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In nod to off-road cycling, Mayor Wheeler urges Parks Bureau to stay relevant

Posted by on March 12th, 2018 at 3:37 pm

Mayor Wheeler at the Parks Board meeting last Tuesday. (Photos J. Maus/BikePortland)

As they prep for its big day at City Council this spring, the Portland Bureau of Planning and Sustainability is in the final stages of their Off-road Cycling Master Plan.

The plan has already been over two years in the making and Portlanders have made nearly 900 individual public comments about what type of trails they want and where new trails should go.

Now comes the politics and last-minute lobbying.

“Mountain biking is a very popular activity, it’s a growing activity.”
— Wheeler

Much of the plan is a no-brainer and has widespread support. But as we’ve reported numerous times over the years, how to improve bicycle access in specific areas like Forest Park (and to a lesser degree, River View Natural Area) has been very contentious. Now all eyes have turned to the 14 member Portland Parks Board as they prepare their recommendation on the plan and get set to host a public hearing on it next month.

Last week the Parks Board hosted Mayor Ted Wheeler and advocates on both sides of this issue listened closely to what he had to say.

Before I get into his remarks, consider the political dynamics at play.

Even though they’re not managing the plan update itself, the Parks bureau is obviously a major voice in the off-road cycling discussion. On February 28th, the Parks Board sent a letter to Mayor Wheeler outlining their top funding and policy priorities for the coming years. Off-road cycling wasn’t mentioned, but that’s not the point. More importantly, the Board has asked Wheeler for $500,000 in the current budget cycle to update their Vision plan. The board also wants him to do more about people living in parks and they want his support for a potential bond measure in 2020.

Parks Board Chair Patricia Frobes.

Parks Board Chair Patricia Frobes opened the meeting by saying Portland Parks are a “crossroads.” “We have a tremendous opportunity with all the growth going on today, but also challenges,” she said. She warned Wheeler that without adequate investment in parks infrastructure, “We will fail to deliver an essential city service to a group of residents that have been historically underserved.”

The Parks Board needs Wheeler on their side. Even in our “weak Mayor” form of government, Wheeler has the power of the pulpit and is the central deal-maker on council (Parks Commissioner Amanda Fritz was also at the meeting). But if he’s going to support them, Wheeler wants to make sure they share his vision — and his prepared remarks at Tuesday’s meeting made that clear.


Wheeler (center) with Parks Director Mike Abbaté and Frobes.

Flanked by Frobes and Parks Director Mike Abbaté, Wheeler spoke for about nine minutes. His speech centered on the idea that Parks needs to get with the times. “Are we maintaining relevance for youth?” he asked at the outset. “Are we upholding the values that made our park system so beloved over many, many decades? And are we staying relevant to the next generation of park users, while protecting those core values?”

To ilustrate this, Wheeler spoke passionately about his “very intentional focus” on the Willamette River. With the new Poet’s Beach a “success,” Wheeler said his “bigger play” is to make the Willamette River Portland’s “largest open space.” He talked about reconnecting Portlanders to the river and having new access points from every quadrant. “It could be a thriving, engaging, active-use corridor in the heart of our city that brings people together for no cost to them,” instead of what it is now, which he described as, “A divider between east and west, rich and poor, ‘those people’ and ‘those people’.”

Then Wheeler pivoted to the challenge of balancing access to the river with restoration. This is the important part, so I’ll share it verbatim (edited slightly for clarity):

“There’s always an important balancing act between nature and recreation… I’ll steal a slogan I heard once: ‘It’s not about swimming or fishes, it’s about swimming with the fish.’ I thought that was a nice way to sum up the vision [with his approach the river projects]. Now I know that’s different than the vision that has been profferred traditionally in terms of what the Parks Bureau would be engaged with and what the Parks Bureau has planned for and resourced for historically. I get that. But I think it in part reacts to changing demographics, changing needs, and changing demands in our community.

