The Portland Parks & Recreation Bureau had severe budget problems long before a viral pandemic dominated the news. Last year rising personnel costs and flat program revenues forced the agency into bruising cuts to staff levels and operations. One year later and COVID-19 has squandered any chance to right the ship.
In this bleak moment, the agency is reaching out for feedback and local off-road cycling advocates say it’s time to speak up.
With widespread closures and no end to the virus crisis in sight, Parks Director Adena Long and Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler shared terrible news recently: “It is heartbreaking to write this, but many of the current closures will continue beyond summer 2020, and not because of public health restrictions.” With a broken revenue model and the major hit from COVID-19, Parks plans to put a temporary funding levy on the November 2020 ballot.
With a bike boom underway and the vast mental and physical benefits cycling can bring to a broad and diverse swath of Portlanders, it’s vital that Parks hears from people who love to ride and want more safe and accessible places to do it. As Portland Parks seeks feedback from the public on how to re-imagine their offerings and services, the nonprofit NW Trail Alliance is leading a push to make sure they hear about the strong connection between cycling and parks-owned paths and properties.
“Our society has some serious setbacks when it comes to the outdoors and recreation; not everyone can access the outdoors in our local trails,” NWTA said in a message to members on Monday. “Leaving out a category of users on trails is not equitable.” “All Portlanders, no matter their background, should be able to access trails via two wheels.”
Creating more quality access for off-road cycling in Portland — which has an abysmal amount of places to ride and a sad legacy of disrespectful treatment toward mountain bike riders — has been the focus of NWTA for many years. Five years ago the organization and its members participated in an effort to create the first-ever Off-Road Cycling Master Plan (ORCMP). Two years of meetings have led to nothing but a draft plan that remains unfinished. (This came after a previous planning process for Forest Park ended in controversy and no tangible progress for cycling and a contentious plan for River View Natural Area nearly excluded bicycling entirely.)
Asked one year ago about the status of the ORCMP, Bureau of Planning & Sustainability Project Manager Tom Armstrong said, “I have been working on other priorities (manufactured dwelling parks rezoning, fossil fuel terminal zoning) but will be getting back to finalizing the plan later this year. Asked the same question two months ago, Armstrong said the plan is “paused” due to COVID-19. “While we were hopeful of re-starting work in early 2020… At this time I do not have an update on timing given the scale and demand of other projects and uncertainty around budget and staffing at both BPS and Parks, who will be responsible for implementing many of the recommendations.”
With the ORCMP gathering dust and Parks looking to re-orient themselves and re-imagine their role in our community, the NWTA feels like the time is right to speak up.
In related news, the Portland Parks Foundation is hosting a forum on Wednesday July 15th with Portland City Council position 2 candidates Loretta Smith and Dan Ryan.
— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and firstname.lastname@example.org
— Get our headlines delivered to your inbox.
— Support this independent community media outlet with a one-time contribution or monthly subscription.