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Hope for mountain bikers? Off-Road Cycling Master Plan starts rolling

Kunec-North
Michelle Kunec-North is managing
the process for the city.
(Photo courtesy Kunec-North)

A year after hundreds of people attended a rally in support of in-town mountain biking trails, the City of Portland is starting its project to decide where such trails should go.

“It’s a way for people to get outside, to get in nature, to be active, to spend time with their families,” said Michelle Kunec-North, the city planning bureau staffer (and longtime recreational mountain biker) managing the process. “It’s the city’s goal to have active transportation, and it’s kind of an entry point, for kids in particular but for adults in some cases, to learning how to ride a bike.”

In an interview last week, Kunec-North added that off-road cycling options in Portland would also help build a generation of stewards of the city’s natural areas and boost the local tourism and bike economies.

A recent Oregon State Parks survey, she said, “found about 11 to 12 percent of people in Multnomah County have participated in off-road cycling — or as they put it, ‘rode a bike on a trail’ — in the last year. which is a pretty high percentage. … It was on par with things like day hiking. And they also found that Multnomah county had the largest percentage of participation of any of the counties in the state.”

“Raise your hand if you think we’re compatible with the resource goals at River View,” asked the organizers of a rally last spring.

All that demand has materialized in huge political pressure for Portland to quickly create off-road routes and to make plans for how to make them part of the region’s celebrated parks system. Last fall, 2,500 people signed a petition to support the funding of the city’s Off Road Cycling Master Plan, and the city council found the money in April.

Kunec-North started work July 1.

“We’re about a month in, having spent most of our time getting organized,” Kunec-North said. “Talking to a lot of different groups and organizations.”

Kunec-North, who previously worked as a parks staffer in Clark County, Wash., and has specialized at Portland in inter-bureau projects, said her meetings over the last month have included the city parks, environmental services, water and transportation bureaus, as well as regional parks agency Metro. In the private sector, she’s met with the Northwest Trail Alliance, Community Cyclcing Center, Audubon Society, several local watershed councils, SW Trails, Oregon Walks, the Forest Park Conservancy and multiple bike shop owners.

Still on her list as of last Monday: friends of parks organizations, neighborhood associations near parks that have existing off-road cycling, groups that represent communities of color, youth cycling organizations, the Latina-based club Andando en Bicicletas en Cully, Travel Oregon, Travel Portland and the Intertwine alliance.

“There seems to be a lot more commonality than I might have expected from the onset, in terms of seeing a plan like this as setting up opportunities for kids to be outside and be active,” Kunec-North said. “And a lot of common concerns about both environmental or wildlife impacts and potential user conflicts.”

Though Kunec-North is laying the groundwork, most of the technical work on the plan will be done by an outside consultant to be hired this fall. Proposals to fill the city’s job description are due Aug. 28.

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Kunec-North said the finished plan might or might not set a goal for miles of routes, but that it’ll certainly include many kinds of riding.

“It’s not going to be solely focused on singletrack riding; that’s one type of experience,” she said. “Within riding there can be anything from a cross-country relatively flat experience without a lot of technical features to something that’s pretty steep or technically challenging. … What we’re looking at both is where in that spectrum in terms of types of riding and types of facilities. … Could we think of parallel trails next to some of our multi-use paths, where you might be able to jump off the path onto some sort of a natural surface trail that might have some bumps or twists and features in it? … Could we have more skill parks in addition to looking at other types of singletrack, doubletrack opportunities and riding experiences?”

“We’re trying to focus on anything from a kid going out to ride their bike to an adult who wants to go out and exercise and maybe work on some skills to a family where you’ve got maybe a wide variety of skills.”
— Michelle Kunec-North, City of Portland

In general, she said, “we’re trying to focus on anything from a kid going out to ride their bike to an adult who wants to go out and exercise and maybe work on some skills to a family where you’ve got maybe a wide variety of skills.”

“I hope I’m not underselling the natural piece too,” she added. “I think that’s an important component, and getting out and experiencing nature is a big part of the experience.”

As for the site that’s been a flashpoint of recent debate over local mountain biking, the city-owned River View Natural Area, Kunec-North cited the city’s “Access and Management Concept” for the site, which currently forbids bike access for reasons related to an ongoing lawsuit but continues to consider the site for future trails in the Off-road Cycling Master Plan.

“The trail alignments shown in the Concept were developed before mountain bikes were restricted on the site,” Kunec-North said. “If off-road cycling becomes an allowed use, the trails would be constructed to support it and other allowed uses.”

Sandy Ridge, one of the many places Portlanders travel to ride mountain bikes.
(Photo: J.Maus/BikePortland)

Kunec-North said she’s personally been riding off-road for about 10 years and sometimes enjoys mountain bike racing. Her own favorite rides include spots like Surveyor’s Ridge in the Gorge and that “of course I go to Sandy Ridge all the time.”

“But I also had a great time out at easyCLIMB a few weeks ago, out at Cascade Locks,” she added. “And my friends keep telling me I need to go out to Lacamas Lake over in Camas.”

In general, Kunec-North said she’s pleased to be helping Portland catch up with the huge public enthusiasm for mountain biking.

“It’s not a fringe activity,” she said. “It’s got pretty high rates of participation that are higher even than those in what we might consider more traditional sports.”

Interested in these issues? Check out last week’s KBOO Bike Show, in which host Jocelyn Gaudi interviewed Kunec-North about singletrack in the city.

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