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Gateway Green’s bike park opens amid optimism, huge crowds

(Photos: J. Maus/BikePortland)

“Isn’t this fabulous?!”
— Amanda Fritz, Portland city commissioner

“Allow me to share a visual representation of our mission statement,” said Northwest Trail Alliance board member Joceyln Gaudi as she waved her hands toward a crowd of onlookers at the opening of Gateway Green on Saturday. “You are in it!”

Never again will off-road cycling advocates have to try and explain what they’re working for. Never again will they have to scour the Internet for stock images showing kids enjoying an urban mountain bike park. Now we have one of our own.

Gateway Green isn’t just the realization of an 11-year vision by community advocates, it’s the embodiment of the benefits urban off-road cycling can bring to Portland. It’s like the off-road version of Sunday Parkways.

And like Sunday Parkways, it appears to be an instant hit.

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Even before the event officially opened on Saturday, NW Trail Alliance President Chris Rotvik said people were streaming in. They’d been waiting in anticipation of a previously vacant and abandoned parcel of 25 acres north of the Gateway shopping center in east Portland being transformed into a city park they could be proud of.

I met a local resident on the I-205 path while biking to the event. He said he recently moved and decided to remain in the Gateway area in large part because of the new bike park. It’s this type of destination attraction that real estate developer Ted Gilbert envisioned 11 years ago.

Ted Gilbert, the man behind the vision.

“You can walk here, you can bike here, you can ride a skateboard here, you can run here — but you cannot drive your vehicle here. That fits our ethos.”
— Mike Abbaté, director of Portland Parks Bureau

Gilbert first shared his vision with BikePortland in 2008. “We hope this park becomes the branding tool that helps people take a fresh look at East Portland,” he said back then, “and once people are out here recreating, then they might want to move here.”

Saturday’s crowds were impressive despite heat well in to the 90s. The turnout speaks not only to how popular the park is — and will increasingly become — to Gateway residents. It’s also a sign of how easy the park is to get to. Tony Pereira and his six-year-old son Oscar live in North Portland. They rolled down to the Lloyd Center and hopped on a red line MAX train to Gateway. The total trip took around 30 minutes.

Portland Parks Director Mike Abbaté embraced the fact that the park doesn’t have direct automobile access. “It’s notable that this is a carfree park. You can walk here, you can bike here, you can ride a skateboard here, you can run here — but you cannot drive your vehicle here. That fits our ethos.”

Another way Gateway Green is decidedly Portland is how it came to life. Ted Gilbert, a real estate expert with an eye toward community development, wisely allied with veteran east Portland advocate Linda Robinson 11 years ago. Together, they built an impressive coalition of support that went from the grassroots all the way to the Governor’s office in Salem.

Just some of the elected officials, city staff, and advocates who made Gateway Green possible. L to R: NW Trail Alliance President Chris Rotvik; Friends of Gateway Green Chair Linda Robinson; Portland Parks Project Manager Ross Swanson; real estate broker (and project visionary) Ted Gilbert; NW Trail Alliance Board Member Jocelyn Gaudi; Portland City Commissioner Nick Fish; Portland Parks Director Mike Abbaté; Portland City Commissioner Amanda Fritz; NW Trail Alliance Volunteer Susan Rotvik; Portland Bureau of Planning and Sustainability Off-Road Cycling Master Plan Project Manager Michelle Kunec-North.

Over 1,200 individual donors stepped up to help raise hundreds of thousands of dollars through crowdfunding campaigns. The park was also funded by Parks Bureau system development charges and a “Nature in Neighborhoods” grant from Metro.

Robinson, chair of the Friends of Gateway Green, said the journey from vision to reality led to the adoption of a new personal motto: “Patient persistence.”

Linda Robinson.

“Crazy ideas can become a reality,” Robinson said during a speech Saturday.

It took much more than money and political support to make Gateway Green. It also took a lot of physical labor. Thousands of volunteer hours have been spent pulling ivy, clearing brush and logs, and cleaning up trash. That labor continued right up to Saturday as professional trail-builders worked to finish the job.

Trail-builder Shea Ferrell of FlowRide Concepts.

Shea Ferrell and his team from Denver-based FlowRide Concepts, worked 20 straight, 12-14-hour days to shape and smooth Gateway Green’s trails, flow-lines, ramps and jumps. Dirty and tired, Ferrell was still working the excavator in Saturday’s blazing sun. “I didn’t want to disappoint anyone,” he said through a big smile, clearly excited to see so many people enjoying his creations.

And boy did they ever…

I’ve been excited for this project for the past nine years, but seeing it all come to life managed to exceed my wildest expectations. There are so many fun trail features to explore: the forested single-track, the gravel road climb up to a fun downhill descent, the pump-track, the flowy skills area, and the jump lines.

Combined with the huge and diverse crowd, it was enough to make even Commissioner Amanda Fritz go off-script: “My goodness!” she exclaimed in her English accent in a speech during the dedication ceremony, “Isn’t this fabulous?! I was here pulling ivy months ago and I could never have imagined it was going to be this today.”

“You know what’s going to happen don’t you?” she continued. “Everybody in the rest of the city is going to say, ‘They’ve got the best place, can we have one of those?’”

The opening of Gateway Green is a watershed moment for cycling in Portland. What it means in a physical, mental, and political sense is incalculable and I can’t wait to see what happens next.

The Gateway Green Bike Park is open everyday from dawn to dusk.

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org

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