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Guest article: A personal perspective on riding River View, a.k.a. the “cemetery trails”

Posted by on March 12th, 2015 at 3:52 pm

tonkin-waterfall

Erik Tonkin enjoying a “secret” waterfall in River View last summer.
(Photo courtesy Erik Tonkin)

This article was written by Erik Tonkin in response to the City of Portland’s decision to ban bicycling in River View Natural Area.

This will not be about my own personal narrative of biking, racing, and River View, but that’s where I’ll start because my life in Portland began on the cemetery trails.

I flew to Portland in 1993, 22 years ago this month. It was just my second time on a plane and my first time west of Minnesota. I was a freshman in college back home, and I’d saved up my work-study money for a round-trip flight to Portland. I was considering a transfer to Lewis & Clark College, so I came to give it a closer look.

“I somehow got to Brugger Road and turned left, heading back toward Palatine Hill — and that’s where I saw an opening in the woods, over a bald mound and through an ivy-choked but gorgeous green curtain of trees. I was in Oregon now.”

I landed at PDX and promptly got on a bus headed for downtown. I got off at the first stop and found a phone booth and phone book. The very few listings for bike shops quickly led me to the Bike Gallery. I walked over and rented a Bridgestone MB-3. I put on my big backpack and pedaled south toward Terwiliger and the college, where I was scheduled to attend a student orientation for the weekend. Eventually I crossed Taylors Ferry and, just after and to the left, saw my first Portland gravel road. I had no choice but to follow it, losing my way to school on the side streets of Burlingame.

I somehow got to Brugger Road and turned left, heading back toward Palatine Hill — and that’s where I saw an opening in the woods, over a bald mound and through an ivy-choked but gorgeous green curtain of trees. I was in Oregon now. That poor MB-3 got quite a workout before I even made it to campus, and I spent most of my time that weekend on the trails, on the bike.

The cemetery trails — which are also known by a more formal name, the River View Natural Area — offer me sense of place. I’ve lived and worked near to them ever since — without interruption, and by intention. The place made me the athlete I am — or, perhaps, was! In fact, today marks the 19th year of my shop’s informal group ride we call the Wednesday Night Mountain Bike School. The list of Oregon-based riders and racers who’ve done their tour-of-duty with me out on those River View trails is legend. (I am proud of that fact, but without arrogance — it’s just another reason those trails are hallowed ground for us.)

I don’t just go to River View to train and ride. While the bike is my preferred mode, I also like to walk. I saw my first Portland coyote there. (This was many years before the Sleater-Kinney track, an ode to the old-new of our town.) I discovered the waterfall hidden deep within. I encountered college kids and homeless folk doing things on and off the trails that they should — and shouldn’t have — been doing (it’s a heavily wooded area in the city, so let your imagination run wild).

The place is not mine. Nor is it owned by Portland Parks and Recreation and the Bureau of Environmental Services. They have some agency over it, but so do I. We all own it and have agency over it. Most importantly, we are all its stewards.

For my part, I do not plan to stop going there once this new ban is in place on March 16th. I honestly don’t think I can stop at this point. I will be on foot, but I’ll mostly be on my bike. I could be called a scofflaw. And yet I could also be called a Transcendentalist of the 19th century variety. “Among their core beliefs,” so says Wikipedia, “was the inherent goodness of both people and nature. They believe that society and its institutions…ultimately corrupt the purity of the individual. They have faith that people are at their best when truly “self-reliant” and independent. It is only from such real individuals that true community could be formed.”

I said this wasn’t going to be about my personal narrative, and it isn’t. Yes, the city graciously named me a “stakeholder” of the River View property. Yes, it’s personal for me. But now, what it’s really about is this: we are all stakeholders in River View because as citizens of this fine city and state we value open process and honest politics.

Unfortunately, what’s happened here so far is bad policy from poor politics and a failure of leadership in a closed process. And I don’t like it.

I could add conjecture and draw conclusions, editorializing until the end. But we all can. What matters is that it happened. This is not just about whether or not we can ride bikes off-road in River View. This is about faith and trust in our elected public officials. We deserve better.

— For more on River View, browse our archives.

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. 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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rick
Guest
rick

This is also transportation.

