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Exploring the Gresham Fairvew Trail

Posted by on June 12th, 2014 at 9:59 am

Start of Gresham-Fairview Trail

The Gresham Fairvew Trail at its southern start just north of the Springwater Corridor and a bit east of the Portland city border.
(Photos J. Maus/BikePortland)

This post is part of our special focus on east Portland this week.

Besides the Springwater Corridor, outer east Portland’s marquee bike path is the Gresham Fairview Trail. Similar to the Springwater, the Gresham Fairview Trail was built on the bed of a former railroad line and treats riders to a (mostly) low-stress, carfree environment with views and access to natural areas.

Despite covering news of the trail for many years, I had never actually ventured out to explore it myself. With our special east Portland focus this week I figured this was the perfect chance to finally check it out.

I got on the trail at its southern end, where it connects directly to the Springwater Corridor at SW 10th just south of Powell Blvd. The trail started with a flourish as I pedaled by a horse pasture and the open spaces full of wildflowers and natural ponds between Grant Butte and Southwest Park. As I pedaled north I crossed the wonderful new(ish) bridge over Powell Blvd and then stopped to fully take in the clear view of Mt. St. Helens.

Gresham-Fairview Trail at Powell

The bridge over Powell is the most impressive piece of infrastructure on the path.
Gresham-Fairview Trail over Powell


Gresham-Fairview Trail north of Powell>

Hello Mt. St. Helens!
Gresham-Fairview Trail scenery

Gresham-Fairview Trail

Just south of Division.

After I pedaled the winding path behind apartments and condos I came to the at-grade crossing of SE Division. As I observed traffic at this intersection for several minutes, I appreciated the bridge over Powell Blvd even more.

The first thing I noticed at Division was a huge sign that read, “ARTERIAL CROSSING AHEAD WATCH FOR CROSS TRAFFIC”. Then I heard what sounded like an angry Stormtrooper from Star Wars repeatedly imploring people over a loudspeaker to “Cross with caution, vehicles may not stop! Cross with caution, vehicles may not stop! Cross with caution, vehicles…”

The crossing itself has four caution signs warning drivers on Division about the path. There are also six sets of flashing lights activated by push-buttons. I ended up crossing with a group of several other riders and, as we listened to the loud Stormtrooper voice, one woman exclaimed, “Why would they not stop?!”

Well, as it turns out, some people simply don’t pay attention to what they’re doing. As I crossed I heard a loud bang on the street. Sure enough, someone driving on Division drove right into the back of someone else who had already stopped to let us cross.

All this stress and visual and audio clutter just to cross a street. Seems like it’d be much simpler and safer to just dig a tunnel under the road and be done with it. Sheesh!

Gresham-Fairview crossing Division

Gresham Fairview Trail at Division

Even mid-day during the week this crossing sees a ton of action.
Rules for path use

Operating instructions.

Continuing north I pedaled by TriMet’s Ruby Junction rail yard where the path butts right up against a chain-link fence. Just past the rail yard, I came to the first major gap in the path and was unceremoniously dumped onto a surface street (Birdsdale). Having never been on this path before, I wasn’t exactly sure where to go. There were signs (but no markings or facilities on the street at all) that directed me to go left on Burnside. After being on a carfree, paved path I was suddenly sharing a lane with auto drivers in the middle of traffic.

The master plan calls for, “a combination of wider sidewalk/pathway, roadway illumination, signing, bicycle loop detectors, pedestrian detectors, wide curb ramps, a high visibility ‘ladder’ cross walk and a curved path approaching the crossing.” Apparently I was supposed to use the south sidewalk of Burnside and then cross at a marked crosswalk a block or so to the west; but I just took the lane and found the trail again on my own.

Gresham Fairview Trail at Ruby Junction>

TriMet rail yard is on the left.
Gresham Fairview Trail gap at Birdsdale St

At Birdsdale Road… What now? Do I enter the road? Stay on the sidewalk?
Gresham Fairview Trail gap at Birdsdale St

That’s Burnside just ahead.
Gresham-Fairview Trail gap at Burnside

Where I ended up.

After Ruby Junction, the path heads straight north in a greenway/power-line corridor. This is a nice and quiet section with plenty of room to pull over and rest or have a picnic. The at-grade crossing of SE Stark wasn’t too bad, but a tunnel would be much better.

