News and Notes

Lost in the Woods

After a year of debate, there’s still no clear path for more singletrack in Forest Park

June 18, 2010

For anyone who’s been waiting for some progress on the issue of singletrack riding within Forest Park, you’ll definitely want to take note of Portland Parks and Recreation Commissioner Nick Fish’s newly announced five management initiatives.

But be warned, if you’re expecting some finality on the topic of singletrack, you might not want to hold your breath.

Here’s the deal: the city’s game plan, which includes steps to address key issues such as better enforcement of park rules, increased recreation, and improving overall stewardship of Forest Park come on the heels of a less than flattering examination of Portland Parks and Recreation’s handling of the city’s premiere greenspace earlier this month by the seminal local public affairs group City Club of Portland.

Released in late May, City Club’s study, entitled Forest Park: A Call To Action, highlights numerous challenges to the park (among them, lack of funding, desire for increased singletrack riding, and virtual oceans of invasive ivy threatening to choke everything in its path) essentially states that the City of Portland has failed as a steward of Forest Park.

City Club’s chief criticism with respect to the park is that the City of Portland has not adhered to the Forest Park Natural Resource Management Plan. Adopted by the city council back in 1995 this weighty document, among other things, calls for a “scientific” user survey to be conducted in order to form the basis of future actions (like allowing more mountain bike trails, for example) within the park.

To date, the city has yet to perform any such study.

City Clubbers also went so far as to state that the park would be better served by a regional park authority, but stopped short of naming what other governing body could best handle such a costly job. In other words, for the time being, we’re stuck with the city they concluded.

The message isn’t lost on Commissioner Fish.

“Portlanders are rightly concerned about the future of Forest Park,” Fish said in a statement in which he announced the new initiatives meant to address “ecological and recreation” concerns dogging the 5,000 acre park.

To help right the ship, Fish says that by September 2010 the city will do the following:

1) Finalize a Partnership Agreement with the non-profit advocacy group Forest Park Conservancy which contributes a slew of volunteer labor to the park.

2) Deliver the final Forest Park Desired Future Conditions (DFC) report. Considered a “critical” part of the 1995 management plan, the DFC, is meant to improve long-term action plans with respect to the park’s ecology.

3) Hire and assign a full-time Park Ranger. An oft-noted problem with Forest Park is lack of enforcement of current regulations. The city hopes a permanent set of boots on the ground will help curtail nefarious activities such as illegal trail building and rowdy off-leash pooches.

4) Complete the Forest Park Recreation Survey. Portland Parks and Recreation plans to partner with Portland State University to gather objective data on everything from quality of park features to demographics of users.

5) Recruit a City Club Forest Park Research Committee member to participate on the 2011-2012 PP&R Budget Advisory Committee. By doing so, the city hopes to better direct City Club’s advocacy work within the park.

Fish’s announcement also follows the work of the Singletrack Advisory Committee. Formed in August 2009, the 15-member group comprised of bike advocates, Forest Park area residents, Audubon Society members, and the like, has spent the better part of the last year wrestling with the notion of increased singletrack mountain biking within Forest Park, a thorny topic to say the least.

On Monday, when I dropped by the Portland Building to hear the singletrack committee present their long-awaited list of recommendations (which in a best case scenario for mountain bikers would include up to an additional 8.4 miles of expanded riding options), I watched as the meeting quickly devolved into a heated display of anti-bike emotion and lengthy accusations about how the city had bungled the planning process.

For his part, Fish remained stoic amid the withering criticism, which included everything from quotes from Gandhi to a medical doctor announcing he represented a group of 1,300 other doctors who had banded together to state how dangerous singletrack riding would be in a place like Forest Park (a claim that was proffered sans any official data, by the way).

Still, in light of the City Club report, Fish stalled on making any decisions about the committee’s recommendations until “after Labor Day.” Such a move presumably gives the city a chance to implement its new initiatives and satisfy some critics before moving forward.

But for singletrack advocates, it’s a move that continues the same old game of hurry up and wait.

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