Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Trouble In Portland

[editor note] We have been saying for years that the spread of mountain biking into open space, forest and park lands is largely fueled by the billion dollar bike industry. Here's your proof. It's another "corporate takeover" of wilderness and shared resources.

To All Who Care About Forest Park:
My name is Marcy Houle. I write you today out of
serious concern for the future health of
Portland’s greatest treasure, Forest Park.
I am the author of the book, “One City’s
Wilderness: Portland’s Forest Park.” This book –
a complete trail guide to the park and its
natural history – has been continuously in print for
over twenty years, with a new, third edition to
be released in Fall 2010. I am also a
scientist and have studied the park intensively
since 1982. Through all these years, I
continue to be amazed at the health and natural
beauty of this 5,000-acre park – a place that
has been deeply valued since the Olmstead
Brothers did their first report to the Park Board
106 years ago. Since 1948, when Forest Park was
finally dedicated as a city park, it has
been lovingly and carefully stewarded by generations of Portlanders.
Today, however, this may all change. Unless many
people, like you, who truly care about
this place come forward, the management, future
health, and allowable uses on trails may
transform irrevocably.
A proposal from cycling enthusiasts to greatly
increase the amount of biking routes in
Forest Park is currently being highly promoted
citywide. Unknown by most park users,
mountain biking advocates are rapidly gaining
momentum, funding, and political clout. The
bike industry is heavily pushing for singletrack
trails in Forest Park to make a “world class
singletrack in our backyard.”1 Several cycling
shops are joining forces to make this happen
and donating large sums of money with the goal
being to raise $200,000 for the cause.
“Universal Cycles in northwest Portland has
committed $10,000 a year for the next five
years in order to help push local advocates and
community leaders into creation more
single-track mountain bike trails in Forest
Park.” (Our objective is to) “triple the amount of
mountain bikers in Portland, and that would help our industry.”2
Some users of Forest Park as well as city
officials, view this objective without concern and
even favorably. In particular, the newly
organized ‘Forest Park Conservancy’ (that
previously was known as the ‘Friends of Forest
Park’) supports this change of direction
and philosophy for the park. This is in diametric
opposition to the advocacy role that the
Friends of Forest Park and its predecessor, the
original Forest Park Committee of Fifty,
played for the past sixty years. Current cycling
proposals under discussion include the
possibility of opening up pedestrian-only trails,
specifically Wildwood Trail and Maple
Trail, to mountain biking. A leader of the
mountain biking effort, Frank Selker, has said,
“I believe they (the Forest Park Conservancy) may
support devoting parts of the Wildwood
Trail to cycling on certain days of the week.”3
When the directors of the Forest Park
Conservancy were asked what they thought of
increasing mountain biking in Forest Park,
they responded, “I think Frank’s idea is a great
one, and we are thrilled at the potential for
this level of collaboration and engagement.”4
But the ramifications of these actions, should
they occur, could have irreversible, damaging
consequences for Forest Park and the other groups
– primarily hikers, runners and
equestrians -- who also use the park.
Let me state that I am a cyclist and enjoy
mountain biking. I understand the need and desire
for biking routes. But it is important to
recognize the fact that nearly 30 miles or 35% of all
the trails in Forest Park are already available
for mountain biking. In other words, over
one-third of all routes throughout the park are
presently being used by cyclists.
Unfortunately, there are growing problems and
conflicts generated from the use of these
trails by mountain bikers. Some trails are
suffering erosion. Native vegetation has been
damaged in places. Cyclists are observed riding
on trails that are off limits to bikes. There
are increasing incidents of near-accidents
between cyclists and walkers. And there is little
to no money in the Park budget to enforce park-user rules.
Although I am deeply concerned about the
potential increase of detrimental impacts to the
ecological health of Forest Park, my greatest
worry as an author sending people out on the
trails, is for pedestrian safety. The primary
user group in Forest Park is, historically and
currently, walkers. The Park Futures Plan
identified that “walking for pleasure to be
Portland’s most popular recreational activity.”
The potential for serious accidents between
speedy mountain bikers and hikers and runners
will only accelerate by allowing more
mountain biking use, especially if these combined
uses are on the same narrow singletrack
Secondly, from my years of intensive study of
Forest Park, I can confidently state that few,
if any, other large urban areas in the country
have a city park that evidences overall such
healthy natural attributes as seen in Forest
Park. Other cities can claim mountain biking
features. Other places can accommodate increasing
recreational demands. What we, as
Portlanders, need to remember is: among all major
cities in the nation, only Portland,
Oregon, can boast of a magnificent urban
wilderness park that is natural, primarily
healthy, and in some locations, even exemplifying
outstanding conditions. For this reason,
and because of its beautiful, native vegetation,
its abundance of indigenous birds and
wildlife, and its healthy watersheds, Forest Park
warrants the utmost in protection and
appreciation. Without strong advocacy, however,
these values will not exist in the future.
Fortunately, the Forest Park Natural Resources
Management Plan addresses these very
concerns. This Plan was adopted by the City
Council of Portland in February 1995, and as
such, is land use law under the state mandate,
Goal 5. This Plan was developed through
deliberation by a thoughtful and cooperative
assemblage of City, County, and METRO
planning divisions, neighborhood associations,
representatives of the mountain biking
community, and numerous experts in biology,
forestry, silviculture, fisheries and wildlife.
The Plan was conducted openly, in a transparent
