My opinion: Once again, propaganda is poisoning Portland’s off-road cycling debate

My opinion: Once again, propaganda is poisoning Portland’s off-road cycling debate

River View Protest Ride-13

That’s no father and son on a bike ride. They’re
part of a vast “MTB industrial complex” that’s
merely a front for “their powerful corporate sponsors.”
(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)

You can tell when we’re on the cusp of possible progress for off-road cycling in Portland because the misinformation campaign by someone dedicated to stopping it has begun. Hopefully, our policymakers and elected leaders won’t listen this time.

With a city council meeting this Thursday to adopt management plan for the River View Natural Area, a guest opinion article published by The Oregonian is full of scare tactics and farcical conspiracy theories.

The essay was written by John Miller, a man who lives near River View, and it follows a long and sad line of similar attempts from activists and sympathetic media in the past. The headline, “Don’t let mountain bikers overwhelm natural areas,” sounds like it could be the start of an important discussion about the need to balance trail use with conservation goals. Unfortunately, Miller is more interested in hurting that discussion than moving it forward.

Similar to the people who spread misinformation during the debate surrounding Forest Park years ago, Miller wants City Council and all Portlanders to fear the bicycling bogeyman. Or should I say “droves” of bogeymen. It’s the cycling equivalent of “Obama is coming to take my guns.” He wants members of City Council to see any improvements to off-road cycling access as a slippery-slope that will ultimately lead to a doomsday where the “them” takes over from “us”.

“There is a global invasion of nature underway,” he writes. “Will mountain bikers gain access to the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail and wilderness areas? Failing to get into the Bandon State Natural Area, will a golfer baron gain land between camps Meriwether and Clark to build a golf course? Will international bottlers be allowed to take pristine water from a sacred spring near Cascade Locks?”

In comments left here on BikePortland last November, Miller referred to the “MTB industrial complex” and wondered, “If nowhere is off limits, why not have (rogue) trails everywhere?”

Miller paints a picture of local bike advocates as being a wolf in sheep’s clothing. “If their lobbyists prevail,” he asserts, “mountain bike groups and their powerful corporate sponsors,” will run amok in our open spaces and parks. He should talk to staff at the Bureau of Land Management (about the Sandy Ridge trail system), or the Port of Cascade Locks (about the easyCLIMB trails), or Oregon State Parks (about Stub Stewart State Park), and other agencies that have worked very closely with these unsavory “mountain bike groups” with resounding success.

Amazingly, buried in his essay is one almost reasonable passage:

“We all should support a network of off-road cycling trails that interconnects towns and communities. And, of course, we’d favor facilities that provide a range of fun activities and experiences. But we must think critically about where to draw the line between protecting nature and developing new recreation. What kinds of natural areas can support active recreation?”

On this point, Miller is mostly correct. (Cycling isn’t technically any more “active” of a recreation mode than, say, trail-running with an off-leash dog, hiking on unsanctioned trails, or horesback riding.) But in general, that’s what this important debate is all about: How we do balance use and conservation? Unfortunately, because of a lack of political leadership by Commissioners Nick Fish and Amanda Fritz that has been persuaded by the exact type of misinformation Miller is peddling, we have yet to have a grown-up convesation on that topic.

During the advisory committee process for River View, the Portland Parks Bureau took the jaw-dropping step of prohibiting discussion of cycling access even though the committee was full of cycling experts. The resulting River View Management Plan does not take into account the possibility of bike access at all, even though the Parks Bureau themselves says there’s a chance for bike access in the future. It makes zero sense and they’ve completely disrespected the public and their own process.

When it comes to determining where Portland should allow off-road cycling; that’s precisely where the Off-road Cycling Master Plan comes in. Unfortunately, if City Council adopts the River View Management Plan on Thursday, there’s reason to fear that — even if the Off-road Cycling Master Plan concludes that cycling is appropriate — the trail plan for River View will be impossible to change.

We’ve heard conflicting information from the Parks Bureau (who’s in charge of the River View process) and the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability, the agency managing the Off-road Cycling Master Plan about which plan will have policymaking power over the other.

Advocates with the Northwest Trail Alliance (who, despite what Miller wants you to believe are very new to City Hall politics) are scrambling to keep options open at River View and beyond. Let’s hope policymakers and elected leaders lend an ear to a group of volunteer advocates with a solid track record and successful partnerships who’s working in earnest to make Portland a better place to live — and who has never stooped to propoganda to make their case.

The management plan is up for adoption by City Council this Thursday at 2:00 pm. More info and background here.

— Jonathan Maus, (503) 706-8804 –

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