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Columbia County to develop 40 miles of unpaved roads and trails near St. Helens

Posted by on May 9th, 2019 at 10:56 am

Approximate location of future roads/trails. St. Helens and Columbia River are in lower right.

Columbia County will get another bicycling boost thanks to Travel Oregon and the City of St. Helens.

“We are considered to be part of the Portland region, but we don’t get as much attention as things around Portland. So this is really refreshing and a very good thing for us.”
— Karen Kane, Columbia County

In the hills just west of St. Helens about 37 miles north of downtown Portland, the county plans to develop about 30-40 miles of new unpaved roads for recreational use.

According to a statement from the County, the trails would be built on a 2,400 acre parcel (about half the size of Forest Park) of city-owned timber property known as the St. Helens Tree Farm. The parcels are located around Salmonberry Lake, a city-owned reservoir about seven miles west of Highway 30 on Pittsburgh Road. The vision for the land is to use half the property for motorized vehicles and the remainder for hiking, cycling, and horseback riding. The city also wants to develop a campground.

The cycling trails would be built by Christopher Bernhardt of Portland-based C2 Recreation Consulting, the same firm that has worked on many other sites in the region including Gateway Green and Sandy Ridge.


(Map: Columbia County)

Columbia County has long sought the attention of Oregon’s statewide tourism board, but local leaders say they’ve often been overlooked. Now that’s beginning to change. Columbia County Director of Communications Karen Kane says, “Travel Oregon has really been focusing on this county. It’s been tough because we are considered to be part of the Portland region, but we don’t get as much attention as things around Portland. So this is really refreshing and a very good thing for us.”

BikePortland readers know that cycling in Columbia County is some of the best in the region. We’ve shared great rides in the past from the Crown-Zellerbach Trail, Bacona Road, Vernonia and well beyond.

So far there’s $20,000 available (thanks to Travel Oregon grants) for planning and development. The Columbia County Economic Team, a group looking to boost the County’s tourism appeal, plans to apply for larger grants through the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department to further flesh out the project.

A Stakeholders Forum will be held at 6:00 pm on Tuesday, May 14th at the Columbia County Courthouse in St. Helens. This will be the first step in the creation of a comprehensive plan for the site.

Comments from groups and individuals are encouraged. Send them to Columbia County Parks Director Casey Garrett at

If you love riding in Columbia County as much as I do, and want to discover new roads and meet cool people, consider signing up for the Columbia Century Challenge. It starts and ends in Clatskanie on June 15th.

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

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14 thoughts on “Columbia County to develop 40 miles of unpaved roads and trails near St. Helens”

  1. Avatar Alien says:

    The comment I filed is basically this: Please, please, PLEASE develop a significant number of miles of single track trails for mountain biking. The Portland region desperately needs more of this!

    1. Avatar chris says:

      Especially in light of my recent visit to the Scappoose trails – Weyerhaeuser has “No Trespassing” signs posted now, and there were no other cars near the trailhead. That was the closest trail network, and it now seems to be no more.

      The good news is that a new trail network is being developed near Seaside, and Timberline should open its bike park this summer. Still, we need something in-town, like what Galbraith is to Bellingham.

  2. Avatar JKE says:

    I did the Columbia Century Challenge a couple of years ago. It was fantastic. Beautiful views, low-traffic roads, great support.

  3. Congrats! Way to Go Columbia County & Travel [by bike] Oregon!!
    Let us know when you are ready to start planning the camp ground, so we can provide some helpful bike tourer guidance. (And please include tent hammock posts as these also make for great improved but low impact buffer in a camp ground.) One example:

  4. Avatar Maddy says:

    This is so exciting! Bike trails and a campground!

    I second Alien’s request for single track.

  5. Avatar Alex says:

    Even though this is just down the road from FP, somehow I don’t think we will see the usual cast of characters (i.e. the NIMBY neighbors) clamoring about environmental and wildlife concerns.

    1. Avatar I wear many hats says:

      The pseudo rural suburban real estate value is not high enough out there to claim elk calving grounds as a reason to prevent trail use. Its ironic that we are more than willing to put a house and driveway on every spec of land in the urban area (thereby preventing wildlife) and then claim to be environmentalists. The neighbors that prevented the Metro North Tualatin mountains from having a trail network should be ashamed of themselves.

      1. Avatar Cyclekrieg says:

        I thought the North Tualatin mountains was scaled back into Phase 1 & Phase 2. Are the trails totally off the board?

        1. Avatar I wear many hats says:

          There was an opportunity to have a network of low intensity (dispersed) multiuse trails on the 4 parcels. Metro then scaled it back to two parcels. A wealthy landowner then called the right person, and bike access was limited to one parcel, of which, its the most disturbed. Given how its a 1.5 to 2 hour ride on Leif to even get to the planned trails, the Metro trails will not cater to those that ride to where they ride. Its asinine to force those who ride to drive past 1000’s of acres of Forest Park, adding to greenhouse gases, noise, and water pollution etc, when we could simply ride up Thurman and ride a mountain bike in town.

          1. Avatar Cyclekrieg says:

            Oh I agree. I just didn’t know that Metro had the spine of jellyfish.

            Question: given the issues of public land managers generally being worth a warm bucket of spit when it comes to MTB access, has the mountain biking community ever thought about purchasing their own site? Given the number of members the NWTA has (at least on paper), a hundred dollar a person contribution would buy a lot of real estate. That is not even counting corporate or greenspace grants/donations. There are several places that have done this, the Vietnam property in Cambridge, MA being the most famous.

            Seriously, this: is 10 miles of trail. And ain’t no one able to call someone if you own it outright.

            1. Avatar Brian says:

              That thought has crossed my mind about 10,000 times over the last 20 years of living here. The North and South of Scappoose would be perfect. DH-directional trails on the South side, and an XC fantasyland on the North side.

  6. Avatar Columbia County Rider says:

    Educate the Duck Dynasty folk out there not to roll coal on cyclists, confront cyclists aggressively, leash their dogs, etc. and maybe St Helens can become a cycling Mecca. Until that changes, it’s always a dicey place to ride.

    1. Avatar Matt says:

      Wow, just wow, I live out in Columbia county near Scappoose, and we can do things we want to do. You bikers come out here and expect us to do things your way. Your not in Portland no more bud, whole different world out here.

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