists, but it does not prohibit anything we have done, considered, or proposed. It lays out a process for changes, and we must adhere to that process.”

Selker applauds the report on its overall content and feels it rightfully points out the most pressing threats to the park — invasive species and a lack of funds for operation and maintenance.

Selker is calling on City Club to make several edits to the report before it’s officially adopted by their membership at their meeting tomorrow:

“I understand that you were striving for even-handedness, but you missed that mark – but with minor edits you can remedy it and avoid unnecessarily alienating a large part of this town in a project that needs all of us.”

This report is just one of many sources of information Parks Commissioner Nick Fish and Director Zari Santner will take into account before making their final recommendation in the coming months.

I have not yet heard back from City Club in response, but will update this story if/when I do.

— Read more of our coverage on this issue here.