Amid sea of closures, Forest Park remains open for business

It’s nearly impossible to ride the Newton Road trail right now without coming into close contact with other people.
(Note: Photo taken last year.)
(Photos: J. Maus/BikePortland)

If you think it’s hard to comply with social distancing guidelines on narrow sidewalks and bike lanes in Portland, you should try doing it on singletrack trails in Forest Park.

But that hasn’t stopped the City of Portland from keeping the much-loved urban park open.

While trails in the Columbia River Gorge and elsewhere throughout Oregon are closed — and the Portland Parks & Recreation Bureau has opted to close basketball courts, skateparks and roads around 10 other local parks in an effort to discourage use and help people maintain their distance, Forest Park has avoided closures thus far.

I’ve biked through the park several times recently and the parking lots have been very crowded. It got me wondering; if the Parks Bureau has closed basketball courts and skateparks, why would they keep Forest Park trails open while they continue to attract such large crowds? I was also curious how it’s physically possible to maintain a six-foot passing distance on trails in heavily forested areas that are just 18 to 30-inches wide.

I put my questions to two people: Portland Parks Media Relations Director Mark Ross and Forest Park Conservancy Executive Director Renée Myers.

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“Forest Park Conservancy is unable to keep up with the amount of people wanting to use the park’s trails.”
— Renee Myers, Forest Park Conservancy

Forest Park-ing at a popular trailhead off NW Germantown Road.

Ross said they expect park visitors to figure it out: “Trails are open for use but trail users must take responsibility for their actions, including avoiding trails if they are sick, staying at least 6 feet away from others, announcing their presence to others and stepping aside to let others pass, and going elsewhere or coming back later if that’s what it takes to adhere to the guidelines.”

When I asked why they don’t use the same rationale for basketball courts and skateparks, Ross didn’t address the question directly. He said the agency is following health guidelines and heeding Governor Kate Brown’s executive order, which specifically calls for the closure of skateparks, sports courts and playground equipment, but doesn’t mention urban park trails. The order does however, explicitly call for the state parks department to, “close any property… when proper social distancing cannot be maintained.”

“Portland Parks & Recreation continues to maintain our parks, trails and natural areas so that people can safely go outside and improve their mental and physical health,” Ross says. “We want people outside and rejuvenate in a PP&R park or natural area – while maintaining strict social distancing.” (Learn more about Parks’ COVID-19 closures and policies here.)

Leif Erikson Road is a relatively safe bet for social distance biking and walking.

Myers, leader of a nonprofit that advocates and helps maintain Forest Park, said they’re in a bit of pickle. “Forest Park is experiencing a significant increase in the amount of people wanting to access it as a result of so many of the region’s amazing places to recreate being closed,” she shared. “This is having a negative impact on our beloved Forest Park and potentially putting community members at risk because the narrow width of many of the trails do not support a minimum of six feet of physical distance.”

Myers is concerned not only about public health, but about the health of the park itself. While people have flocked there to “rejuvenate” in nature, Forest Park Conservancy staff and volunteers have cancelled all their maintenance events for the “foreseeable future.” “This means that the hundreds of hours from volunteers and staff that are needed to ensure the park’s trails are safe and maintained are not being logged, while the user impact on the park continues to increase,” Myers cautioned. “FPC [Forest Park Conservancy] is unable to keep up with the amount of people wanting to use the park’s trails.”

Portland Parks and is facing similar staffing and budgeting challenges. Yesterday the Portland Mercury reported that the bureau has lost $900,000 in revenue and has made steep staff reductions. And last week Willamette Wee reported another local parks agency, Metro, plans to lay off 40% of its workforce.

Even with this bleak outlook, neither Myers nor Ross offered full-throated discouragement to would-be park visitors. Myers said her own staff have made “an intentional choice” to not visit at this time and she hopes others will do the same. “Join us and the many other Forest Park lovers who have chosen to ‘Stay Home, Save Lives’,” she said.

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

At the risk of being (again) called a joy sucking buzz kill, I need to say – stay the “F” home. Jonathan, usually a North Star of social responsibility is setting an example of what Not to do by going places where it impossible to give 6 feet clearance. Not everyone is as immortal. Jeez

Granpa
Granpa
2 years ago

The first paragraph leads one to assume first hand experience on that trail shown in the photo. As you infer you did not ride that trail during the pandemic , I apologize for the accusation.

Middle of the Road Guy
Middle of the Road Guy
2 years ago

I think this part of a sentence is the culprit:

“I’ve biked through the park several times recently… ”

It might have been best to leave a photo out, as that is the cause of the speculation that you were riding the same narrow trails that you are also questioning the safety of.

