Elected officials, planning consultants, insiders and agency staffers will never understand the needs of our regional bikeway network unless they get on a bike and experience it for themselves. That’s the idea behind the invite-only Policymakers Ride (a.k.a. Voyage of the Visionaries) which embarked on its 15th annual journey last Friday.
The route began in Sellwood and traveled south to Oregon City before returning to Portland. It was organized by The Intertwine, a coalition of over 150 organizations working to “integrate nature more deeply” into the metro area. Formerly known as Connecting Green, the Intertwine was launched in 2009 by former Metro President David Bragdon. Since then, the Policymakers Ride has become its annual showcase as it aims to highlight parks and natural areas around the region — and the paths, trails, bridges and bikeways needed to connect them all.
“We’ll see many beautiful places today,” ride co-founder Jonathan Nicholas beamed to the 100 or so people who had gathered at Oaks Park for the start, “And then later we’ll throw you into a bag of horrors and show you what happens when there are gaps in the system.”
True to its name, faces in the crowd included movers-and-shakers from a host of regional agencies and organizations: New Portland Parks & Recreation Director Adena Long was on her bike for the first time in years; Portland Bureau of Transportation Director Chris Warner pedaled on a Trek hybrid; Metro Councilors Bob Stacey and Shirley Craddick zipped around on e-bikes; and their boss, Metro President Lynn Peterson, donned a full kit of spandex. Milwaukie Mayor Mark Gamba wore a “Go By Bike” t-shirt and former Portland Mayor Bud Clark showed off his new and modern-looking GoCycle e-bike.
The route made four stops and riders heard remarks from a list of speakers at each one.
The first stop of the day was Milwaukie Bay Park. This gem of a riverfront park is very easy to bike to from Sellwood. With the recent extension of the Springwater Corridor and the 17th Avenue path, you can ride nearly carfree for over five miles between the start of the Springwater (near OMSI) to Milwaukie. “It’s only about 12 minutes from Portland to here,” PBOT Director Chris Warner said in a short speech. “And I don’t think a lot of Portlanders know that.”
From Milwaukie we continued south on the Trolley Trail toward Oregon City. Our second stop was at the often-overlooked Stringfield Family Park. I’ve stopped here several times to get water and use the restroom; but had no idea the park offers a path that loops around a natural area with undisturbed views of Boardman Creek.
We were jostled out of dreamland and into reality when we crossed the busy McLoughlin Boulevard (Hwy 99E) en route to Gladstone and the Clackamas River Trail. Ride organizers pulled strings so we could cross the carfree 82nd Drive Bridge (which is usually closed weekdays for repairs).
The most anticipated destination of the ride was a tour of Willamette Falls in Oregon City. Sacred to many native tribes as a year-round fishing site, it was developed by white settlers in the mid 19th century. Waves of industrial uses including hydro-electric power generation and paper mills were active at the falls for over 100 years with the last mill closing just a few years ago. Acres of industrial buildings are now derelict.
After a walk out to the viewpoint we peeked inside creepy old warehouses that served as backdrops to seven episodes of the Grimm TV series. We had lunch near the foundation of one of Oregon’s first houses owned by John McLoughlin (often referred to as the “Father of Oregon”) that’s now covered by a massive paper-drying kiln. The Willamette Falls Legacy Project wants to restore this lost history and revive the 50-acre site with a series of public plazas and riverwalks. Construction on the first phase is set to begin next year.
Outside of Oregon City, the real “bag of horrors” began. No longer on carfree paths, we shared lanes over the Oregon City-West Linn Arch Bridge, then the navigated around freeway ramps and fast drivers on Willamette Drive (Hwy 43) with nothing but narrow unprotected bike lanes and debris-ridden shoulders. A police escort helped get us over the bridge without the usual harassment, but we still experienced the gap until the turn onto the quiet and calm of (new to me!) Old River Road.
We made our way through Lake Oswego for a stop at Foothills Park where we heard the latest on the Oak Grove-Lake Oswego Bridge project. Since our last report in 2018, Clackamas County has completed design concepts and a feasibility study that they’ll show off at two public meetings coming up next month (stay tuned for a story).
Foothills Park was one of many new things I discovered for the first time on this ride. It’s fantastic! There’s river access, bathrooms, and a water feature for soaking in. And just steps from the Tryon Creek bike path. Speaking of which, we rode up that path through Tryon Creek park (after a police escort helped us navigate State Street) en route to River View Cemetery and back to Sellwood and Oaks Park where riders enjoyed beers and a final debrief.
Thanks to everyone who puts on this ride.
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