ANY CITY, EVEN New York, can plunk down a park in the middle of the concrete, toss in a paved path and call it a hiking trail. But only Portland boasts an integrated network of both trails and streets that turns much of our city into one giant pedestrian playground. Marked with brown hiking signs, the system connects park trails and low-traffic roads in about a dozen neighborhoods, and comes courtesy of a group known as SWTrails. If founder Don Baack has his way, the web of routes will soon be four miles longer with the addition of the 4T Loop: a Trail that links the Trolley, Tram and MAX light-rail Train.
Since the 71-year-old Hillsdale resident started SWTrails in 1996, he and some 100 volunteers have developed over 42 miles of urban hiking paths by removing blackberry bushes, laying gravel and erecting interpretive signs. And they’re efficient. Although the city estimated it would cost $900,000 to build a set of stairs and a 92-foot walkway in Hillsdale, SWTrails finished the project for a paltry $10,000 — and in only 11 days.
"SWTrails is known for being pretty organized," says Baack. "Plus, I do not take no for an answer." That goes for his 4T Loop, too, which Baack pitches as a valuable tourist attraction. In October 2007, he asked the city to fund the project—complete with interpretive signs, a website and a brochure—and Mayor Potter quickly bought into the idea, literally: His office has allocated $45,000 for the project, which Baack predicts will be completed in about a year. Now if we could only get Baack to head up the construction of that planned pedestrian-friendly, 40-mile loop around the city, too.