Portland Parks & Recreation will host a trail work party at their newly acquired Riverview natural area next week and many of the volunteers that show up will be from the Northwest Trail Alliance, a group eager to expand local off-road riding opportunities and willing to invest sweat equity to make it happen.
Back in May of 2011, Portland Parks & Recreation teamed up with the City’s Bureau of Environmental Services and Metro to buy 146 acres of forested land located just south of Riverview Cemetery and the Sellwood Bridge. The parcel of land was previously owned by the adjacent Riverview Cemetery. Technically, the land was private, but over the past two decades people have been hiking and biking through it and a mish-mash network of trails has developed. To my knowledge, Riverview Cemetery (to their credit) has chosen to look the other way instead of cracking down on trespassers.
With the City of Portland’s well-known lack of close-in singletrack trail riding opportunities, the purchase of this land — known as the “LC Trails” (due to nearby Lewis & Clark College) or simply “the cemetery” — immediately piqued the interest of off-road riding advocates. Local business owner and well-known rider Erik Tonkin has ridden the trails for 18 years. He says he “can’t imagine” a place where he’d rather see a public and professionally managed network of off-road bike trails.
Portland Parks held the first work party at Riverview back in the spring. According to Parks Commissioner Nick Fish’s policy coordinator Emily York (formerly Emily Hicks), volunteers at that event restored several dangerous and damaged trails and began the process to come up with a plan for the trails. York says a team has been assembled within Parks and with stakeholders to decide which trails to restore and which ones to decommission because they are unsafe or because they pose threats to the area’s ecology.
As of today, York says no formal decisions have been made about the property. All trails are considered “shared use” which means they’re open to people bicycling and walking/hiking. “My understanding,” York shared via telephone today, “is that sometime next year — late winter/early spring — we’ll kick off a formal planning process around trail management.” Once that process starts, York said, “The biking community will be an important stakeholder and will be involved from the get-go.”
“We need to… restore some of the natural habitat that’s been degraded over time. That doesn’t mean we need to take away [bike] access to trails. Our team is open to those two things happening at the same time, they’re aren’t mutually exclusive.”
— Emily York, policy coordinator for Commissioner Nick Fish
Parks is treating Riverview as a natural area, which means habitat and ecosystem preservation is a high priority. The area plays an important role in treating runoff and managing stormwater. That means, according to York, “We need to not only maintain this area, but restore some of the natural habitat that’s been degraded over time.”
Does this focus on habitat restoration mean that bicycle access won’t be allowed in the future? York says it doesn’t.
Despite the focus on restoration, York says, “That doesn’t mean we need to take away [bike] access to trails. Our team is open to those two things happening at the same time, they’re aren’t mutually exclusive… We can maintain safe, fun trails while making sure habitat stays in tact while trails can be further restored.”
Concerns about the impact of bicycles on natural habitats dominated parts of the debate about whether or not the City should improve off-road bike access in Forest Park. The issue thrust to the fore when someone carved an illegal downhill bike trail in a heavily forested area of Forest Park just days before a committee was set to make a decision on the issue.
“This is an opportunity for the mountain biking community to build on our recent efforts to keep the Riverview property open to cyclists, and demonstrate our interest in creating permanent riding opportunities there.”
— Tom Archer, Northwest Trail Alliance
A lot has changed since those days. The Parks bureau has learned a lot about how to handle bicycle access in natural areas and they have worked closely with the Northwest Trail Alliance. “They have been an awesome partner,” says York.
Tom Archer, advocacy director for the NWTA sees his group’s early partnership and sweat equity at Riverview as vital to the future of local singletrack. “This [the work party] is an opportunity for the mountain biking community to build on our recent efforts to keep the Riverview property open to cyclists, and demonstrate our interest in creating permanent riding opportunities there.” “Plus,” he adds, “trail work is fun and a great way ‘give back’ to your local parks and natural areas.”
— The work party is open to the public. Meet at SW Brugger St and SW Palatine Hill Road on Wednesday, August 8th at 5:00pm. More details here.
