We finally have news to report on Metro’s plan to build new off-road singletrack cycling trails on land just beyond Portland’s northwest border: Multnomah County has set a date for a public hearing on the trail proposal at its planning commission.
The North Tualatin Mountain trails would be located about 14 miles north of Waterfront Park and downtown Portland, and would be accessible via Highway 30 and NW McNamee Road. If you’ve ever taken a bike or a car to Sauvie Island, you’d just stay on the highway for another three miles to reach the new trailhead.
Metro Council adopted the North Tualatin Mountains Master Plan in 2016. That plan included a proposal for a mix of natural area conservation and trails on four separate sites just north of Forest Park totaling 1,300 acres of land. Two of those parcels were deemed fit for off-road cycling trails. The 339-acre Burlington Creek Forest parcel will be the first one to be developed.
The plan calls for 5.6 miles of bicycle trails that would be shared with hikers. The trails would range in width from 24 to 48-inches wide. The Burlington Creek Forest project will also include a restroom, picnic table, informational kiosk, and a trailhead with a parking lot that will fit 25 cars.
Since the project requires several land use permits and would require a change to Multnomah County’s Comprehensive Plan, the planning commission must sign off on the proposal before construction can start. The commission hearing is set for February 6th at 6:30 pm and public testimony is encouraged. Metro submitted the land use and permit applications to the county in fall 2017.
The plans for Burlington have changed slightly since we shared our first look at them in 2015. The parking lot has grown by 10 spaces and the trail descriptions have changed a bit. In 2015 we reported a total of 6.15 miles of trails and gravel roads — including 2.25 miles of what Metro coined “off-road cycling optimized” trails. The new description of trails posted in the public hearing notice describe 5.6 miles of “shared hiking and off-road cycling trails.”
The final design of the trail network at Burlington Creek is yet to come. Once Metro has permits in hand, they’ll finalize the plans and construction will finally start. During the previous public outreach, Metro promised that the bike trails would “meander up and down steep forest topography” and would be “designed to provide a variety of challenge levels and opportunities to create loops.”
When this trail plan came to Metro, there was organized opposition from people who live in the nearby mountains. They held signs against the “Adventure Park Trail Plan” and protested outside a meeting at Metro headquarters on Southeast Grand Avenue. But Metro Council saw past the anti-bike sentiment, realized it was based on protecting private property and not the public good, and voted unanimously to support the trails. Their decision was an exciting step forward for off-road cycling and came in contrast to years of bureaucratic foot-dragging at the City of Portland where leaders have acknowledged the need for more singletrack in places like Forest Park and River View; but have been unable and/or unwilling to make it happen.
There is vast unmet demand for more places to ride within a short distance of Portland. For evidence of this we need only look at the success of Gateway Green and Rocky Point. If they are constructed, the trails at Burlington Creek would be more expansive and interesting than what’s available at Gateway Green and would be much closer than Rocky Point.
Portland-based nonprofit NW Trail Alliance have been instrumental stewards at both those sites. NWTA Board Member Juntu Oberg called the hearing announcement an “important next step.” “We appreciate the amount of work Metro has done to preserve and protect this natural area so close to the City of Portland,” Oberg shared in an email to us this morning. “We look forward to participating in this public process to ensure off-road cycling access on this property.”
When they filed their applications with Multnomah County in 2017, Metro expected to hold this hearing in early 2020 and the new park was supposed to open in 2022. At an open house event in 2015, they said we’d have a grand opening in 2017. Either way, we are too many years behind schedule! Hopefully the hearing goes well and we can make this happen sooner rather than later.
UPDATE, 1/25: From a process standpoint, here’s what we can expect. The following comes from Metro Parks and Nature dept:
Land use hearings with the Multnomah County Planning Commission are expected to take 2 – 3 months. After they make a recommendation, we will need to go before the full County Board of Commissioners for approval. This is likely another 3 – 4 month process.
If the Board approves our applications, a community member or group has an opportunity to appeal to the State Land Use Board of Appeals and then the Oregon Courts of Appeal, if they choose to do so. Appeals could add a year or two to our process before we could potentially proceed.
At that point, funding will need to be identified to complete design engineering as well as construction.