Middle of the Road Guy
Middle of the Road Guy
2 years ago

That’s all true. I’m just saying that if one posts a picture next to a sentence it tends to get related to the sentence.

John LaRue
John LaRue
2 years ago

I think the parking lot in forest park should be closed but the park itself open ( Hint: You can’t drive if you can’t park ) People will trickle in and out without congregating in a parking lot. Park is open…..Park will see fewer visitors for obvious reasons…..Social distancing will be achieved with one or two locked parking lot gate. Sidewalks open !!

Chainstays
Chainstays
2 years ago

They should join other areas in closing the parking areas, this would keep at least 50% of the folks away.

Middle of the Road Guy
Middle of the Road Guy
2 years ago
Reply to  Chainstays

One could park a block away, or just ride their bike there.

Chainstays
Chainstays
2 years ago

Exactly, thus reducing users by a big number. For the trail head along Germantown, there is not on-street parking.

Middle of the Road Guy
Middle of the Road Guy
2 years ago
Reply to  Chainstays

There’s tons near the Leif gate or up on Skyline. People will go there…creating even more congestion in fewer areas where there is parking.

Chainstays
Chainstays
2 years ago

Indeed, congestion is a great deterrent!

Mick O
Mick O
2 years ago

It is somewhat distressing to hear the “6-feet” guideline being treated like most drivers treat speed limits. Much like a 35mph speed limit does NOT mean you should push an automobile to 35mph under all conceivable conditions, and represents the maximum speed you should consider under the most optimal conditions, there is no magic wall at 6-feet that keep us safe. 6 feet is more like how far most droplets might go under optimal conditions when the propelling agent is stationary, breathing normally. I am seeing so many people opining as if there is a magic 6-foot wall of safety even if they are running or cycling. But, of course I have no idea or special knowledge to be able to dictate to others what they should do, so I suppose we’ll find out one way or the other.

Vaughn Adams
Vaughn Adams
2 years ago
Reply to  Mick O

Mick O is right. The 6 foot distance rule is based on studies from the 1930’s and 1940’s on how far sneezes and coughs can travel. Today many studies show the distance should be more like 30 feet. So many people seem to be looking for guidelines and than push up against them as closely as possible.

q
q
2 years ago
Reply to  Vaughn Adams

Yes, and also my guess is any protection from the 6′ (or whatever) distance rule falls apart when people are moving. If you’re 6′ away from someone, but walking behind them on a trail, you’re breathing in the air they just exhaled a second ago. If you’re riding a bike 15′ behind, same thing. Even if you’re 30′ back, you’re still in the same air at most a few seconds later.

So people moving around may all see themselves as being safe because they’re 6′ apart, but what I see is a bunch of people obliviously breathing in the same air someone else just exhaled.

q
q
2 years ago
Reply to  Vaughn Adams

“We want people outside and rejuvenate in a PP&R park or natural area”–Mark Ross

Parks attitude is getting increasingly offensive to me. Several people have commented that you don’t need to go to a park to walk, and they’re right. There’s no reason why Parks should be wanting people to exercise in parks–especially when they have to drive there–except for selfish ones.

Parks is doing the Madison Avenue/huckster/gym membership thing. Start with something true–“exercise is good for you”. Then present yourself–falsely–as essential to doing it–“and if you’re going to exercise, you need one of our parks”. So now Parks has made themselves critically important by telling a lie. Then in the next bond measure election, Parks can say, “When the gym and malls and libraries were closed, we were there for you. We kept you sane during the pandemic”.

The thing that really gets me is that I overlook a park from my desk, and not only are the paths still well used, so are the tennis courts, picnic shelter, and play area. Ross claims they’re following the governor’s orders, but they still haven’t even bothered to put up signs saying those group areas are closed–so they’re really not following orders in any responsible way. Meanwhile, Parks has its own parking patrol making several trips per day to the park, giving people expensive parking tickets who didn’t pay (by all touching the same kiosks). They drive right past the tennis players.

I think it’s due more to poor management than intent, but when Parks can’t make one trip to put up “closed” signs at the group areas, but sends parking patrol staff out several times per day, the impression is that Parks values the parking revenue more than public health.

q
q
2 years ago
Reply to  q

Oops, that wasn’t meant as a reply.

q
q
2 years ago
Reply to  q

At the tennis courts I mentioned, today Parks did put up large “closed” signs with information about the virus, actually done very well, so I have to commend them on that. On the other hand, people are still ignoring them, and Parks’ parking patrol is still ignoring the people ignoring them.