Why does every park in this city have to be a “natural area”? There’s not that much natural about the ivy-choked area that is the riverview properties besides the trees. I finally got on these trails a couple of weeks ago. They’re fairly extreme (not for beginners), especially at the bottom, and getting back up was pretty tough (esp. on a SS). I think this area could really shine with a good trail plan though.
Jonathan you might want to amend your map. The red area is half over the actual cemetery.
Thanks davemess and Perry,
I’ve edited the map and uploaded a new version.
Westmorland park, Berkley Park, Gabriel Park, Woodstock Park, Lents Park….. The list goes on and on of parks that are not natural areas. Looking at the City and the vast paved expanses, natural areas are actually quite scarce. If there are natural areas in the city, even though they are inferior to natural areas in the wilderness, people will get their nature fix close by and drive less and the negative impact by people on the really important and fragile natural areas will be significantly diminished. Anyway it is to be expected that writers on this blog want more for cycling, and only see the world through that lens.
All that being said, this would be a GREAT place for well designed, well maintained and thoughtfully used off road cycling.
That graphic seems to show that the cemetery itself is included. I’m pretty sure the actual area involved is the southern half of that shown.
OK…so the color-sighted cube neighbor just explained it to me. Damn, damn, damn. I’m the guy who, when they do the “what numbers do you see?” color blindness test, says “numbers?”.
NWTA is doing great work on many fronts.They are definitely leaders in stewardship and in encouraging responsible use by the user group they represent. From what I have seen recently, they should be a model for other user groups in this regard.
However, Jonathon I want to challenge you, Andrew Clark, and others on the claim that Portland has fewer off-road cycling opportunities than other major cities.
If you mean it is enough for what you want for the City of Portland, that is a fair claim, even if it leaves unclear what would be enough.
But it is simply NOT true that Portland has fewer off-road cycling opportunities relative to other cities. I spent a lot of time looking into this several years back and I actually found that Portland had more off-road, natural surface cycling opportunities in its city limits than most other major cities. I challenge anyone to do the research and prove otherwise. Even smaller bike-friendly municipalities like Davis, CA provide fewer off-road cycling opportunities.
The claim that Portland provides less off-road cycling opportunities than other cities is extremely overblown. I can see how it might be a useful impression for off-road cycling advocates to cultivate, but it is simply NOT true. And I don’t think it benefits them or the broader community in the long-term to be spreading inaccurate information.
Thanks for the comment Jim.
In this story I state that Portland has a lack of close-in singletrack. I don’t say we have fewer opportunities than other cities. The fact remains that we have one of the largest urban parks in America right out our front door (Forest Park) and inside it is only 1/3 of a mile of singletrack that’s open to bikes. We can have all sorts of other debates, but that one simple – and unfortunate – fact remains.
We also have places like Powell Butte, Mt. Tabor, and other small parks and off-road areas where we could easily develop environmentally sustainable singletrack trails for bicycles but we have not done so.
“…The fact remains that we have one of the largest urban parks in America right out our front door (Forest Park) and inside it is only 1/3 of a mile of singletrack that’s open to bikes. We can have all sorts of other debates, but that one simple – and unfortunate – fact…” maus/bikeportland
Forest park is definitely a nature park whose location within a city, makes it a certain type of urban park. It’s definitely not an ‘urban park’ in the sense that multi-use urban parks with lawn, basketball and tennis courts, swimming pools and skateboard facilities are urban parks.
With regards to the Riverview property, good luck to everyone hoping their ideas for use of the park will be provided for. Parks and Rec seems to be taking a wait and see approach to this new acquisition, as far as determining the travel mode that will be allowed within it. That may provide an opportunity to find out just how receptive the neighboring community, and the community at large will be to off-road biking in this park.
I see what you are saying, but I think JM means “close-in” single-track compared to “natural surface” riding. The two are not really the same.
I moved to Portland from Tallahassee, FL and I have much fewer off-road facilities to choose from here. I didn’t realize the limits of Powell-Butte and Forest Park before I moved here. I had the sense that I’d be able to ride tons of single track from my front door, but that definitely didn’t happen. Tallahassee has an amazing (yes, amazing) trail system that is accessible within the city. Here are SOME of the trails.