Gresham-Fairview Trail at SE Stark

At-grade crossing of Glisan (similar to the one at Stark)

At Glisan I veered off the path to try and find the Salish Ponds Wetlands Park. Just a few blocks off the trail, it’s a shame there’s not a more obvious connection. There aren’t any signs (that I saw) and there’s no direct trail connection. I only knew the park existed because I saw it on Google Maps. Even the park’s listing on the Travel Oregon website makes zero mention of accessing it from the Gresham Fairview Trail.

NE Glisan bike lanes in east Portland

On Glisan, looking for Salish Ponds Park.

The trail’s master plan (adopted way back in 2002) mentions that, “A trail connection could be planned through Reynolds Middle School connecting the two trails and could be constructed by the City of Fairview,” but that connection hasn’t been built yet.

Even with lackluster access, Salish Ponds Park is well worth checking out. It’s got two large ponds and a bunch of gravel paths to explore. I saw several people enjoying the park, including teenagers fishing, walking with friends, and taking photos of wildflowers on their iPhones (a great sign of a park’s success in my opinion).

Salish Ponds park in Gresham

Salish Ponds park in Gresham

Salish Ponds park in Gresham

Salish Ponds park in Gresham

Salish Ponds park in Gresham

Strangely, this nice path ends at the back of a large apartment complex.

I then hopped back onto the trail and rode to its northern terminus at NE Halsey. The end of the trail was pretty disappointing. It just sort of dumped me onto Halsey (at 201st). The trail’s master plan calls for it to eventually connect to the Marine Drive Bike Path. That will be great, but today your best bet is to make a loop westward by hopping onto the bike lanes on Halsey continuing north across Halsey to the I-84 bike path, then take that east to 122nd.

The Halsey bike lanes aren’t great. Like almost all the bike lanes in east Portland, they’re just 4-5 foot curbside lanes (with nasty storm drains) next to several wide lanes of fast-moving traffic.

North end of Gresham-Fairview Trail

North end of Gresham-Fairview Trail

End of the line.
NE Halsey in east Portland

Westbound bike lane on NE Halsey will take you all the way back to I-205.

The Gresham Fairview Trail is a good asset in the regional bike network. It’s just too bad we don’t have more money and urgency to make it great. I realize it’s difficult to build these type of facilities because — unlike highways and transit projects — our federal government doesn’t have a dedicated funding program for them. But still, the first meeting for this trail was held in 1998. The master plan was adopted in 2002. And it’s still two miles short of its ultimate goal of reaching the Marine Drive Bike Path (not to mention the stressful crossings and the Ruby Junction gap).

Hopefully someday soon we’ll have stronger funding respect from the feds. In the meantime, stay tuned for ways to speak up and voice local support for this and other major trail projects.

— Read more of our special East Portland Week coverage here.

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  • Jean M June 12, 2014 at 10:28 am

    You could also take the I-84 path back west, too. The entrance is just across Halsey from where you stopped. It goes from there to 122nd, and you can catch the 205 path by continuing west on Burnside (way better than Glisan).

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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) June 12, 2014 at 10:30 am

      Thanks Jean. That’s a great idea. Wish I’d known about that yesterday as I’ve long been curious about that path.

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    • Chris I June 12, 2014 at 2:31 pm

      The extension of this trail north to Sandy Blvd and Marine Drive will be huge for people living and working on outer NE Sandy. There are several large employers out here that could have much higher levels of bike commuting. The lack of a safe connection to the south and west is a huge barrier.

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  • Alex Reed June 12, 2014 at 10:29 am

    Reaching the Marine Drive path would not just improve the Gresham-Fairview trail for recreational use; there are also a bunch of medium-to-large employers between Columbia, Marine Drive, around 200th Ave., and I-205 that would benefit from improved access.

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    • Chris I June 12, 2014 at 2:32 pm

      We have many people at my company that would love to bike to work, but are afraid (and I don’t blame them) of riding on roads like Sandy between 181st and 185th, and 201st south of I-84.

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  • Terry D June 12, 2014 at 10:38 am

    Building these final connections are in the works from what I have heard, but I do not know the funding streams and how reliable they are. This is one of my favorites loops…Springwater east…then take the Fairview trail back to Burnside then Home. The northern leg is just too inconvenient as you found out until they build the connections. You can though get from the Fairview wetlands through the school parking lots….there is just this dirt trail to go around the gates.

    Having a well worn dirt trail is a good sign that the city/metro needs to pave it.

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  • Joseph E June 12, 2014 at 11:03 am

    “Well, as it turns out, some people simply don’t pay attention to what they’re doing. As I crossed I heard a loud bang on the street. Sure enough, someone driving on Division drove right into the back of someone else who had already stopped to let us cross.”