approach, and based on science, not
politics. It still stands today as the guiding
document to all management considerations
effecting Forest Park.
First and foremost, the Natural Resources
Management Plan recognizes that “Forest Park
represents an unparalleled resource where
citizens can enjoy the peace, solitude,
ruggedness, variety, beauty, unpredictability and
unspoiled naturalness of an urban
wilderness.” (NRMP, page 97) It succinctly states
the necessity of “regular monitoring of
natural resource functions and values, coupled
with effective management response aimed
at sustaining resources over time.”
“The Plan acknowledges that because it is one-of-a-kind, the park will face
intense recreational demands – pressure to expand trails and facilities to
accommodate greater use. With preservation of natural resources as a
primary goal, the plan recognizes that Forest Park is threatened by overuse
unless recreational activities are more actively managed and redirected. The
development of other open space and natural area park facilities will be
necessary to ease the focused demand so that Forest Park can remain a
special place for generations to come.” (NRMP, Page 3)
Increasing recreational activity, specifically that of single track trails for
mountain biking, is being focused on Forest Park and not being addressed as a
region-wide issue. This is in contradiction with the Forest Park Natural
Resources Management Plan.
The Natural Resources Management Plan also states:
“One of the first steps is to either determine how much recreational use can
be accommodated without any adverse effects or to determine the amount of
deterioration that is acceptable. This is done through observation, research,
baseline inventories of vegetation and wildlife habitat, consultation with
experts and periodic monitoring of the resources.” (NRMP, Page 84)
This essential periodic monitoring of natural
resource functions and inventories of
vegetation and wildlife habitat in Forest Park,
as dictated by the Management Plan, has
not been done.
In addition, the Plan specifies that there needs
to be user surveys of the Park before any
major changes are to be made.
“The first objective is to collect baseline data on recreational use in Forest
Park and then to periodically re-survey the same areas in the future to see if
use is increasing or decreasing and what the effect is on the natural
resources. These recreational use surveys should coincide with wildlife and
vegetation monitoring to determine appropriate actions in each management
unit. It is critical to begin this work as soon as possible to establish the
present level use.” (NRMP, Page 85.)
To date, no baseline data on recreational use in
Forest Park, as set forth by the
Management Plan, has been collected.
In light that these directives from the Natural
Resource Management Plan have not been
followed, specifically those involving necessary
regular monitoring and user-surveys, to
significantly increase mountain biking in Forest
Park would be in direct opposition to the
goals and objectives of the City-adopted Plan,
which is land use law. Other user groups –
hikers, runners, and equestrians, need to weigh
in on this process. Additionally, the Plan
distinctly states that all options to increase
recreation in Forest Park need to be first
considered in a region-wide process, which is not currently being done.
For all these reasons, I would ask that if you
care about the future of Forest Park, and feel a
responsibility for this wonderful gift that our
predecessors have given us, please write City
Commissioners of Portland – expressly Nick Fish,
Commissioner of Parks – as well as the
Director of Portland Parks and Recreation, and
the Forest Park Conservancy, and tell them
of your concern. (Email addresses are below.)
Time is of the essence. Presently,
pedestrians have access to all the trails in
Forest Park. That may change. Unless we are
vigilant and honor the painstaking work done by
those who have cared for Forest Park for
the past sixty years, we risk losing – in the
next ten – the natural resource qualities that
make up this grand and beautiful wilderness
forest that uniquely defines our city and sets
us singularly apart … our Forest Park.
Yours sincerely,
Marcy Cottrell Houle
The Following are Email Addresses of Those Needing to Hear Your Concerns:
Commissioner Nick Fish nick@ci.portland.or.us
Commissioner Amanda Fritz amanda@ci.portland.or.us
Commissioner Dan Saltzman HYPERLINK "mailto:dsaltzman@ci.portland.or.us"
Commissioner Randy Leonard randy@ci.portland.or.us
Mayor Sam Adams Mayorsam@ci.portland.or.us
Zari Santner, Director of Parks pkzari@ci.portland.or.us
Forest Park Conservancy:
c/o Michelle Boussard, CEO michelle@forestparkconservancy.org
Specific Points That Can Be Addressed:
Tell of your concern about increasing singletrack
mountain biking in Forest Park.
Express the need to follow the City-adopted
“Forest Park Natural Resources Management
Plan”, especially the directives concerning
resource monitoring and recreational user group
surveys, neither of which has been done. These
things are required to be completed before
an increase of any kind of use is allowed.
Remind City officials that the Natural Resources
Management Plan was adopted by the
City Council and, as such, is land use law. Under
State Mandate Goal 5, the Plan still
stands as the guiding document regarding all
management decisions effecting Forest Park.
Stress that any discussion about increasing
mountain biking in Forest Park needs be a
public, open process, not behind closed doors.
State that other user groups, not only mountain
bikers, need to be represented in these
discussions, too.
Presently, pedestrians have access to all the
trails in Forest Park. Let people know if you
believe this should continue.
Stress the importance and need for region-wide
planning efforts regarding mountain biking,
not just focusing on Forest Park.
park-singletrack-effort/" http://bikeportland.org/2009/04/06/local-shopcommits-
park-singletrack-effort/" http://bikeportland.org/2009/04/06/local-shopcommits-
Forest Park Natural Resources Management Plan. Prepared by Portland Parks and
Recreation and Bureau of Planning. Adopted by City Council February 8, 1995;
Ordinance No 168509.
One City’s Wilderness; Portland’s Forest Park,
second edition. Marcy Cottrell Houle.
1996. Oregon Historical Society Press.

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