Kiel Johnson (Go By Bike)
Guest
kiel johnson

thank you erik! we definitely need some local political leadership that is willing to stick up for bicycling. did the city let the stakeholders committee vote on the ban? who else was on it?

davemess
Guest
davemess

No they didn’t vote (that’s why many of them were so surprised at the ban).
https://www.portlandoregon.gov/parks/62001

Buzz
Guest
Buzz

Erik for Mayor!

Granpa
Guest
Granpa

Businessman, competitive athlete, civic booster, yachtsman and now politician. Portland could do worse.

spencer
Guest
spencer

Erik for Fritz’s council seat!!!!

Ian Leitheiser
Guest
Ian Leitheiser

Thanks Erik. My relationship with the cemetery trails started in 1996, and I’ve lived only a short ride away ever since. Thanks for every Wednesday night ride, and for expressing the sentiment that so many of us have about this place.

Lenny Anderson
Guest
Lenny Anderson

Welcome to the Pacific Northwest!
Erik, next time you head for the local wilds to reflect, take a book along to provide a little historical context: William Dietrich’s “Northwest Passage: the Great Columbia River.” You will learn about the destruction of the Native People of this region through disease, and about the lies and deceit our forefathers used again and again as they tamed the Great River.
I believe the great political and moral challenge of our age is to mitigate some of this destruction of the natural world and its ancient inhabitants. A fish, Salmon, since long before the time of Christ and Augustus has been at the center of the economic, social and spiritual life of the original inhabitants of this region.
In the age of global warming, insuring the survival of these species takes precedence over many pleasures we all share. Can’t we leave a small piece of the natural world alone and let it heal and maybe help the fish?

bjorn
Guest
bjorn

Are you fighting for the salmon, or the freshwater red herring? The city’s own study shows us that mountain bikes are not a threat to the salmon.

Eric H
Guest
Eric H

Welp, that didn’t take long.

Pete
Guest
Pete

I suspect dams due more damage to Salmon than mountain bikes, but I don’t see those being outlawed. Okay, maybe one of them: https://vimeo.com/31305629

KristenT
Guest
KristenT

Runoff from paved areas also hurts stream health, and pavement is a lot more prevalent than trails in the Portland metro area.

Charley
Guest
Charley

When we environmentalists fight each other, the developers, miners, loggers, and ranchers laugh all the way to the bank.

You want to know the best way to help salmon? The best way is to instill a love for wild protected lands in as many voters as possible. Some voters like to hike, some like to ride, and some are happy just knowing that the land is there; none of these activities materially harm salmon, much less compete with logging, damming or developing. We should invite all these potential recreationalist advocates- get them on board with protecting land from truly harmful uses.

When we work together to protect areas like the McKenzie River, Mt St Helens, or the Gorge (all have trails open to bikes), we can be stronger than the industrial interests. Excluding recreational groups based on animus (in the absence of scientific evidence, that’s all the naysayers seem to have) just divides an already beleaguered constituency of environmental advocates. Stop.

Lester Burnham
Guest
Lester Burnham

Once again…blame whitey.

davemess
Guest
davemess

I was waiting for Erik to weigh in.
Great response.

davemess
Guest
davemess

Rick you mentioned this before. Please explain.

rick
Guest
rick

Mountain biking is transportation and this area of the city greatly needs more active transportation choices.

elpenguino
Guest
elpenguino

River View is part of my commute. Cemetery up in the am and trails down in the PM. Some days, trails both ways. My days sure go smoother with a little single track in em. heading there now. Peace

Charlie Sponsel
Guest

Thank you for this Erik.

spencer
Guest
spencer

yayah!!!! thats what i like to hear. i’m on board Tonkin!

raul
Guest
raul

Great story Erik! let’s ride there every day until this ban its reverse.

Huey Lewis
Guest
Huey Lewis

Not to be nitpicky here, but more likely ignorant of the facts, but doesn’t the City own the property? So those with the most agency over this land are in fact Portland Parks & Rec and B.E.S.? Though I get what he’s saying philosophically, which is maybe just what he means.

wsbob
Guest
wsbob

“…Unfortunately, what’s happened here so far is bad policy from poor politics and a failure of leadership in a closed process. …” EriK Tonkin

What are you thinking the “bad policy” is? What’s the “poor politics” and “failure of leadership” you’re referring to?

Your reminiscing about good times you were able to enjoy on someone else’s property before the city bought it, was pleasant reading. But aside from the fact that you don’t like the city discontinuing use of the land for mountain biking, what’s the basis for your claim?