    I use 1/4 mile of this trail between Burnside and Stark most days. Many drivers yield to me at Stark, but the sight lines are poor due to a fence at the SW corner, so I have to stop and wait.

    I see many people walking on the northern section for short trips.
    But the gap at the Ruby Junction rail yard, and at the northern end, are the real problems that prevent this being a more useful long-distance route.

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  • Psyfalcon June 12, 2014 at 11:42 am

    I just use the sidewalk at Burnside. Not enough bike or pedestrian traffic to bother crossing a road twice. Go slow, and take note of “Hydrogen Oregon” which claims (scams, I believe) to increase fuel efficiency with hydrogen. Huge cross section of cars lined up there.

    At Halsey, I like to go to 223, then to Interlachen or Blue Lake Rd to Blue Lake Park then to Marine Dr.

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    • gutterbunnybikes June 12, 2014 at 8:42 pm

      One of my favorite last minute “nothing to do today” rides is Springwater from my middle ring SE house to this trail up to Blue lake hang out for a bit then jump on Marine Drive and head out to and through the Columbia Slough, then down to city center (Prom/waterfront), then back home.

      It comes out to about 30 miles depending on how you do it, but as long as you take Springwater east and Gresham-Fairview north it’s almost all flat/downhill until I get back to city center and start heading back home. Pretty nice easy ride, even my 40 year old three speed.

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  • GlowBoy June 12, 2014 at 11:51 am

    I rode this trail (from north to south) a couple years ago. Seemed nice enough, except for the arterial crossings.

    And it seems like mid-megablock arterial crossings are one of the biggest challenges/opportunities in East, as has been pointed out in several other of this week’s discussions.

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  • GlowBoy June 12, 2014 at 11:55 am

    As for the Division crossing, wouldn’t a bridge be better (in terms of preventing crime / dementor attacks) than a tunnel?

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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) June 12, 2014 at 12:07 pm

      I don’t think “dementor attacks” are something to worry about… And I think that tunnels are better for bikeways in general because bridges inevitably require climbing while with tunnels you can keep your speed and roll up the other side.

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      • RJ June 12, 2014 at 12:35 pm

        For what it’s worth, I know City of Gresham has been looking for grant money to build that tunnel for at least five years, but they’ve been unsuccessful. Maybe adding the benefit of “mitigates potential dementor attacks” will push their next grant app over the top!

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      • Paul Swanson June 12, 2014 at 2:30 pm

        A tunnel might dip below the water table there, and flooding could be an issue. It is a wetland …

        Try this for a nice ride: Springwater to Gresham-Fairview to Stark to Columbia River Hwy to Troutdale to Halsey (stop at Edgefield for a pint and a burger) to Gresham-Fairview and back to the start.

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      • Terry D June 12, 2014 at 10:39 pm

        Not only is the water table an issue here (hence the overpass at Powell to the south), but overpasses are preferred over tunnels for safety reason. “Demeter attacks” aside, if you are a young female going to work early in the morning in the dark, a tunnel not visible to the public might be intimidating. Particularly in that location since there is basically nothing around for a long way.

        As would be that long stretch next to the MAX trains where there are no outlets. In most trail outreach, multiple entrances and exists are mentioned repeatedly due to this fear in Urban settings. Personally, I like the mixed industrial usage, but from a safety perspective it is not the best trail.

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      • GlowBoy June 13, 2014 at 12:17 pm

        In case (as I suspect) not everyone got the reference, “dementor attacks” refers to the scene early in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix wherein Harry and his cousin Dudley are attacked by dementors in a cement pedestrian underpass below an expressway. That kind of dank, bleak, crime-enabling place is exactly what I picture when I think of pedestrian tunnels.

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  • feralcow June 12, 2014 at 12:37 pm

    have ridden it a couple of times and the Division crossing is the worst part. A tunnel would be great, but could also just change it up and make it a normal activated signal crossing.

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  • Chris I June 12, 2014 at 2:36 pm

    The authoritative crossing voice pretty much sums up the transportation culture in the US. I have a good laugh every time I hear that thing.

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    • Psyfalcon June 12, 2014 at 3:20 pm

      I’ve stopped pressing the button if there is any chance of crossing without it.

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  • Jennifer June 12, 2014 at 7:36 pm

    That intersection at Division is a bully.

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  • Ted Buehler June 13, 2014 at 12:36 am

    I suspect that if you call that phone # on the Gresham Parks and Rec sign and ask them to add clarifying instructions on the “Burnside Jog” signs that they’d probably oblige.

    Ted Buehler

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