I’m sure this is just an anomaly, but it’s there.
So, Portland gets spanked by Tallahassee in terms of singletrack. The day when I flee this place can’t come soon enough.
What cities did you compare it to? I would like to see the research you did.
Also, natural surface riding != single track, and to say it does reflects on your understanding of the sport.
> But even if you look at just single-track, I think you will find that Portland is among the top in terms of the number of miles of available for riding within the city limits.
What? Where is this single-track you are talking about?
I love when people do their own research but fail to mention any details or resources they used.
I certainly understand that single-track is one category of off-road cycling but this distinction is not often made by off-road cycling advocates in talking about the lack of opportunities. I believe League of American cyclists criteria focus generally on off-road cycling, not just single-track. It looks to me like the League (of which I am member) did not do there research in assessing the opportunities to ride off-road in Portland.
But even if you look at just single-track, I think you will find that Portland is among the top in terms of the number of miles of available for riding within the city limits.
Again, maybe that is not enough for some. But to say that Portland is somehow behind other major cities in providing single-track is just not the case.
Also Jonathon, clarification: Powell Butte is currently developed for single-track, even if not as sustainably as some of us would like. 🙂
Phoenix, AZ has tons of great single track. Best bet for nice single-track around here is bus up to Scappoose, then 5 mile pavement ride to the trailhead.
Up here in Clark County it’s about a 10 mile ride from bus stop to trail head on average. I keep hoping nice trails will be cut in Camp Bonneville, if they ever get done clearing old munitions and whatnot.
…and Scappoose is not technically for public use.
what is available besides a very tiny part of forest park and powell butte? I used to live in Corvallis and was 200 yards from miles and miles of trails. I don’t expect portland to compete with that, but powell butte is not enough mountain biking for the entire city.
JIm, have you visited Minneapolis? The suburb Eagan has a fantastic park called Lebanon Hills. For Portlanders, that would be like taking the train to Beaverton to mountain bike. Is that too much to ask for Portland? Austin, TX has the “Greenbelt” winding right through the middle of the city, and in addition, Walnut Creek in North Austin has great mountain bike trails. Hell, even in the Bronx, you can find some passable mountain bike trails near City Island. I commute to work by bicycle every day, on some fairly un-bike-friendly streets (yes! even in Portland!) but I dream of riding my mountain bike on some unpaved paths throughout the city. Apparently Portland used to have some of these, but they’ve all been decommissioned. Perhaps the City is encouraging me to drive out of town for my cycling nature trips? In my opinion, this is not the Best Bicycling City in America.
Jim, I would venture to guess that 99% of the population equates “off road cycling” to mountain biking (or “singletrack” riding). You’re just splitting hairs.
Would you care to share some of your research showing the vastness of “off road cycling” available in Portland and other US cities?
Are you really arguing that there is decent mountain biking in Portland?, or are you just throwing out semantics?
Dave you are the winner! Off-road opportunities do not always equal an enjoyable riding experience for the majority of mtn bikers. We need a different way to measure this not just a quantifiable “miles” number but also and “experience” factor. Sounds like a mtn bike research trip is in order.
I think that “within city limits” is perhaps misleading; “within bicycling distance or a short drive of the city” should perhaps be the yardstick used. For instance, mountain biking was invented in Marin County, CA. Most of the cities there have crap for bicycling opportunities within their boundaries. But, just a short ride away is Mt. Tamalpais as well as many other riding opportunities on both public and private lands. Similarly, the East Bay cities of Berkeley and Oakland have poor off-road trail availability within city limits, but immediately to their east are thousands of acres of regional parkland with plentiful mountain bike trails.
When thinking about mountain biking possibilities for Portlanders, therefore, I think it’s critical to think outside the box of city limits, and include nearby unincorporated public and private lands that could be reached via facilities such as the Springwater Corridor that connect from the inner city to the urban edge.
Wouldn’t it be cool if say 0.33% of the Sellwood bridge budget (that would be $1,000,000) were used to make this area totally amazing for riding?
