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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Commissioner Fish warms to more singletrack in Forest Park

Buffered Bike Lane with a bike symbol and arrow pointing forward

“My interest is not in studying this to death, it’s seeing what we can actually do…I am committed to finding ways to significantly expand our current inventory of singletrack trails.”
— Nick Fish, Portland City Commissioner

The idea of mountain bike access in Forest Park has been an issue for Portlanders for over two decades. Local advocacy group, the Portland United Mountain Pedalers (PUMP) was founded over twenty years ago specifically to counter threats of bikes being prohibited from the park altogether (currently, bikes are allowed on all fire access roads and a .3 mile stretch of singletrack).

In recent years, the idea of adding more singletrack trails — or allowing bikes to ride on the many miles of existing hiking trails — has languished due to a variety of factors (that’s a whole other story entirely).

But recently, momentum has picked up for a new approach to the conversation: The League of American Bicyclists chastised Portland’s lack of urban off-road riding opportunities; the City of Portland Bureau of Transportation responded to that by officially adding a chapter on mountain biking to the update of their Bicycle Master Plan, citizen activists have stepped up their efforts, and fresh faces in City Hall bring the potential of a new perspective.

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Momentum for Forest Park plan; group sees surge in new members

Buffered Bike Lane with a bike symbol and arrow pointing forward

Enjoying a road in Forest Park.
(Photo © J. Maus)

Last month we shared a new, grassroots effort to open up more of Portland’s Forest Park to bicycles (currently, only 1/3 of a mile of trail — out of over 5,000 acres — is open to bikes).

Frank Selker, a citizen activist who is passionate about riding off-road, decided that the path to more bike access was to join the the Forest Park Conservancy. As a non-profit, the FPC has worked as a respected partner of the Portland Parks and Recreation Department for many years.

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Guest Article: Erik Tonkin on why he joined the FPC

Buffered Bike Lane with a bike symbol and arrow pointing forward
Twilight Criterium 2007-39

Erik Tonkin
(Photos © J. Maus)

[Publisher’s note: This article was written by Sellwood Cycle Repair co-owner, community advocate, and beloved off-road racer, Erik Tonkin. Erik writes about an issue that’s close to his heart, mountain bike access in Forest Park. He’s been riding his mountain-bike and ‘cross bike in the park for 16 years.

For background, read A new plan for MTB access in Forest Park. You can also browse all of our Forest Park coverage here.

“We should use our cash to support the things we love; and there is strength in numbers. Of course, by joining we should hope that our concerns will be heard, considered and acted upon.”

I believe the Forest Park Conservancy [formerly Friends of Forest Park] is the group best positioned to improve off-road bicycling access in Forest Park. Last Wednesday, the FPC’s Stephen Hatfield (Stewardship Director), Andrea Schwartz (Development and Communications Director) and David Prause (board member), invited me on a hike in the park. It was not only flattering but very educational. They shared their concerns about the park’s ecology and discussed the relationship between cyclists and Forest Park and, by extension, the FPC. I’ll never see the park or those who work to sustain it in the same light.

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MTB shop steps up for Forest Park plan

Buffered Bike Lane with a bike symbol and arrow pointing forward

The Fat Tire Farm on NW Thurman.
(Photo © J. Maus)

Fat Tire Farm, a shop that specializes in high performance mountain bikes and is located near a busy Forest Park trailhead, has stepped up to encourage its customers to join the Forest Park Conservancy (FPC).

According to citizen activist Frank Selker, the shop has agreed to give a 10% discount to customers that flash an FPC membership card.

The gesture by Fat Tire Farm comes after Selker met with them to share his plan to get more involvement and cooperation between mountain bikers and the conservancy — two groups who are key to moving the conversation about increased access to Forest Park forward.

Selker says he plans to talk with other bike shops to encourage them to offer similar discounts.

Selker also reports that nearly 20 people have joined the FPC since we published a story about his plan yesterday. His goal is 100 new members and he seems well on his way.