City Commissioner Nick Fish, who oversees Portland Parks & Recreation, has just emailed stakeholders a progress report on bicycle access in Forest Park. The statement includes a commitment to build a new, bike-specific singletrack trail in the park within the next nine months.
The update comes two years after Commissioner Fish and Parks & Rec issued a list of “management actions” to move the issue of bicycle access forward. That report was considered a disappointment by off-road biking advocates who had worked within the process for years to improve trail access in the 5,000 acre park because it didn’t include any firm commitments to expand or improve singletrack opportunities.
The management actions, according to Parks, were aimed at getting a better grip on the ecological health, user demographics, and management resources before expanding trail riding options. With those things completed, they are now poised to move forward. There are no more excuses to not improve bicycling in the park.
“PP&R is currently seeking permits to build enhancements parallel to Fire Lane 5 that will result in a true singletrack experience for cyclists in Forest Park.”
— Commissioner Fish
One of the actions Parks committed to was looking into “re-greening” existing fire lanes that are already open to bicycles. Instead of actually open existing trails or create new trails for people to ride on, the idea was to make fire lanes more interesting. However, last week the Fire Bureau told Parks & Rec that they would not allow the improvements because of the need for emergency access (why it took two years for that decision to happen is unclear).
Here’s how Commissioner Fish put it in his statement released late today:
“As part of these actions, we had hoped to improve the riding experience by revegetating portions of firelanes already open to cyclists. After completing a concept design for firelane improvements and sharing these plans with the Fire Bureau, we learned that limiting access for emergency vehicles had unintended consequences. Our team agreed that we needed to change our approach by focusing on singletrack that’s designed especially for cyclists – from the get go.”
That last part is important. Fish is saying that instead of trying to retrofit fire lanes to make them more fun to ride on (something mountain bike advocates were never too excited about, but figured it was better than nothing), he plans to start the process of building a completely new trail designed specifically for mountain biking.
Here’s more from Commissioner Fish:
“In partnership with Northwest Trail Alliance (NWTA), PP&R is currently seeking permits to build enhancements parallel to Fire Lane 5 that will result in a true singletrack experience for cyclists in Forest Park. This project has the added benefit of re-routing a steep section of the firelane that is particularly susceptible to erosion. We expect to complete this project in the next 9 months; it is the first of several trail projects we hope to complete in the coming years.”
This is of course not the first time Fish has caused optimism among mountain bike lovers who have longed for years for more close-in riding opportunities. In early 2009, Fish said of mountain biking in Forest Park, “I think there is a need and there is a demand and my job is to see how we can make that happen. I’m not interested in delaying this.”
A lot has changed since Fish made that statement.
The Northwest Trail Alliance has played a huge role in working with the City to push the Forest Park issue forward. There’s a lot more to report about their efforts and about what’s in store for the future of mountain biking in the park. I will update this post by tomorrow (Thursday) morning with a full statement and response from NWTA Advocacy Director Tom Archer. Stay tuned.
UPDATE, 8:06 am 10/18:
Advocacy Director of the NW Trail Alliance, Tom Archer, has responded to Commissioner Fish’s statement:
“We’re pleased with the announcement yesterday, in particular with Park’s commitment to complete the first trail project within a defined timeline. Our long-term goal has always been to create a compelling, sustainable singletrack experience in the Park and this is a step in the right direction. We’ve been working closely with Parks over the past two years to figure out a path forward, and this announcement clears the way for a couple promising projects. Together, the Firelane 5 and Yeon trail projects [a new multi-use trail and trailhead project Fish says they will fund through a new Parks bond measure] will add a significant amount of new singletrack, and once completed, will provide a new access point to the park, with the intent of re-directing some of the current traffic away from the Thurman Gate.
The FL5 project is fairly well defined and Parks has committed to initiating the permit process right away. NWTA has committed to delivering the resources to build the FL5 project, and it’s we will be engaging our partners immediately to collect the required funding. It’s our intent to utilize the resources of NWTA’s Trail Development Partnership Program to deliver the project, similar to what we’ve done at Stub Stewart State Park and Cascade Locks. This would allow the project to be built economically, and engage our partners, and supporters in the process. The Yeon project is more significant in terms of required resources due to length and terrain. I expect we’ll work on refining that concept while we work on FL5.
We’ll be providing more specifics on the projects in the next few weeks. In the meantime, those interested in contributing to the project can make contact via firstname.lastname@example.org.”