Tom
Tom
2 years ago

“I’m not going to encourage anyone to leave their house unnecessarily.”
–Chloe Eudaly

“We want people outside…”
–Mark Ross

So they don’t want people to be able to walk city streets safely, but perfectly okay with cramming them onto single track trails in the park.

Allan Rudwick
2 years ago
Reply to  Tom

would there be anything gained by making some trails 1-way?

Allan Rudwick
2 years ago

Willamette Wee!

Hello, Kitty
Hello, Kitty
2 years ago
Reply to  Allan Rudwick

That’s what I did last time I swam in the river!

RH
RH
2 years ago

Why not just exercise locally? Walk around your neighborhood, streets, home, etc…Exercise does not need to be a destination.

colton
colton
2 years ago

My personal experience is that there are many mountain bikers that are ruining the trails right now. I know it’s challenging to bike through mud holes and the like, but I certainly understand why hikers and trail runners aren’t keen on sharing trails with us when we (collectively) can’t be responsible and stay off them when they are too wet to ride without damaging them.

I wear many hats
I wear many hats
2 years ago
Reply to  colton

Every trail in forest park with bike mud ruts also has hiker/ runner post-holes. Numerous studies show that tires tread lighter on a trail surface than a foot print. Its disingenuous to call out tire ruts in the mud because one would have to have postholed to the ruts to see them, castrating their own argument.

mran1984
mran1984
2 years ago
Reply to  colton

Misinformation at it’s finest. Quit spreading your false opinion. Typical trail runner does more damage AND drove to Forest Park too.

colton
colton
2 years ago
Reply to  mran1984

“Misinformation at it’s finest. Quit spreading your false opinion.”

The trails I’m seeing are getting destroyed. That’s not misinformation; the proof is out there. While others are contributing, the bikes still have to take their share of the blame.

i.e, it’s not a great excuse to say “but someone else is as bad or worse”

X
X
2 years ago
Reply to  colton

The worst bogs I’ve seen on trails were definitely tramped out by people on foot. I’m not a self-loathing biped but it might be good if more hiking partisans took up the proactive view of trail management and the volunteer spirit of many off-road bike riders.

colton
colton
2 years ago
Reply to  X

Exactly. If it’s a bog, stay out. Car, foot, bike or stroller etc. It doesn’t much matter the mode we’re using to make the bog, it’s avoiding making a bog.

If there is standing water and the base is dirt, avoid it. Find some gravel and wait until the water dries up.

Matt F
Matt F
2 years ago
Reply to  colton

BS

colton
colton
2 years ago
Reply to  Matt F

The message I’m hearing in these comments is that the conditions on the dirt trails aren’t all that bad, but regardless, biking through them when they are wet is harmless.

I guess I’ll see all you guys out there! Why should I be the only one not enjoying the trails?

Matt F
Matt F
2 years ago
Reply to  colton

Observing the Forest Park Conservancy’s rhetoric and actions now and in the past, their version of conservancy is dissuading people to visit and recreate in the park. It’s fear-based and back-asswords. They love pushing out their propaganda that “the park is getting loved to death”…when its the opposite of reality: its getting more neglected every year because of their stubborn, antiquated positions clashing with more people who want to recreate in the woods. What the park needs is more people, more getting-involved, more stakeholders at the table, more agency, more care, more love and new ideas.

Eric H
Eric H
2 years ago

Well, if you can’t get out to Forest Park you can always just book a foursome with you friends at any of the still open golf courses.

https://www.oregonlive.com/sports/2020/04/portland-area-public-golf-courses-that-are-open-and-closed-due-to-coronavirus-outbreak.html

jered l bogli
jered l bogli
2 years ago
Reply to  Eric H

Not a golfer, but really golf is the ultimate COVID-19 activity, if you’re close enough to get hit with my driver you’re too close!

Eric H
Eric H
2 years ago
Reply to  jered l bogli

If only the golf courses were limiting players to solo. Every time I go by Eastmoreland course there are multiple foursomes all packed in their golf carts. And I’d be happy to wager you that they’re not all from the same household.

Hello, Kitty
Hello, Kitty
2 years ago
Reply to  Eric H

I’d like to see some of our golf courses opened to mountain biking.

q
q
2 years ago
Reply to  Hello, Kitty

Golf courses should allow biking. They already allow driving. Some have whole ranges devoted to it.

Seriously, though, I agree.

Manville
Manville
2 years ago

If they had allowed mountain bikers to build more trails pre-COVID, this would not be an issue.