Just call in an extended multi-modal on-ramp or something…
While I certainly support the City’s efforts to enhance water quality, I hope they use sound science in their assessment of the impact of trails on the creek (and the Willamette). The far larger impact in this area is from “impervious surface” (streets, parking lots, etc.) runoff, not trails (trails can also be modified to minimize their impact). Of course, Lewis & Clark College’s past practice of draining their pool to the creek didn’t help things…
Singletrack should only be 1 inch wide to keep out the pesky wide footed pedestrians from widening the trail and damaging the environment.
Sunny my tires are 2.4″ 🙂
Jim Labbe, where is all the in-city-limits singletrack you’re talking about? I know about Powell Butte, and 1/3 mile of Firelane 5, but other than a few short (mostly secret and/or quasi-legal) stretches here and there, what do we have? I thought I’d heard “NO BIKES” signs were going up on Tabor, so that’s gone, and we got kicked off the awesome bluff-bottom trail by Oaks Park a while back. So what else is there, besides the miles of unpaved side streets in outer SE Portland that are starting to revert to singletrack?
And anyway, it’s not just about what’s in the city limits (although that’s important), it’s what’s available in the metro area and reachable either by bike or a reasonably short drive. Beyond what’s mentioned above, I know of VERY little legal singletrack within the UGB. If I lived in my native Minneapolis, I’d have 10-12 trail systems that I could access easily. Even Seattle, also heavily punished by the hiking clubs, has much more than we do in its metro area. Phoenix, Boise … heck, practically every city I’ve been to in the last 10 years has it better than we do. OK, so maybe we beat Sacramento. 😛
As for the Riverview property, I’m absolutely THRILLED BY this development. When PPR acquired it, I’d assumed we would knee-jerk lose access for good. It’s really exciting that we might actually get the chance to have some bike-legal trails so close to home.
Good point about Seattle. They haven’t banned bikes at many of the city parks (Woodland, Magnusson). While not great mountain biking opportunities, at least bikes can still ride on the trails or grass in these parks.
I’m hoping that this can serve as something of a demonstration project, to eventually change some minds about more off-road riding opportunities in Forest Park. (That shouldn’t be necessary, but apparently it is.)
There was never any actual proof that the trail in Forest Park was made by cyclists, and based on the underhanded approach to negotiations taken by anti bike advocates and the “convenient” timing of the trails discovery I think there is a good chance that one of the anti-bike folks built that trail to be used to disrupt the negotiations.
Time to put on your aluminum foil hats…
First they came for the communists, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Jew.
Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak out for me.
Paranoia in and of itself is not a disproof of the validity of its concern.
The trail in question was described as being very well constructed. Either it was authentically constructed by a cyclist with much pride in his work or a conspirator with a great deal of time to spare constructing a scene for his dastardly plot.
Either is possible but I strongly doubt that any of the latter example’s potential perpetrators would have settled for anything so simple. Sure it would be a lot of work for a single person but after putting in all that construction effort to have not also planted direct evidence implicating a person a very select group of “evil” cyclists seems like effort wasted.
You are correct, there are miles of available singletrack in Portland. There is one problem: it’s illegal to ride on. If all the mountain bikers started riding all the available singletrack in Forest Park, we would be even more demonized and our efforts for close-in, legal, singletrack would take a huge hit.
Also, I’m from Philadelphia, a city that people would never think of as being an “active” city the way Portland is. However, the Fairmount Park System within the city limits offers miles and miles of close-in, legal singletrack for mountain bikers. It’s also shared use (GASP).
Cleveland is the same way, there are trails to ride in the Cleveland Metroparks.
When you speak of the plethora of off-road cycling available in Portland, you must be alluding to the gravel fire roads in FP and/or small series of sub-par trails on Powell Butte. Maybe even the unpaved roads in outer SE? These are not mountain bike trails, let alone singletrack. It’s obvious that paths that my 3 year old on his balance bike and his grandma on her cruiser can ride on are not what we’re needing, and shouldn’t be included in the discussion.
One of my close singletrack dreams is a pair of directional singletracks running under the powerlines in Vancouver/Clark County, with tunnels/bridges under/over most major roads.
There is paved path under a few miles of powerlines, but still plenty of powerline mileage to work with up here.
