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Travel Oregon mulls need for statewide trails advocacy organization

Posted by on October 28th, 2016 at 2:51 pm

Portland to Stub Stewart family camping trip-30.jpg

The Banks-Vernonia trail is one of Oregon’s riding gems. Would we have more trails like it with a new advocacy approach?
(Photos: J. Maus/BikePortland)

Community advocates and government agency staffers throughout Oregon are working hard to develop world-class trails. But is that work failing to reach its potential without a statewide trails advocacy organization?

Stephanie Noll is researching an important question for bike tourism in Oregon.

Stephanie Noll is researching an important question for bike tourism in Oregon.

Trail projects — many of them spurred by a demand for bicycle use — are being dreamed up, funded, and built all over Oregon right now. There’s tremendous momentum for all forms of cycling — from singletrack dirt trail riding that’s become popular at Sandy Ridge to rail-to-trail riding on paved paths like the Banks-Vernonia State Trail. Trails are the backbone of Oregon’s bike tourism engine that pumps $400 million a year into the state economy.

Despite all the projects and people that make up Oregon’s outdoor trail ecosystem, there’s no statewide group that can present a united front for lobbying, promotion, fundraising, and so on.

This problem has been identified by Travel Oregon and they’ve hired a consultant to look into it. At a meeting of their Bicycle Tourism Partnership meeting in Bend today, Stephanie Noll (former deputy director of the Bicycle Transportation Alliance, now a private consultant) shared insights from her ongoing research into the topic.

Noll has conducted 20 interviews with trails experts throughout Oregon where she posed the following question:

What hurdles does Oregon face in building and maintaining a world class network of trails, and how could we work together to address those hurdles?

The number one response was the need for a coordinated effort to get more funding (big surprise!). The other top feedback was a need to convene existing trail groups to learn from each other and creating a cohesive vision for a statewide trail network.

Noll also shared examples from Washington, where a much more evolved approach to trail advocacy exists.

Washington Trails Association website.

Washington Trails Association website.

The Washington Trails Association was started 50 years ago, has 33 full-time staffers and 13,000 members (whose donations provide most of the funding). On the biking side of things, Washington’s Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance has 25 staffers and chapters all over the state. There’s also the Washington State Trails Coalition that convenes a wide variety of groups including ATV users, boaters, and equestrian advocates. It’s an enviable ecosystem that feeds off the state’s dedicated Recreation & Conservation Office — Washington’s governmental arm that does the heavy-lifting of getting federal grants, among other things.

With this advocacy ecosystem, Washington seems far ahead of Oregon when it comes to trail planning and development. It could also be one explanation for the fact that Washington has 110 officially designated rail-trails and Oregon has only 20.

Oregon has a lot to be proud of when it comes to bike trail advocacy. Travel Oregon has been a stalwart supporter of the trails for over a decade as the founder of the Oregon Bicycle Tourism Partnership (which first met in 2004), creator of the Oregon Scenic Bikeways program, funder of the RideOregonRide.com website, and much more. But they’re a government entity beholden to many other (non-bike-related) priorities.

If Oregon wants to become the premiere state for cycling on off-highway trails, it might be time for a new entity to help tie all the existing threads together and weave a more beautiful tapestry of riding opportunities.

— Jonathan Maus, (503) 706-8804 – jonathan@bikeportland.org

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12 Comments
  • Fourknees October 28, 2016 at 7:18 pm

    Agreed. A combined effort is needed. I am a Rail to Trail member and the trails/networks I see in many other states seem amazing from what I read in their magazines.

    We’ll be getting closer to those when linking the salmonberry trail and yamhelas Westside trail to the banks vernonia, as one example. I’m sure there are other opportunities around the state too.

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  • rick October 28, 2016 at 8:50 pm

    It is failing because of nimby, bed priorities, and polticical correctness.

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  • rick October 28, 2016 at 8:50 pm

    Bad priorities..

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  • B. Carfree October 28, 2016 at 10:28 pm

    I can say with confidence that non-urban residents will fight any bike trail notion that comes along simply because everyone has seen bike paths taken over by violent drug addicts. No one wants that in their backyard. The problem is that the local police, and indeed police in general, don’t prioritize keeping bike paths safe and functional the way they do city arterials and freeways.

    Yes, we need more bike trails. However, we need to find a way to make them work for travel and not as encampments. Is our pot of money big enough to fund drug treatment, job training, jobs, (sadly) jail beds and still build bike paths/rails-with-trails? Only if we stop spending hundreds of millions of dollars on silly, congestion-causing freeway expansions.

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  • rachel b October 29, 2016 at 12:04 am

    I’d be more excited about more trails (yes!) if it were less about further pimping our state and more about serving folks that are here year-round. Relying on tourism as a major industry is not all it’s cracked up to be. Like residents of other tourist-heavy areas, I’m seeing (and feeling) the fallout/wear and tear on our city and state. Between the ballooning numbers of newcomers and the ballooning numbers of tourists, the former very relaxed, pleasant vibe of Portland and Oregon has been destroyed almost completely.

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    • Mike October 29, 2016 at 6:19 am

      Those “blooming number of tourists” will help pay for new trails if Oregon had a sales tax like other states that have well developed trail systems. Coeur d’Alene, Route of the Hiawatha, St. Joe trails are good examples.

      In the meantime don’t expect much more than wistful hoping in cash-strapped Oregon, unless some heckuva sugar daddy happens along, and I don’t think Uncle Phil is interested.

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      • rachel b October 30, 2016 at 2:16 am

        Yes–we just keep taxing residents for everything and we’re getting damned well tapped out. I’m all for making tourists pay through the nose for EVERYTHING. Tourism’s way too destructive.

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      • WylyQuimby October 30, 2016 at 12:47 pm

        A regressive sales tax? No thanks. The poor have it hard enough as it is.

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    • wsbob November 3, 2016 at 2:53 am

      Sure doesn’t seem to me that Portland would be the kind of city that experiences much of the negative aspects of tourism that high visitor tourist destinations experience some of. I suppose there would be some residents of quiet, rural areas and towns of Oregon, that may feel hesitant about having to cater to out of towners that are oblivious to or insensitive to the local culture.

      One of Oregon’s great resources is its great expanses of wild, open and undeveloped natural land beyond the big cities on the I-5 corridor. Opportunities for more trail tourism that would allow urban Oregon residents to experience this Oregon country, without taking up permanent residence there. Rural Oregon needs more opportunities for income. Tourism could help with this.

      Proposals for a sales tax in Oregon might have a better chance of a passing, if in exchange, legislators were prepared to eliminate the state income tax. Voters have never liked the idea that with past proposals, they were going to be asked to pay both a sales tax, and a state income tax.

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  • Scott Mizée October 29, 2016 at 7:39 pm

    Thanks for your work on this, Steph!

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  • Mike Sanders October 31, 2016 at 9:52 am

    It’s worth noting that US Bike Route 10, running mostly along the WA 20 / ID 200 corridor from Bremerton, WA to the ID / MT border, is now officially recognized, with plans underway for signs to go up next year. Utah is now installing signs along USBR 79 – first Western state to do so. Michigan has two routes signposted with plans for more. Minnesota has USBR 45 fully signed along the Missussippi River Trail. All have strong ped / bike programs and leadership at state and local levels on board. The Trans-America Trail, USBR 76, is currently planned to end at the Oregon Coast but no efforts have been made to get the route officially recognized in Oregon. (The east end is at Yorktown, VA.) A statewide trail advocacy group is strongly needed to reach the goal of a statewide nerwork.

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