Paul Andrews

Seattle can provide a bike model for Portland

In Bicycle advocacy on February 24, 2010 at 12:41 pm

The controversy over a mile-long rogue mountain biking trail in Portland’s Forest Park represents a great opportunity for bike advocates to make a point: For all its reputation as a cycling mecca, Portland falls short in the fat tire arena.

Forest Park is admittedly a terrible place to build a bootleg trail. It’s widely used, it’s urban, it’s sensitive ecologically.

But the crudely constructed trail shows the desperation grommets feel who want rad places to ride. At a certain point it can only be expected that they’ll take matters into their own hands.

Instead of a lot of sturm und drang, name-calling and righteous indignation, the situation would be better served with understanding, dialogue and a plan.

That’s what’s happened in Portland’s sister city to the north. Under the leadership of Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance, urban mountain biking parks around Seattle are popping up all over, even under the I-5 freeway. As a result, rogue trail building — although it’s still happening — is far less pronounced and invasive.

One case in point: Lower Woodland Park. Time was when new trails were being sliced in everywhere, especially the steeps, where erosion quickly became a problem. Then the Parks Department put in a jump park down below, and a skate bowl (shared with bmxers). The bike trails that made sense and were well-built stayed. Others were blocked off with snow fencing.

Result: A city-wide magnet that keeps stunt riders occupied and happy, with no need to go rogue. Lower Woodland is even featured on YouTube videos and in the new film, “Women of Dirt,” where international mountain bike star and Seattle native Jill Kintner mixes it up.

Seattle’s example helped jump-start an urban ride park movement throughout the region. Almost overnight, Duthie Hill north of Issaquah has become a miniature Whistler mountain bike park. Not to be outdone, the trail hobbits around Black Diamond are doing amazing stuff on Summit Ridge and other areas near Lake Sawyer. A magnificent new cross-country trail has gone in on Grand Ridge, the result of savvy political spadework done by Backcountry Bicycle Trails Club (before it was renamed to Evergreen) when King County approved the Grand Ridge area for development more than a decade ago.

Other urban areas are following the same advise-and-consent path toward dealing with bootleg trailbuilding. Aptos and Santa Cruz, California, have become international icons for mountain biking’s elite with their expanding network of jump parks, freeride trails and even a new planned pump track. To the east of Portland, Bend OR has a thriving mtb scene. San Francisco is looking to build a new network at McLaren Park. There’s still mostly gray stuff (our preferred term for trails that fall in between authorized and unauthorized) in Marin County, but an incipient mtb culture fostered through high school leagues promises to change that in the future.

In British Columbia, there’s virtually no such thing as “unauthorized” or “rogue” trails. Whatever gets built gets used. If it’s in the way or gets taken out, another one pops up soon enough. B.C. admittedly has a lot more space, and tolerance, than the states.

Ultimately, a showcase cycling city like Portland faces the choice of fighting the urban freeride movement through finger-pointing, negative publicity and legislation, or supporting it with a forward-looking, collaborative vision for the future. The Forest Park flap is off on the wrong foot. But hopefully sensible heads will prevail, and this scandal will be used as a podium for invoking positive change.

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