And just because I recognize a lot of people here and know a lot of the people here, I know the same argument takes place around mountain biking. Mountain biking is a very popular activity, it’s a growing activity. Lots of poepole like to mountain bike; but it is not always consistent with the ethos and the attributes and the experience people are looking for in natural areas. So there’s a lot of push-and-pull there. And I thank the people, some of who are in this room who literally spent thousands of hours working on a plan and a strategy on how to balance those interests — which are often melded well together but are sometimes competing interests as well.”

This is a big deal.

The next generation in Forest Park.

Wheeler is sending a signal: If Parks wants support and funding for their projects and major initiatives from City Council, they must respond to the needs of “the next generation of park users.” And if you’ve followed the years of good faith advocacy work by the off-road cycling group Northwest Trail Alliance, you’ll recall their central argument for better access to Forest Park is to create more opportunities for young people who can’t drive to ride off-road trails.

On a broader scale, anyone who has watched Portland struggle to move past voices that cling to the status quo and resist change know exactly where Wheeler is going with all this. Whether it’s fighting for “view corridors” or a historic district designation to prevent new housing from being built, or fighting a street update out of fear about losing parking spaces, Wheeler made his argument about “staying relevant” very clear.

The Parks Board is currently reviewing the Draft Off-road Cycling Master Plan and will take public feedback at their next meeting before making a final recommendation about it later this spring. That meeting is open to the public and will happen on April 3rd at 3:00 p.m. at the Congress Center (1001 SW 5th Avenue, Room 513) Conference Room 7A of the 1900 Bldg (1900 SW 4th).

CORRECTION, 4/4: This article initially misspelled the name of Parks Board Chair Patricia Frobes. I regret the error.

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

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NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. 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

  • Alex March 12, 2018 at 4:44 pm

    Not to be overly cynical, but I’ll believe it when I see it.

    I was just thinking about public support for mtbing in FP. I don’t think they would get 300+ people protesting if they decided to add mountain bike trails to Forest Park, like they got 300+ people protesting banning it in RVNA. This, to me, just summarizes that it is the view of a small minority of people who are working very hard to keep people out.

    Going to leave this here, too – Let’s provide more opportunities to stay healthy and not spend our environmental resources on unhealthy people. Still waiting for any science that shows a negative impact greater than hiking on the environment from MTBing.

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    • fred ihle March 12, 2018 at 8:01 pm

      I get the impression that FofFP is a fairly large and mobilized group, or is it not?

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      • Cyclekrieg March 13, 2018 at 6:56 am

        If you mean the Forest Park Conservancy, at least during the ORCMP process they were on board with it. If you are referring to the group ran by Marcy Houle and Dr. Catherine Thompson, Coalition to Protect Forest Park, its a very small group.

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      • Alex March 13, 2018 at 7:07 am

        I think it would be very difficult to say that all of FoFP is against mtbing. I know members who support more MTB access. That’s sort of like saying we all support environmental deregulations because Trump is our president.

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  • rick March 12, 2018 at 9:21 pm

    Build the legit mountain bike trails ! Build it by Barbur! Build it in the 5,000 acres of Forest Park. Forget about the million dollar car parking lot by Highway 30.

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    • I wear many hats March 13, 2018 at 10:55 am

      I hear you. It cost a million dollars to build the .75 mile Towhee trail in Marquam woods. Portland just burns $$$ for heat these days. If only the city would leverage the community for volunteers.

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      • Dan A March 13, 2018 at 12:32 pm

        It can, and it does.

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  • Cyclekrieg March 13, 2018 at 5:42 am

    “Lots of people like to mountain bike; but it is not always consistent with the ethos and the attributes and the experience people are looking for in natural areas.” — Mayor Wheeler.

    I call BS on that. Mayor Wheeler, I’ll be more than happy to take you natural areas and urban wildernesses with mountain biking. You will see no one’s ethos, attributes or experience were harmed.

