BikePortland

Where some see historic trail connection, others fear a home for urban campers


Metro map with location of proposed trail and a concept drawing of how it might look near Kelly Creek in Gresham.

Filling a six-mile gap between Troutdale and Gresham would put a serious dent in the “40-mile Loop” — a trail concept that’s been in regional planning dreams for well over a century. And Metro is creating a plan to do just that.

But where some see an historic opportunity for a new, low-stress place to walk and roll, others see a perfect place for people who live outside to pitch tents and build encampments.

“By far the most frequently expressed concerns had to do with crime and homeless campers along sections of the Springwater Trail.”
— Metro

Last summer Metro launched a master planning process for a new trail that would connect from Troutdale and the Sandy River down to Johnson Creek and the existing Springwater Corridor path in Gresham. While public response to the project has been mostly positive, concerns about urban camping and associated impacts have already surfaced and there’s a new website that encourages people to oppose the project.

The person/people behind NoSpringwaterExtension.com offer up a myriad of concerns about the trail — from a loss of privacy and property rights to fears of what they consider an inevitable crime wave that would follow. The site is peppered with images and news stories from last year when a large encampment on the Springwater Corridor became a major controversy as adjacent businesses, trail users and residents began to speak out about its impacts. That camp grew in size in large part because former Mayor Charlie Hales made the unprecedented decision to allow outdoor camping in the wooded areas adjacent to the path. Hales ultimately reversed course and ordered an eviction.

There are no names or organizations associated with NoSpringwaterExtension.com and it’s not clear how many people it represents. (We’ve reached out via email but have not heard back.)

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Metro has heard these concerns and has already begun responding to them. Hundreds of people have already shared feedback about the project through public meetings and an online survey. 159 people responded to an open-ended question about the project. Of those, Metro says 47 percent were in favor of the trail, 31 percent were “generally supportive but had concerns” and 21 percent were opposed. In a document that analyzed the feedback, Metro wrote, “By far the most frequently expressed concerns had to do with crime and homeless campers along sections of the Springwater Trail.”

Reached by phone this morning, Metro’s Natural Areas Program Director Dan Moeller said public safety agencies have been at the planning table since the beginning, “To make sure the community’s concerns about safety along the trail are adequately addresssed.” Moeller also said Metro believes research proves trails do not generate crime or safety issues. “If there are issues along the trail they generally reflect the patterns around the surrounding neighborhood,” he said.

Moeller also said that letting people camp in a natural area along a path was “a horribly failed experiment” and he doubts any other agency in the region would dare repeat it. He points to the benefits the project would bring, including safer places to walk and bike and more eyes and ears in the community as people get out and use the trail.

While illegal camping is on Metro’s radar, the goal of the master plan effort is to identify the best alignment for the future trail so that they can begin to negotiate easements, potential land acquisitions and funding sources. So far they’ve shared three potential alignments. Here’s the latest as of December 19th:

Click image for larger version to see the Troutdale and Gresham routes in detail. Or click here for original PDF.

As for the facility itself, Metro plans to utilize a wide variety of path and trail designs. The default will be a 10-12 foot paved path and they are also considering other options when that isn’t feasible. Some sections could have a dirt hiking trail along the path and in places where space is limited they are considered standard buffered bike lanes on the adjacent roadway.

The next project meeting is scheduled for January 19th in Gresham (details here). Metro hopes to have a draft master plan completed and ready for public review this spring. “Information and considerations around safety, homelessness and crime,” they say, “will be taken into strong consideration as Metro staff proposes a recommended trail alignment.”

Learn more about the project on Metro’s website and/or contact project manager Robert Spurlock at robert.spurlock [at] oregonmetro.gov.

UPDATE, 3:52 pm: I originally had outdated route maps. They have been deleted and a new map is now shown. Sorry for any confusion.

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

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