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Rob Sadowsky, formerly of The Street Trust, is now executive director of Bark

Posted by on October 18th, 2017 at 9:27 am

Historic Columbia River Hwy Centennial Celebration-26.jpg

Sadowsky in June 2016.
(Photo: J. Maus/BikePortland)

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:

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“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.

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

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NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. BikePortland is an inclusive company with no tolerance for discrimination or harassment including expressions of racism, sexism, homophobia, or xenophobia. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

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Tad
Guest

Reading the original op-ed piece as well as the pieces linked here, I’ve not been able to find anything that gives some specificity to why there shouldn’t be a mountain bike park on Timberline. I’d love to know what about the planned trail alignments impacts the forest ecosystem more than the ski area already does. Is there something which, in the design of the trails themselves or the planned routes, which could make this more amenable?

Unfortunately, the only verbiage I’m seeing is generalities which aim to get us sentimental about Mt. Hood. We all already are sentimental about Mt. Hood. That’s established. But in this day and age, where we have plenty of people who are extremely well-versed on sustainable trail construction, what specifically is the issue?

Alex
Subscriber
Alex

I hope he starts supporting mtbing at Timberline. I believe Bark was part of the lawsuit suing to stop that.

one
Guest

I want more access to mountain biking. And I want it in the City of Portland.

That being said. I wanted to jump into this discussion before we get BARK haters in here (They are coming.) I love the work that BARK does, and I ride a bicycle as often as I possibly can (And I’ve been carfree for much of my adult life.)
There is not an Us vs Them debate to be had. We both need to support mountain biking options (Hello Forest Park) and we need to transform Mt. Hood National Forest into a place where natural processes prevail, where wildlife thrives and where local communities have a social, cultural, and economic investment in its restoration and preservation.

http://bark-out.org/content/about-bark

Jocelyn Gaudi Quarrell
Guest
Jocelyn Gaudi Quarrell

As a follow up to my statement, I’d like to say that while we are optimistic we are not optimistically naive. We expect conversation groups to recognize off-road cyclist as they do any other active recreation group – all of which negatively impact the environment in some capacity. It is important that we base our decision on who-gets-to-access-what on science and data, not on observational experiences or emotions.

I’d also caution Rob (and others that have rallied against off-road cycling) on watching out for those slippery slopes. Just because the FS studies have concluded that off-road cycling should be permitted on Mt. Hood doesn’t mean that they’re going to roll out the red carpet to ATVs or any of user group requesting access.

Finally, the “line” of defense around Mt. Hood does not neatly line up with the actual map line boundaries of the mountain. As it’s closest urban neighbor, we have a responsibility to be aware of the impacts we have on the forest from within the confines of the city. Just my opinion, but I’d love to see more conservation organizations recognize that and push for policies at the city level that directly support their out-of-town work. How’s the implementation of our city’s climate action plan coming along?

Jon
Guest
Jon

There is absolutely no way to support the statement that BARK is pro-mountain bike. They are not. Like most of these radical environmental groups they want exclusive use of the public lands by their narrow user group. If they cannot support mountain bike use on a built up ski slope with tons of man made equipment, lodges, lifts, roads, etc. there really is no place they will support mountain bikes.

rick
Guest
rick

Build the mountain bike paths !

Alex
Subscriber
Alex

I have a question for Bark – if they are reading – what have you done to support mountain biking? Genuine curiosity. You claim to support mtbing, but I haven’t seen any actual support. Perhaps I have just missed it.

Bjorn
Guest
Bjorn

While Rob might claim he is pro mountain biking I never saw anything during his tenure with the bra/street trust to indicate a desire or ability to advocate for off road cycling. At this point Barks “pro mountain biking” status seems more like lip service than actual support. Hopefully that will change going forward but I see a lot of opposition to new trails and desire to remove existing gravel roads and not much else from BARK.

Todd Hudson
Guest
Todd Hudson

Bark’s support of mountain biking doesn’t really seem sincere or come from the perspective of a mountain biking enthusiast. On their website, their advocacy starts and stop with support of “road-to-trail” conversions in national forests. Why drive an hour to ride on the equivalent of Leif Erikson Drive when you can just bike to Leif Erikson Drive? Old gravel roads isn’t what attracts people to mountain biking.

Northwest Trail Alliance
Member

The article can suggest to the less-informed a generalization that mountain biking is a greater detriment to the environment than hiking. Metro just released a document that summarizes a great deal of research that doesn’t support this point of view.

That Bark would prefer all of the Mt Hood National Forest as wilderness is troubling in two ways: bicycling, a form of quiet recreation, is excluded from wilderness without scientific basis, and that exclusion is a detriment to building the cadre of conservationists necessary to move environmental conditions forward.

Wouldn’t it make more sense for organizations like Bark to help reopen wilderness to cycling rather than have cyclists in opposition to the creation of additional wilderness?

Brian
Guest
Brian

BARK frequently hosts hikes (which is great), but doesn’t offer mountain bike rides to explore and encourage more support. I know, even having that thought sounds crazy! BARK has supported policy that reduced/eliminated trails to bicycles. Has BARK ever supported policies that reduced/eliminated the number of trails open to hiking? This may be where some of the distrust stems from.
When I walk out of New Seasons and hear a paid BARK employee (maybe a volunteer?) asking, “Do you have a minute for Mt Hood?” My answer is always the same, “No. I’m a hiker and mountain biker.”
BARK has much to do if their goal is to broaden their base of support in order to more effectively achieve their mission statement.

Cyclekrieg
Subscriber
Cyclekrieg

Can someone explain to me how mountain biking “adversely impact salmon or water quality”? I only ask because there is no research to suggest that mountain biking has any higher soil impacts than hiking (in fact the impact numbers the Park Service uses to estimate soil movement volumes are slightly lower for mountain bike only trails). Also, if the argument its in the construction of trail you have runoff issues, that means your BMPs for run-off and silting aren’t rigorous enough, not that the issue is mountain biking. Lastly, since 2007 the trail construction requirements for hiking and mountain biking trails on USFS are EXACTLY the same.

Patrick
Guest
Patrick

BEST OF LUCK, ROB. Good seeing you in Bark!

BradWagon
Subscriber

TIL Mtbers will only agree to help protect wilderness areas when they have irrefutable proof and are essentially forced to. Hmm…

Jim Lee
Guest
Jim Lee

WOOF!

malegaze
Guest
malegaze

I see nothing has changed around this issue. Good to know people work together in a world so divided.

mark smith
Guest
mark smith

Bark and other groups are barking up the wrong tree. Sorry, had to say it. Look around. Cars, toxic waste, pharma in our water..but clearly…..clearly! Mountain bikes on mount hood are deserving of serious litigation.

Yeah, no. It’s about hate for humans. Take Bark’s view to the end..and you pretty much get human elimination. So Glad Rob is gone from the street trust. Now we know why.