Steve Scarich
Steve Scarich
2 years ago

Regarding the disconnect between closing city basketball courts, but not mountain-biking trails, I’m surprised nobody has made the connection between the ethnicity of those generally involved in each activity.

Brian
Brian
2 years ago
Reply to  Steve Scarich

Regarding the disconnect between closing city basketball courts, but not HIKING trails, I’m surprised nobody has made the connection between the ethnicity of those generally involved in each activity.

q
q
2 years ago

That’s a good point. I think a lot of decisions get made based on legal considerations. If Parks does exactly what the governor says, then they may feel protected against getting sued. How things actually work with the virus isn’t relevant.

I’m looking out into my local park right now. The trail is packed, everyone’s breathing in the air the person ahead of them just exhaled, and the people sitting on benches are the eighth or twentieth people to sit on the same bench today. They might as well be walking through Washington Square Mall. Those things have to be as bad as a couple kids from the same family playing basketball on a court. But as you said, sports courts were what was mentioned by the governor.

Chris I
Chris I
2 years ago
Reply to  Steve Scarich

Right. Or, maybe it could be that one of these sports involves contact, and multiple people sharing a single ball? I guess you could still shoot hoops solo, but that’s not what people were doing.

Doesn't matter
Doesn't matter
2 years ago
Reply to  Steve Scarich

There isn’t enough diversity in PDX to even warrant a reply to that comment.

– St. Louis native

X
X
2 years ago
Reply to  Doesn't matter

By this logic if a thing is not common, for example a particular plant in a forest, we should ignore it? Deny it? Step on it? What’s your point?

Hello, Kitty
Hello, Kitty
2 years ago
Reply to  Doesn't matter

Actually, while (unlike here) there is rough numerical balance between blacks and whites in Saint Louis, there are fewer people of other races/ethnicities there than here in Portland. So if by “diverse”, you mean “not white”, Portland is less diverse. If, on the other hand, you define diverse as “likely to encounter people of many different backgrounds”, Portland probably comes out ahead.

My main point is that “diversity” can really mean anything you want it to, and can be used to justify a wide range of conflicting outcomes.

https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/stlouiscitymissouricounty
https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/fact/table/portlandcityoregon/AGE295218

Brian
Brian
2 years ago

One potential bright spot coming out of this is that it may strongly encourage Parks to develop a better partnership with NWTA. NWTA brings a lot to the table when it comes to trail building, trail maintenance, and natural area improvement. One can only hope this is recognized on a larger scale, sooner than later.

John m
John m
2 years ago

Well then shut up and dont make a post about forest park before it gets shut down and i dont have a place to ride solo and get off the hiking trail too

Timee
Timee
2 years ago
Reply to  John m

Yeah, I don’t know why he’s trying so hard to ruin a good thing.

mark smith
mark smith
2 years ago

Well, for just a moment, the hysteria train hasn’t come to forest park.

Kittens
Kittens
2 years ago
Reply to  mark smith

See Above^^

Kittens
Kittens
2 years ago
Reply to  mark smith

I really do not understand all this hyperventilating about people going outside to exercise and recreate as long as they are not blowing on people or huddling in tight groups, who cares!

This puritanical shaming seems incredibly shortsighted. Social distancing may have to continue for MONTHS. Humans are indeed mortal, but we can often delay this eventuality by adopting an active and healthy lifestyle, which requires physical exertion -something not easily achieved if you live in say, a $2,000-month “micro” apartment and not a 3,5000 sf mcmansion with a home gym. And while yes, it is technically possible to exercise exclusively indoors or a parking garage, all but the most diligent among us are likely to do so at a rate necessary to sustain anything approaching ideal BMI and cardiovascular health.

TLDR: I’ve gained 5 lbs in the last four weeks due to not exercising and stress-eating.

Fred
Fred
2 years ago

I wish these articles about recreating during covid-19 would focus more on things that could be done to keep these areas OPEN and less on shaming the people who are trying to recreate in the open air, which is a GOOD thing.

The idea of one-way travel on trails, for example.

I agree that many responses have been binary (open or closed). Our gov’t agencies should be able to come up with more nuanced responses. We’re gonna need them b/c this thing is gonna last for many more weeks and even months and (god help us) the rest of the year or longer.

Ben G
Ben G
2 years ago

Saw what was for sure the biggest number of vehicles I’ve ever seen parked in areas around Forest Park on Sunday. I’m trying not to be too judgy but people need to get creative with your recreating and disperse if it is full.