City will launch $2.6 million trail improvement project at Kelly Butte this summer

Kelly Butte photo by City of Portland.

A 24-acre natural area in east Portland next to bike paths, arterial roads, and transit access is poised to receive a $2.6 million investment for new trails and visitor amenities.

On Tuesday, Portland Parks & Recreation announced that Commissioner Dan Ryan has opted to inject an additional $560,000 in system development charges (SDCs) into Kelly Butte Natural Area, topping off the project budget and “ensuring its financial stability.”

Ryan sees the heavily wooded parcel in the Powellhurst-Gilbert neighborhood — nestled between I-205, Division and SE Powell — as a way to provide outdoor recreation access for east Portlanders. The big question on our minds is whether or not the city will create quality access for people on bicycles.

At this point the project will begin with development of a management plan that will lay out where trails might be built in the future. “Potential amenities, which will be determined through community engagement and design efforts,” reads the PP&R statement, “may include new trails, signage, and parking.”

Open Street Map Cycle layer with RideWithGPS heatmap overlay.

Riders say Kelly Butte is currently a very unpolished gem that would take a lot of work before it was appealing for a wide range of bicycle riders. The area is nearly undeveloped and only has a few rudimentary unpaved trails and one very steep climb.

“It would be awesome if we could get access from the Powell side and the Division side,” said nearby resident and frequent bike rider Jordan Norris. “It would be cool to do an up-and-over.” 

Portlander Michael Mann told BikePortland he’s ridden them and they are, “rough and brushy.” “Homeless camps randomly appear here and there, but the potential is definitely there for some sweet riding and easy access in a part of town that could really use this kind of stuff.”

Ryan Francesconi, one of the founders of Our Mother Mountain, a riding club that focuses on unpaved routes and gravel riding, said Kelly Butte has “a lot of potential.” “We’ve been riding there for a long time, but it’s actually not that good, so I rarely bother.” Francesconi said existing trails are “meh.”

For Francesconi, the most interesting part is that Kelly Butte used to be a nuclear bunker. The site was immortalized in a 1957, Cold War-era film titled, “A Day Called X.” The film was set in Portland and recreates disaster from a nuclear bomb. It reveals the park’s history as a sixty-bed municipal hospital that isolated patients with infectious diseases.

Norris said you can still see parts of the bunker if you know where to look.

In the coming months, PP&R will start a community engagement process with opportunities to share feedback about the design, dreams, and goals for the site.

With memories of a rug being pulled from under them at Forest Park, River View, and most recently Rose City parks — local off-road cycling lovers are conditioned for disappointment from PP&R; but Mann won’t let past experiences prevent him from staying engaged this time around. “I’m choosing to see this as a positive. It might not be MTB Nirvana,” he said, “but it’s almost certain to be an improvement.”

Stay tuned for updates as the outreach process begins.

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)

Founder of BikePortland (in 2005). Father of three. North Portlander. Basketball lover. Car owner and driver. If you have questions or feedback about this site or my work, feel free to contact me at @jonathan_maus on Twitter, via email at maus.jonathan@gmail.com, or phone/text at 503-706-8804. Also, if you read and appreciate this site, please become a supporter.

Subscribe
Notify of
guest

10 Comments
oldest
newest most voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
David Hampsten
David Hampsten
5 days ago

I first visited Kelly Butte in 1998 when I was still living in far off Goose Hollow, on a long ride to the east side, and the park then was still in good shape. When I lived in East Portland (2007-2015), Kelly Butte was by then best avoided as it had the nastiest homeless campers who would booby-trap the trails. What’s it like now?

There’s also a substantial covered reservoir on the butte about half the size of the ones on Powell Butte.

TrailDreamer
TrailDreamer
5 days ago

Happened to ride up to Kelly Butte over Memorial Day weekend on a whim with a friend, was (very) pleasantly surprised to find the trails in great shape — it was clear that someone had been there recently cutting back overgrowth, etc. And indeed, I did feel optimistic. There was still some evidence of active campsites, and the approach up that steep access road looked and felt as forlorn as ever. Also found a strange collection of tools (shovels, loppers, etc) all just left up top near a clearing overlooking Powell Blvd. (Slight murder vibes in that spot.) But, overall, the park looked better than it has in years! Very hopeful that some bike access / single-track is expanded upon in this underused (and frankly somewhat spooky feeling) city park. It could be such a gem. Fingers crossed.

Paul H
2 days ago
Reply to  TrailDreamer

if someone has been taking care of the trails and clear brush, loppers and shovel seem like perfectly not strange tools to find in the area.

Marvo
Marvo
5 days ago

Sign me up for volunteer trail building!

I’m an East Portland resident and I live very close to Kelly Butte. We need more options for trails away from vehicles and The Butte is a prime zone to make it happen! I’ve rolled, walked and harvested up there and always dream of a more legit trail system being developed.

I believe there’s ample space to cater to multiple user groups and hope the Parks Department can successfully implement a similar type of network I’ve experienced in many other cities: directional trails, good signage, user-specific days — I’m down to support whatever it takes to get some more options to recreate away from vehicles!

Pete
Pete
4 days ago

Love Kelly Butte. Truly an underused gem.

Doug M
Doug M
4 days ago

I hike Kelly Butte often with my dogs. From what I’ve seen of the trails, it’s OK for hiking, but I would bike it (not with my non-suspension gravel bike). Someone keeps digging hole/ravines across the West downhill/uphill trail and they wouldn’t be enjoyable on a bike. They’re no particularly fun for a short man to hike either.

While part of me loves reading this, I also dread turning Kelly Butte into another crowded “Mt. Tabor.” Much of what I like about the place is the lack of people.

Cyclekrieg
2 days ago

I would LOVE to see the cost breakdown for this. I’m not sure where you could spend $2.6 million for what is going to be (max) a 2.5 mile trail, with some trailhead facilities.

David Hampsten
David Hampsten
2 days ago
Reply to  Cyclekrieg

P&R announcement in plain text, my comments in italics.
Once the project start-up phase begins after 4 years of delays, PP&R staff will design a community engagement process for the next three years tailored to the project and the neighborhood including several trips all over the country and to Amsterdam plus a $560,000 contract with a nonprofit related to a parks official. Your input is crucial in providing an overall park design and establishing goals and dreams for the site, not that we’ll consider it anything other than irrelevant compared to that of our internal staff. Commissioner Ryan’s funding allocation allows for the $800,000 planning, $1,500.000 design, and $300,000 construction phases for some of the elements of the plan to proceed quickly over the next 15 years followed by another phase of $5,000,000 funding to deal with cost overruns and electing incumbent city councilors.

PS
PS
2 days ago
Reply to  David Hampsten

Comment of the week. The cynicism would burn if it wasn’t so true.

MontyP
MontyP
2 days ago

Adding a legit trail system/loop, with access to neighborhoods on all sides of the park, would bring a lot more people onto the Butte, and help to reduce the spooky vibes of this place.

I rode out there on a Pedalpalooza fallout shelter ride in 2010. That was a lot of fun with someone playing clips from “A day called X” while we rode towards the shelter on the Butte.
Ride Report: Fallout Shelters of Portland – BikePortland