What is it you think city officials involved in the land purchase, should have made public, before they did? And when?

Here in bikeportland stories about Riverview, have been a lot of people’s comments expressing frustration with the city’s decision about use of the land for mountain biking. Fine. Then they go on to blame the city for their frustration. Where were these people when the city was scraping up money to buy the land? Why didn’t they ask then, and make sure they got a yes or no answer, rather than after the fact, what certainty there was that the land could continue to be used for mountain biking?

Duncan Parks
Guest

Well, perhaps completely ignoring the findings of the Technical Advisory Committee is a start. The City has done nothing yet to improve the ecological value of the land…all it has done is kick out a user group whose activities (riding bikes on trails) did not even make the list of “disturbances” to worry about. In other words, if the City were actually implementing solutions to the habitat problems identified by the experts on the TAC, that would look like good government. If the City were valuing all the input from the community at the open houses (rather than shutting that process down), that would be good government. One can only describe the current decision as an act of conscious denial, given how clearly the real problems have been identified.

wsbob
Guest
wsbob

Show some verifiable information that the city and the commissioners have done any of what you claim. That is, ignored the the findings of the Technical Advisory Committee. You’ve done none of this. All you’re doing, is casting blind aspersions on decisions other people have made, because the decision made apparently hasn’t gone in the direction you and some other mountain biking enthusiasts hoped it would.

Find out why the decision to suspend mountain biking on the Riverview natural land acquisition was made, and then report back. Reading your comment, you’re convinced the reason the for the decision made, was for the reasons you suggest. Consider some you may not have thought of. That’s where the answer may be.

davemess
Guest
davemess

“Show some verifiable information that the city and the commissioners have done any of what you claim. That is, ignored the the findings of the Technical Advisory Committee.”

Verifiable information? Multiple sources on this very sight that were closely involved with the process and committee’s have give us the list of environmental threats to the park
They included:
1. Off leash dogs
2. Off trail cyclists and pedestrians
3. Party sites
4. Climate change

Banning on trail cycling does not address a single one of those threats. And they have taken no other action to attempt to mitigate any of those threats. And on top of that said the reason for the ban is “environmental” reasons.
If that isn’t ignoring the committee, I don’t know what is.
Your obtuseness here is staggering.

KristenT
Guest
KristenT

I’m starting to worry about you, wsbob. Bikeportland has done a good job of covering this issue, including the points you keep asking for. Even the Oregonian sees that the city has cut out stakeholders and ignored the findings of the Technical Advisory Committee.

Zimmerman
Guest
Zimmerman

Mountain bikers have positive momentum building and it’s scary for someone like wsbob who wants the narrative to frame mountain biking in only a negative light. He’s lashing out at every opportunity, asking questions that have been answered over and over again and coming up with nonsensical arguments like accusing taxpaying, voting stakeholders of “bullying elected officials.”

Desperation is ugly.

davemess
Guest
davemess

I think you mean “desperation is a stinky cologne”.

Dan
Guest
Dan

wsbot stuck in loop…need to hit reset button…

Zimmerman
Guest
Zimmerman

Seriously, who is paying you to write these comments? There’s just no way a non-resident could have the kind of unhealthy obsession with keeping people on bicycles from riding dirt trails in Portland city parks that you do without some kind of monetary gain to be had.

If you’re not being paid, well, that’s just sad.

Scott H
Guest
Scott H

I think you touched on part of the problem. No one seems to be paying him to otherwise occupy his time, so he sits here and tries to start arguments with literally every other commenter.

Eric
Guest
Eric

If this isn’t the comment of the week I don’t know what is.

wsbob
Guest
wsbob

I am a resident, of Oregon and Beaverton, which is right next door to Portland Six miles away. Most likely, far longer than you. I don’t think exercising great caution in deciding under what conditions natural parkland should or shouldn’t be used for mountain biking, is at all unhealthy.

That you think, or even imagine I’m paid for what I write in the bikeportland comment section, speaks of your naivete. When I read the type of comments such as yours that I’m responding to, if anything, that gives cause for an increasingly dim view of mountain biking.

Mountain biking is not the unconditionally wonderful thing that mountain bike enthusiasts seem to want everyone to believe it is. And so, there definitely are people like myself, that with a critical eye, look very carefully at efforts to use natural land for mountain biking.

