A couple of weeks ago, Portland Parks & Recreation (PP&R) staff and I informed the Northwest Trail Alliance's leaders that we cannot move forward with their proposal to build a mountain biking trail adjacent to Fire Lane 5 in Forest Park. This project was initially considered while Commissioner Fish was in charge of PP&R. There are three main reasons why I have made the decision to halt consideration of a new trail. First, Parks has no funding for a major construction project in Forest Park – neither for a new biking trail, nor for significant natural resource restoration or pedestrian improvements. We have neither staff to plan more projects, nor money to build them. Second, PP&R leaders and I believe that a citywide Master Plan for cycling recreation is needed prior to embarking on individual projects. And third, once we evaluated the proposed trail on the draft criteria in the Forest Park Project Objective Screening Tool [see here], it became clear that the project would likely not pass Environmental Review in relation to the Forest Park Natural Resources Management Plan. The POST is a tool which staff will use for initial evaluation of development and improvement proposals for Forest Park that would have some impacts in relation to the environmental, recreational, and/or wildfire aspects of the Natural Resources Management Plan.
Portland Parks has a list totaling over $400 million in identified Capital Improvement Projects desired in the community. There is very little funding to address these needs. The Parks Budget Advisory Committee has worked hard over the past four months to review the bureau's finances and recommend additional funding requests to be submitted to the Council for the 2014-15 City Budget process. While about $300,000 was added to PP&R's maintenance budget in the fall Budget adjustments, PP&R has over $450 million in deferred maintenance needs - including many projects in Forest Park. While a citywide recreational cycling Master Plan is surely needed, PP&R doesn't have General Fund resources to allocate to the project at this time.
When funding is available, and when all sides are ready to collaborate on a Master Plan for cycling facilities in Portland's parks, we will conduct a citywide public process to discuss and decide where to provide mountain biking trails and skill parks in the City of Portland. This Master Plan process will hopefully include working with other regional park providers. In the meantime, I invite leaders of cycling interest groups to work with PP&R and me to educate cyclists who use Portland’s parks regarding shared stewardship of parks and natural areas, and about the significant funding challenges faced by PP&R.
PP&R will be working to address illegal use of parks and natural areas by cyclists not using approved trails. Our natural areas in particular are essential for providing wildlife habitat and improving water quality by protecting native vegetation and trees. There are inherent conflicts with co-location of certain recreational activities, including safety issues for cyclists, hikers, runners, joggers, birders, and strollers. That’s why we need a City-wide (preferably regional) Master Plan.
There is a range of mountain biking styles from casual rides with family to professional level training rides. Not all parks are suitable for all types of mountain biking. A Master Plan would guide us on what makes sense where, and help to provide a quality user experience for all park visitors. PP&R currently lacks funding and staff for a Citywide Master Plan process. The project will be considered for prioritization in the 2015-16 budget planning public process.