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At Riverview property, off-road riding advocates invest sweat equity

Posted by on August 1st, 2012 at 1:24 pm

A trail into the Riverview natural area.

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.

Riverview natural area boundary.

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.

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. BikePortland is an inclusive company with no tolerance for discrimination or harassment including expressions of racism, sexism, homophobia, or xenophobia. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

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davemess
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davemess

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.

Perry Hunter
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Perry Hunter

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.

Jim Labbe
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Jim Labbe

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.

Sincerely,

Jim Labbe

Jim Labbe
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Jim Labbe

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. 🙂

Jim

SilkySlim
Guest

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…

Rob
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Rob

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…

Sunny
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Sunny

Singletrack should only be 1 inch wide to keep out the pesky wide footed pedestrians from widening the trail and damaging the environment.

GlowBoy
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GlowBoy

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.

dwainedibbly
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dwainedibbly

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.)

Bjorn
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Bjorn

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.

Eric
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Eric

Jim,

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).

cm
Guest
cm

Jim Labbe,
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.

LESTER
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LESTER

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.

Evan
Guest
Evan

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.

Brian
Guest
Brian

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……

Jon
Guest
Jon

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.

jocko
Guest
jocko

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!

kazimar
Guest
kazimar

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.

Alex
Guest
Alex

> 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
Park.