This is a tremendous opportunity not to be wasted by bickering. Look to what’s been done at Sandy Ridge and imagine a smaller version right in Portland proper with trails for users of all abilities. Make them directional to avoid conflicts, and build go-arounds for the more technical features. If you’ve never done trailbuilding before, you have no idea how cool it is to say to people “I helped build that.” Imagine how cool it would be if 1,000 people worked together to build trails up there and they all became trail stewards later, because they don’t want all their work damaged.
If you need another shining example of what can be done in a relatively small area check out Duthie Hill Park in Issaquah, WA. Since I’ve moved to Seattle and started riding there regularly I’ve never seen the place when it wasn’t packed with riders of all abilities, ages & genders. There is no reason Portland can’t pull it together as a community and make it happen.
No joke. That place is AWESOME!
I’ve been there too. Killer.
All of us mountain bikers know the truth about the lack of riding opportunities in and around Portland. “Off road riding” and “mountain biking” are no more synonymous than “hiking” and “mountaineering.” Mountain bikers get to define their sport, and no one I have ever met defines gravel roads as mountain biking. Portland is falling further and further behind many cities in this country who see the obvious benefits of mountain biking. NWTA is doing an amazing job, but they have a tremendous amount of things happening all the time. They can only do so much with the number of people who are actively volunteering. They need help. A great start will be to show up en masse to the trail party at Riverview next week. Then, come to the next NWTA meeting with ideas (time to think outside the box a bit) and a willingness to get involved. After all, it is OUR local government and we can decide to get involved, or not……
Don’t let Jim Labbe bait people into a debate about single track and trail access for bicycles in Portland. He is a status quo guy who is against any access to the outdoors that does not involve bird watching or middle aged leisure hiking. He will make believe that he is open to all sides but really he wants to keep everyone else out of the outdoors. It would be best to ignore him and his comments and work with the NWTA to improve access.
I have brought my mtn bike with me for two family adventures this summer one of them to Port Townsend WA and the other to Central Oregon. I probably don’t have to tell anyone how great the riding in Bend is or that the trail heads are a short bike ride (1/2 mile) from town. Sisters also now has a trail system (30 miles) that starts either very close to or inside of city limits. The real surprise was Port Townsend. for a sleepy puget sound town they have tons of single track (some even connecting city streets) and a few dedicated mtn. bike areas being developed all of this was within a short ride from my hotel. Portland is a much larger city than these others with more users, but I think we (mtn bikers) can get what we want (shoot, I need it!) if we stay active in the discussion, put in some sweat, and hold the decision makers accountable. If you ride a bike on dirt and love it, join the NWTA!
A lot of nice, respectable people just want to ride some good mountain bike trails as evident by this and so many other posts. People like Jim Labbe want us to be marginalized to gravel fire roads. A true bike-friendly city should simply have more quality singletrack..
Jim Labbe, I’m sorry you spent so much time studying how much “off-road” cycling we have available here, without understanding that gravel fire roads do not constitute actual mountain bike trails. In that we surely lack…very much so.
Here’s hoping that birding zealots or other fanatics don’t spoil this opportunity for Portland.
> Forest park is definitely a nature park whose location within a city, makes it a certain type of urban park. It’s definitely not an ‘urban park’ in the sense that multi-use urban parks with lawn, basketball and tennis courts, swimming pools and skateboard facilities are urban parks.
Your definitions are so well articulated, it makes it hard to argue with…
You are right, single track doesn’t belong in a lot of other ‘urban parks’ with lawn, basketball and tennis courts, swimming pools and skateboard facilities. It is much better suited to something like Forest
“… It is much better suited to something like Forest
That has not been the prevailing viewpoint in Portland. Will off-road biking be welcomed to or accepted on the Riverview land? That’s the relevant question as PPR proceeds to develop it with improved trail work.
That is false. They had a meeting, which I was a part of, and the votes were in – it was very well supported by the active community members to add more access to mountain bikes than what is currently there. Perhaps you didn’t participate in that event.
It has been blocked time and time again by rich people and bureaucrats. For you to pretend that is “Portland’s” viewpoint is absurd.
It’s city land now — and so far it is quite welcomed.