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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) March 13, 2018 at 8:32 am


      I read that comment differently. I don’t think he’s saying that mountain biking is not consistent with natural areas.. Read it closely: He’s saying that the activity of mountain biking isn’t consistent with the experience some people expect while using natural areas. IMO he’s simply trying to describe the different perspectives on this issue. I didn’t hear this as saying bikes are bad for nature. If he had said that, or if he did believe that, this would have been a much different story.

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      • Cyclekrieg March 13, 2018 at 11:00 am

        I re-read that and can see where that is discussion of human-human interaction, or more actually, supposed human-human interactions.

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  • Dan A March 13, 2018 at 7:38 am

    For a strong statement, it sure is doing a lot of tip-toeing.

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  • I wear many hats March 13, 2018 at 10:51 am

    The times of advocates beating the same drum over and over is nigh. We have an opportunity to show up and pack the Parks Meeting on the 3rd. Many of us are not friends with the board, but we must show up to make our mission heard. I fear that the Parks Board will simply park this plan until next decade. We cannot let them do that. Show up and be heard at the meeting, and be polite.

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    • Alex March 13, 2018 at 1:08 pm

      Hope there is a strong push from the NWTA to get its members to the meeting! I put it on my calendar.

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      • Sarah March 15, 2018 at 1:41 pm

        Yes, it’s been mentioned many, many times at NWTA meetings, events, on social and in their newsletters. They are on top of it.

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        • I wear many hats March 15, 2018 at 2:04 pm

          While NWTA may be on top of it, they do not represent the entire MTB riding community. All NWTA members are mountain bikers but not all mountain bikers are NWTA members. Mountain bikers of all walks need to show up and speak up. Written comments are accepted by the Parks Board until 1pm 3/23/18. Written comments are the hidden currency of this process, and everyone who’s passionate is speaking up. We cannot rest solely on the NWTA.

          Portland Parks Board comments
          BPS ORCMP
          Mayor Ted Wheeler
          Commissioner Dan Saltzman
          Commissioner Nick Fish
          Commissioner Amanda Fritz
          Commissioner Chloe Eudaly

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        • Alex March 16, 2018 at 9:35 am

          Just FYI – I didn’t see it mentioned in the March Newsletter and that is my main contact point with them. The twitter feed often gets a picture posted with a title and a picture, with no link to actual content.

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  • Brian March 13, 2018 at 1:42 pm

    This is a significant shift that I am optimistically excited about. The Conservation Easement for River View NA mentions multiple times that one of the acceptable purposes of the natural area is outdoor recreation. This can be accomplished while also allowing for the other ecological purposes. I think we are about to see some actual riding options within Portland before too long. Attend meetings, speak up, send emails, get involved. The time is now folks.

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    • I wear many hats March 13, 2018 at 4:02 pm

      Metro has determined that mountain biking is consistent with recreation and conservation goals, and they own the property in conjunction with BES. The ORCMP identifies River View, and egad!. . . Forest Park as also having opportunities for mountain bikes on trails. But the Parks Board and the City Leadership consistently cow to the moneyed NIMBY citizens. This meeting can be a turning point to actually listen to reason, and the excellent plan written by the BPS.

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      • Alex March 14, 2018 at 11:00 am

        While that is true, I think if you were involved in the planning of Tualatin mountains access, you can see that they cut a lot of single-track based on NIMBYism.

        It will also be interesting to see what they consider mountain biking and what those trails end up looking like – reserving judgment until trails are built.

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        • I wear many hats March 14, 2018 at 11:03 am

          I agree, 50% of the trails and the access off Skyline was eliminated based on 1 powerful neighbor. Who knows, that access may come back. I was greatly involved in advocating for North Tualatin Mountains, and it was greatly diminished due to the same people blocking access here in Portland. Some is better than none. If the “some” is insignificant, then its a moot point, and every one will ride in Forest Park anyway.

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  • Mark smith March 16, 2018 at 10:37 pm

    I am glad where I live, bikes are pretty much allowed everywhere. Social trails are a fact and nobody cries. But then again, there are a lot less biking. So I guess the root cause of all this mtb lash is really the fear of more bikes.

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