Portland Parks & Recreation will host a trail work party at their newly acquired Riverview natural area next week and many of the volunteers that show up will be from the Northwest Trail Alliance, a group eager to expand local off-road riding opportunities and willing to invest sweat equity to make it happen.
Back in May of 2011, Portland Parks & Recreation teamed up with the City’s Bureau of Environmental Services and Metro to buy 146 acres of forested land located just south of Riverview Cemetery and the Sellwood Bridge. The parcel of land was previously owned by the adjacent Riverview Cemetery. Technically, the land was private, but over the past two decades people have been hiking and biking through it and a mish-mash network of trails has developed. To my knowledge, Riverview Cemetery (to their credit) has chosen to look the other way instead of cracking down on trespassers.
With the City of Portland’s well-known lack of close-in singletrack trail riding opportunities, the purchase of this land — known as the “LC Trails” (due to nearby Lewis & Clark College) or simply “the cemetery” — immediately piqued the interest of off-road riding advocates. Local business owner and well-known rider Erik Tonkin has ridden the trails for 18 years. He says he “can’t imagine” a place where he’d rather see a public and professionally managed network of off-road bike trails.
Portland Parks held the first work party at Riverview back in the spring. According to Parks Commissioner Nick Fish’s policy coordinator Emily Hicks, volunteers at that event restored several dangerous and damaged trails and began the process to come up with a plan for the trails. Hicks says a team has been assembled within Parks and with stakeholders to decide which trails to restore and which ones to decommission because they are unsafe or because they pose threats to the area’s ecology.
As of today, Hicks says no formal decisions have been made about the property. All trails are considered “shared use” which means they’re open to people bicycling and walking/hiking. “My understanding,” Hicks shared via telephone today, “is that sometime next year — late winter/early spring — we’ll kick off a formal planning process around trail management.” Once that process starts, Hicks said, “The biking community will be an important stakeholder and will be involved from the get-go.”
“We need to… restore some of the natural habitat that’s been degraded over time. That doesn’t mean we need to take away [bike] access to trails. Our team is open to those two things happening at the same time, they’re aren’t mutually exclusive.”
— Emily Hicks, policy coordinator for Commissioner Nick Fish
Parks is treating Riverview as a natural area, which means habitat and ecosystem preservation is a high priority. The area plays an important role in treating runoff and managing stormwater. That means, according to Hicks, “We need to not only maintain this area, but restore some of the natural habitat that’s been degraded over time.”
Does this focus on habitat restoration mean that bicycle access won’t be allowed in the future? Hicks says it doesn’t.
Despite the focus on restoration, Hicks says, “That doesn’t mean we need to take away [bike] access to trails. Our team is open to those two things happening at the same time, they’re aren’t mutually exclusive… We can maintain safe, fun trails while making sure habitat stays in tact while trails can be further restored.”
Concerns about the impact of bicycles on natural habitats dominated parts of the debate about whether or not the City should improve off-road bike access in Forest Park. The issue thrust to the fore when someone carved an illegal downhill bike trail in a heavily forested area of Forest Park just days before a committee was set to make a decision on the issue.
“This is an opportunity for the mountain biking community to build on our recent efforts to keep the Riverview property open to cyclists, and demonstrate our interest in creating permanent riding opportunities there.”
— Tom Archer, Northwest Trail Alliance
A lot has changed since those days. The Parks bureau has learned a lot about how to handle bicycle access in natural areas and they have worked closely with the Northwest Trail Alliance. “They have been an awesome partner,” says Hicks.
Tom Archer, advocacy director for the NWTA sees his group’s early partnership and sweat equity at Riverview as vital to the future of local singletrack. “This [the work party] is an opportunity for the mountain biking community to build on our recent efforts to keep the Riverview property open to cyclists, and demonstrate our interest in creating permanent riding opportunities there.” “Plus,” he adds, “trail work is fun and a great way ‘give back’ to your local parks and natural areas.”
— The work party is open to the public. Meet at SW Brugger St and SW Palatine Hill Road on Wednesday, August 8th at 5:00pm. More details here.