As to why exactly the city, and commissioners Fish and Fritz determined that Riverview currently is not suitable for mountain biking, that remains to be known. A bunch of mountain bike enthusiasts attempting to demean and bully the commissioners, may not be helping to get that information out, and it most likely isn’t working towards having them help mountain bike enthusiasts gain use of this land for mountain biking.

davemess
Guest
davemess

“attempting to demean and bully the commissioners”

Do you know how our representative democracy is supposed to work?

Eric H
Guest
Eric H

To paraphrase bob “So the answer to your question, is essentially, No.”

dachines
Guest
dachines

Who cares how long you’ve lived here, or anyone else for that matter? How is that even pertinent to the discussion?

As to your statement, “Mountain biking is not the unconditionally wonderful thing that mountain bike enthusiasts seem to want everyone to believe it is. And so, there definitely are people like myself, that with a critical eye, look very carefully at efforts to use natural land for mountain biking.”… then I hope you are 100% behind getting horses out of Forest Park for similar reasons.

Bill Walters
Guest
Bill Walters

On being paid or otherwise compensated by others for commenting: Agreed that terms such as shill, sock puppet and astroturfer seem to be growing more relevant, on this thread and others. If that’s truly the nature of what’s going on, it may be both a recognition of the amount of influence Jonathan and Michael have garnered … and an attempt to co-opt or undermine it.

Snowden
Guest
Snowden

Let me spell this out for you. Here’s the scoop, and I know because I’ve been directly involved.

Members of NWTA and IMBA met with BES and Parks staff just after the property was purchased. I think that was in 2011 or 2012. BES staff were pretty adamant that they didn’t want bikes on the property and their bias was evident. We asked that bike use be allowed to remain on the site until which time a public planning process could take place.

The City began that public process in 2013. It was lead by Parks. They formed a Citizens Advisory Committee and a Technical Advisory Committee, which met on several occasions over a number of months. There were also 1 or 2 public meetings. There was strong support for cycling to continue on the site.

Last summer, Parks announced the process was being suspended while they worked out some issues. No detail was provided either publicly or privately. Sources within the TAC have told us that the rules of the game kept changing during the TAC meetings. BES staff marked our buffers for core habitat, with no scientific justification. Those buffers got larger until essentially the entire property was deemed off limits. This would have limited any trails to the perimeter of the property. Again, no scientific rationale was provided.

Fast forward to March 2015. NWTA board members were called into a meeting with reps from Fritz and Fish office and were informed of the upcoming ban. No explanation other than they cited an “abundance of caution” due to environmental concerns. Concurrently, Fritz and Fish issued their statement to the public. Their statements since then seem to point to the lawsuit, but it’s not entirely clear. Regardless, I think this is a smokescreen to protect the BES employees who are pushing their agenda. Parks has been trying to move forward with the public process but they’ve been getting major pushback from Fish’s office. As much as I think Fritz hasn’t been fair to mountain bikers (see Forest Park POST as a blatant example), I think she (and more importantly her staff) may be caught in the middle here. BES and Fish are driving this.

Mountain bikers agreed to let the public process play out and deal with the outcome as long as it was done in a fair manner. The process has been hijacked. The outreach to the cycling community prior to the “edict” was non-existent and could have been handled much better. No scientific rationale has been provided, because there is none. If there were, they would have let the process play itself out. The fact is that the conservation goals for this property (and others in the system) are not mutually exclusive with recreation activities. There are plenty of examples across the nation, and across the world for that matter. The City has been, and continues to be, way behind the curve on adopting the latest management techniques for off-road cycling. Unfortunately, there is still no champion within the City. Fritz brings her inherent bias with regards to this issue.

So yes, they have bungled the process, and that is the primary reason why people are up in arms about it.

wsbob
Guest
wsbob

Snowden…thanks for your thoughts. I think your conclusions are in error. I just read Fish’s statement released to bikeportland in a new story. It confirms somewhat, what I have suspected, but don’t know for certain, is going on relative to use of mountain biking, in part, of the newly acquired property.

Basically, the city has a responsibility to develop a recreational use plan for the land the city acquired with six million bucks of the people’s money. No surprise to me if it takes a long time to figure out just exactly what that plan will be.

