Rob Sadowsky is the new executive director of Bark, a Portland-based nonprofit that works to protect and conserve the Mt. Hood National Forest.
It’s an interesting position for Sadowsky. While Bark supports some types mountain biking, they are co-plaintiffs (with Sierra Club) on a lawsuit to halt construction of the Timberline Mountain Bike Park (more on that below).
Many of you know Sadowsky for his work with The Street Trust (formerly the Bicycle Transportation Alliance), where he was executive director from 2010 until being fired by the board of directors back in January.
Bark was founded in 1993 and currently has eight staffers and an email list that goes out to around 30,000 people (they are not a membership-based organization).
As I mentioned above, Bark is fighting a plan by Timberline Lodge to create a lift-assisted mountain biking resort on Mt. Hood. In 2013 we published an op-ed in opposition to the project from Bark board member Amy Harwood. Final oral arguments on the lawsuit were just heard on Monday (it was Sadowsky’s first day on the job and he was in the courtroom) and a decision is expected within the next month or so.
Asked about his opinion on mountain biking on National Forest land in a FAQ just posted to Bark’s website, Sadowsky didn’t mention Timberline:
“I love mountain biking. There is a place for recreational activities, where we can safely limit the impact they have on the environment and where partnerships with mountain biking advocates can add stewardship opportunities. But there are areas that are sacred, that are vital to preserving endangered species and natural habitat, where any encroachment on that ecosystem can damage a variety of species.
I strongly support Bark’s current stance which supports mountain bike trails at places like Dog River and Sandy Ridge where they don’t adversely impact salmon or water quality.”
I talked with Sadowsky on the phone yesterday to learn more about Bark’s position on the Timberline project and how he’ll approach the issue as leader of the organization.
“There is absolutely no opposition to mountain biking itself,” Sadowsky explained, “But for us it comes down to two questions: Is it planned over an area that might threaten endangered species? And what is the remediation or conservation plan to ensure any type of facility doesn’t have a disproportionate impact on the property?”
At the proposed site for the Timberline project, Sadowsky said Bark is concerned specifically about the impact to the Western Bumblebee and steelhead populations. They feel the US Forest Service “Skipped some steps” in their environmental analysis. “We can’t let that happen,” Sadowsky said, “Because what happens next time when the ATVs come around and try to short-shrift the process? We’re the last line of defense [of Mt. Hood] and we have to draw a line — which doesn’t always make people happy.”
Sadowsky added that they expect a decision on the lawsuit within the next 60 days. And even if the project is halted, “It doesn’t mean Timberline is dead, it just may mean they have to go back and do the plan in a way that accomodates our concerns.”
The need to defend wildnerness has only gotten more urgent in the Trump era and Sadowsky sees his job as keeping Mt. Hood as pristine as possible. “If we had our druthers, we’d probably want the entire mountain to be wilderness. We don’t think there’s enough [wilderness] left in this country and now we’ve got a president looking to shrink public lands and monuments even smaller. Our job is defense. You might not like our tactics; but they’re done for a reason.”
It’s important to note that it’s far from proven science that bicycling in sensitive mountain environments is inherently detrimental. It’s a debate that’s far from settled.
Timberline GM Steve Kruse says they remain committed to the project. In an email sent to members of the Northwest Trail Alliance (a mountain bike advocacy group) this week he said, “With the increased use in the last five years of Sandy Ridge, the Mt Hood Express for Timberline to Town, and future plans of Timberline to partner further with Skibowl, we feel that the addition of this lift served bike park will make Mt Hood a destination stop.”
Northwest Trail Alliance President Chris Rotvik says his group is actively working on bike access projects in other parts of the Mt. Hood National Forest, and Bark is one of the groups at that table. “We’re delighted with their [Bark’s] pro-recreation stance. I can only imagine that Rob Sadowsky’s appointment will advance quiet recreation, including mountain biking, bikepacking, and gravel grinding, in the the Mt Hood area.”
Off road cycling advocate Jocelyn Gaudi Quarrell also expressed optimism about working on bike access issues with Bark. “Gratefully, Bark’s stance has progressed over the past couple years as a handful of smart and dedicated individuals within their organization have actively reached out to the off-road cycling community to learn more about us and our sport,” she told us this morning. “No doubt that ‘we’ won’t always see eye-to-eye, but they seem very willing and wanting to have ‘us’ at the table to discuss how to balance conservation and active recreation goals.”
With Sadowsky now in the mix, that progress in the relationship between an environmental conservation group and a bicycling group will likely only get better.
If you’d like to re-connect with Rob and learn more about Bark’s work, they’re hosting a meet-and-greet party on November 28th at Cider Riot (807 NE Couch).
CORRECTIONS, 10:30 am:: This post originally stated that Bark is “pro-mountain biking”. I changed that to “supports mountain biking.” And NW Trail Alliance isn’t working with Bark directly, they are working with the Hood River Stewardship Collaborative, of which Bark is a member. Sorry for any confusion.
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