Posted by Jonathan Maus ( Publisher/Editor ) on September 29th, 2010 at 11:59 am
Portland City Commissioner Nick Fish and the Director of Portland Parks Zari Santner are due to release their recommendations on bicycling in Forest Park sometime in the next week or so. The announcement will come 19 months after the issue of how to improve bicycling in the 5,000 acre park was first put on Fish’s radar. The journey to this point has been messy and difficult for people on all sides of the issue. In the interest of bringing you up to speed on the issue, here’s my recap and thoughts about how we got to where we are today…
Back in February 2009, with a citizen-led effort to spur momentum on improved bike access in the park taking off, Commissioner Fish stepped up and gave the community hope that off-road cycling would get better sooner than later. He told BikePortland he was, “committed to finding ways to significantly expand our current inventory of singletrack trails.”
19 months ago Fish said, “I think there is a need and there is a demand [for more trail access] and my job is to see how we can make that happen. I’m not interested in delaying this.”
But since that time it has become increasingly clear that Fish might not have fully appreciated the complexity of the issue he was wading into and his implied promises will most likely not be fulfilled. A citizen committee set up by Fish and the Parks Bureau he oversees has been an exercise in frustration for nearly everyone involved.
Those against more biking in the park felt burned that Fish had already made promises (to open existing and/or add trails for bikes) he couldn’t keep. Those in favor of more trail access felt they were being unfairly maligned by people who they say simply don’t want to share this public resource. What should have been a civil debate about how we use and take care of Forest Park, turned sour.
The waters of this debate were further poisoned by the discovery of an unauthorized trail that was made by mountain bikers in an ecologically sensitive section of the park. That story got a lot of attention in the media and responsible cycling advocates who do not condone illegal trail building were forced to defend themselves.
“An in-depth report on Forest Park published by the influential City Club of Portland likely put the nail in the coffin of any chance of Fish being able to keep his promises.”
Despite Commissioner Fish’s insistence that the illegal trail would not derail efforts to improve trail access options in the park, it clearly did. Parks Director Zari Santner spoke emotionally at a committee meeting just a few days after the discovery. She called the illegal trail “a tragedy” and said that nothing should move forward until “strategic management policies are in place.”
An in-depth report on Forest Park published by the influential City Club of Portland likely put the nail in the coffin of any chance of Fish being able to keep his promises. That report hammered the City of Portland for neglecting the park and not doing more to maintain its ecology and manage a vast increase in users over the years. The City Club also characterized off-road bicycling’s potential impact on the park’s ecology in a way that was called out as being unfair and misleading by several trail advocates.
Two recent surveys commissioned by Portland Parks (one just released a few weeks ago) show that the community (not just people who bike) wants more trails and more places in Forest Park where bikes can enjoy them. But any decisions on this prickly issue — like many here in Portland — will likely come down to politics.
Citizen activist and member of the Forest Park Off-Road Cycling Committee Frank Selker, the man whose grassroots plan launched back in December 2008 got this issue back onto the City’s front-burner, had an op-ed published in The Oregonian earlier this week. Selker emphasized the same point he’s been hammering on throughout the process — that Forest Park needs all the help it can get and excluding thousands of Portlanders from enjoying it, and becoming stewards in the process, simply does not make sense.
Selker’s tone in the piece is not optimistic about the impending announcement from Commissioner Fish and Parks Director Santner. He writes:
“I’m concerned that without factual merit and despite a majority favoring more options, cyclists will continue to be excluded from the park’s trails. More delays for “studies” and throwing a few bones to cyclists in other parks won’t change the basic reality.”
In the next few days, we should find out more about how and if the “basic reality” of off-road cycling in Portland will change.
— Read our previous coverage of this issue here.
*Despite the City Club’s assertion that off-road cycling http://www.imba.com/resources/research/trail-science/natural-resource-impacts-mountain-biking