Before the purchase, when privately owned, not opened to the public, mountain bikers that knew, could just decide to unofficially ride there. Different situation now, because the public owns it, and public officials responsible for managing the land responsibly, are accountable to the public to see it’s done so correctly. Not just the mountain biking public, but the entire public.

As I read what Fish says in his statement, and from what I’ve read in news stories that lack the animosity laden mountain biking pitch, mountain biking has not been “…banned…” from Riverview. Use of the land for mountain biking has been suspended pending completion of plans for use of the land. Personally, as a citizen of the area doing what I can to follow the story, I suspect that eventually, the city will release its plan for use of the land, and that plan will include the resumption of mountain biking on the land. That’s if mountain bike enthusiasts continuing to be mean and acrimonious, don’t so thoroughly ‘poison the waters’, so to speak, that nobody with a different point of view from theirs, ever wants anything to do with them again.

p.s.: Maus, thanks for reviewing and taking some of the other posts out of moderation.

Snowden
Guest
Snowden

It’s not unreasonable to think that they City would re-evaluate existing uses as they purchased the property. That doesn’t excuse the abrupt change in policy after they’ve owned it for 3 years. If there is some circumstance that’s suddenly changed so that bikes are suddenly having an unacceptable impact on this property, then why haven’t our commissioners enlightened us? Furthermore, why then aren’t all activities being suspended while the City conducts a full and thorough review of the potential impacts to this resource? The fact is that bikes have been “temporarily banned” without any scientific basis.

Are you starting to understand why this user group is agitated?

spencer
Guest
spencer

bob-
you comment so much i’ve begun to just block anything with your tagline. I feel most others do as well. he who yells the loudest is not always the one who is heard. you’d do the cycling community a favor if you reduced the frequency of your biased and unscientific rants.

invisiblebikes
Guest
invisiblebikes

Annnd The Contrarian weighs in as usual!

Paul Souders
Guest
Paul Souders

Erik wrote a little more,( including some insight into the failure of the governing process regarding the use of public land owned collectively by the citizens of Portland) at the Sellwood Cycles blog http://blog.sellwoodcycle.com/erik-tonkin-on-the-river-view-trails/

wsbob
Guest
wsbob

Paul…thanks for the link. Read the story, looked for the insight you speak of, not sure I saw it. You tell me what you think the additional insight is.

Basically, Tonkin seems not to know why the decision that was made, was made. Of course he’s got presumptions, but no real answer. I doubt that beating up on the commissioners is going to get the answers people are looking for.

Rob
Guest
Rob

Great writing Erik. What makes this decision especially sad for me is that I had dreams that it could be part of my 13 year-old son’s life as a cyclist. I’ve taken him over there to ride (it’s challenging!) and we had talked about him being able to ride over there on his own once the bridge is finished. Let’s hope we can get it together so the next generation will be able to enjoy the trail experiences that Erik has.

Amy
Guest
Amy

If you want to read about a member of the Forest Park committee whose mission was to make sure no one is allowed in Forest Park except the people who own houses up there, and to make sure the park is crisscrossed with roads so those homeowners get cheaper fire insurance, read about Mr. Blaize in this week’s Williamette Week cover story: http://www.wweek.com/portland/article-24213-you_call_this_a_farm.html

davemess
Guest
davemess

that was an interesting read. Thanks.

Joe
Guest
Joe

awesome the days of MB-3 and all bridgestone models. great story Erik thanks dude! ride on…

Erik Tonkin
Guest
Erik Tonkin

Hi everybody, and thanks for reading.
There’s a question by a commentator that asks about the lawsuit from 2011 and whether or not the city purchased the land under a condition that excluded mountain biking. One reason why I waited to weigh in on this issue is to learn whether or not that was the case. After speaking to staff inside of PP&R and BES (who assured me that wasn’t the case), I spoke to Commission Saltzman, who had the charge of BES when the city acquired the property in question. He and his office maintain that the lawsuit has long-been settled in favor of the city, and they maintain that recreational off-road bicycling on the property is in concert with the management plan for the property.

johnk
Guest
johnk

Erik, Thanks for sharing. I (too) have used training (hard) as a vehicle to challenge/raise/evolve/? my human soul….the places that I have trained on become sacred….

spencer
Guest
spencer

so the conclusion is. . . keep the heat on the city council. . . and direct some to BES.

Greg Umscheid
Guest
Greg Umscheid

What Erik said!