Turns out the forthcoming bike park at Gateway Green won’t be “crippled” by a court decision after all.
After the Willamette Week published a scary story yesterday about a legal loophole in Oregon law that allows people to sue city employees and volunteers for injuries sustained on City-owned properties, we’ve been trying to learn more about potential impacts to not just Gateway Green but the over 200 other Parks-owned properties around Portland.
If other cities have closed recreational facilities due to this loophole, what would happen in Portland? Volunteers are the backbone of many parks and public lands where we ride bikes, and losing them — or losing access completely because of liability concerns — would be a major setback.
Our initial inquiries with the City of Portland and other sources to clarify these impacts didn’t get very far. The Parks Bureau seemed to be caught off-guard by the Willamette Week story and no one else would comment due to it being a sensitive legal issue (if only I had a nickel for every time I heard “Sorry, I can’t discuss legal matters”). The City’s Office of Government Relations would only refer us to the pending legislation that will close the loophole and that we outlined in our story yesterday.
But what if those bills don’t pass? How will Parks’ and other public lands in Portland and throughout the state be impacted by the 2016 Oregon Supreme Court Ruling that found the legal concept of “recreational immunity” does not extend to city employees?
NOTE: Please read our important update to this story posted on Thursday 2/9 at 5:00 pm.
I didn’t know much about Oregon’s “recreational immunity” law when I woke up this morning. But since reading, “Portland’s First Mountain-Bike Park Could Be Crippled by a Court Decision” in the Willamette Week I’ve given myself a crash-course. And so should you.
That article lays out the case that a 2016 Oregon Supreme Court decision throws access to public parks (and all public lands more broadly) into question due to potential legal liability for landowners.
In a nutshell, that decision found that employees and volunteers of landowners are not covered by the same legal immunity as the owners of the land (as laid out in Oregon’s 1971 Public Use of Lands Act). For more on the ruling and the existing law, check out this article.
In the past month over 500 people have chipped in $92,325 to help pay for the construction of new bike trails at Gateway Green — a formerly vacant plot of state-owned land (now owned by the City of Portland) at the intersection of I-84 and I-205.
Project backers aim to reach the goal of $100,000 in the next two days to match a Metro grant they’ve already received. If you haven’t donated yet, now would be a great time to do so.
With money in the bank and all the support and permissions lined up from various agencies, the Northwest Trail Alliance and Portland Parks & Recreation have already broken ground. Over the past few weeks Parks rangers have worked with an estimated 80 people who were camping on the land (who came there after being moved from the Springwater Corridor) to find shelter and other services. Fencing has now been erected around the property and heavy equipment is staging on the site.
In the past nine days, over 200 people have chipped in nearly $60,000 toward to the construction of the “Dirt Lab” at Gateway Green. But as excitement builds for the first new singletrack trails in Portland in what seems like forever, advocates and partners behind the project have come face-to-face with one of Portland’s most vexing issues: homelessness.
Dozens of people who were just moved from the massive homeless camping villages on the Springwater Corridor path have found solace at Gateway Green, the 40-acre parcel of vacant land that sits at the intersection of two freeways in east Portland. That means before any shovels can hit the ground to build the new trails and riding areas, the city must address the land’s current residents.
Portland’s vast east side has huge potential for biking, and many millions of dollars in biking improvements are poised to drop on its streets.
It’s also gearing up for what could be a regional-destination bike recreation park in the form of Gateway Green.
But the little cadre of folks who’ve scored those victories are looking for new blood to set the area’s next goals. The East Portland Action Plan bike committee invited me to join them on a tour Tuesday night of some of the most promising biking projects about to happen on the east side.
Portlanders itching for more places to ride bikes in the dirt will now have to work extra hard, thanks to a report from the City Budget Office (PDF) that recommends zero funding for two Portland Parks & Recreation projects we’ve been following very closely: Gateway Green and the Off-Road Cycling Master Plan.
Does this mean those two projects won’t be funded? No. The report is just one factor Mayor Hales and City Council will use to decide where money should be spent. But the CBO recommendation does underscore the difficult politics around these two projects and it means anyone who wants to see them become reality will have to make sure their voices are heard in the coming weeks and months.
We reached out the Budget Office, Commissioner Fritz’s office, and supporters of these projects to learn more about what this all means…