Off-road bike trails figure into new property acquired by Parks Bureau

River View Forest will soon be
owned by the City.
(Photo: City of Portland)

Calling it the “largest land acquisition in recent decades,” two City bureaus (Parks and Environmental Services) teamed up with Metro to purchase 146 acres of natural area known as the “River View Forest” in Southwest Portland. The $11.25 million deal was announced Monday and was approved by City Council yesterday.

The privately owned land, which is adjacent to and south of River View Cemetery off of SW Macadam Ave, is currently home to a large network of unofficial bike trails that have been ridden for many years. Once the City of Portland becomes the official land-owner (which should be finalized later this summer), what does the future hold for mountain bike access?

As we know from recent experience with Forest Park, that is by no means a foregone conclusion.

Red shows approximate location of River View property.

City Commissioner Nick Fish (who oversees the Parks Bureau) said in a statement on Monday that the purchase, “puts a finishing touch on a chain of green spaces extending along Portland’s west side from Forest Park to the north all the way to Tryon Creek State Park at the southern border of the city.” Fish also said that, “We’ll be working with the community to create a plan for the area that includes ample opportunity for enjoying the space – hiking trails, environmental education programs, and more.”

“I still live in Portland largely due to this tract of land.”
— Erik Tonkin, veteran mountain biker and co-owner of Sellwood Cycle Repair

According to well-known local bike rider, professional racer, and co-owner of Sellwood Cycle Repair, Erik Tonkin, this area has been a popular riding spot for many years and is known colloquially as the “LC Trails” (for nearby Lewis & Clark College” or “The Cemetery” (for nearby River View Cemetery). Tonkin tells us the trails fall into the classic private/public grey area. The land was owned by River View Cemetery but they didn’t actively enforce a no-bikes policy (similar to the paved roads through their cemetery).

Tonkin says he’s very grateful that River View Cemetery and Lewis & Clark College have “generously looked the other way while some of us have recreated on their land.” Tonkin has ridden the trials for 18 years and adds that, “I still live in Portland largely due to this tract of land.”

The trails as they exist today are only suitable for very skilled riders, Tonkin says. They are “nearly always muddy” and are cut into steep sections of the hillside. “The challenges would be vast to make an off-road bicycling trail system… but I can’t imagine a place where I’d like it more.”

Northwest Trail Alliance Advocacy Director Tom Archer says his group has heard from many people who enjoy riding in the area and he hopes Portland Parks keeps off-road biking access on the table as it begins to develop a plan for River View Forest.

In an email to BikePortland he wrote; “This is a great opportunity to formally expand mountain biking in the Portland Parks system, to work with Parks and other stakeholders to improve the current condition of the property and demonstrate that mountain biking can be compatible with long-term environmental stewardship.”

According to Commissioner Fish’s office, it will be several years until a formal public process to develop a trail plan is underway. The first order of business, says Fish policy coordinator Emily Hicks, is to evaluate the 146 acres and begin native species restoration.

Once the public process begins, Hicks says the new natural area “will include recreational trails.”

Will off-road bicycling be permitted on those trails?

“We’ll make sure that all user groups are involved in the process,” Hicks tells us, “including our off-road biking community.”

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