My View: City is dropping the ball on plans for Forest Park
The future of Forest Park will soon be decided by the Portland Parks Board and City Hall. Unfortunately, the issue is devolving into one of name calling, vitriol and disregard of science and law.
A major reason? The Bureau of Planning and Sustainability and Portland Parks & Recreation have not stepped forward to tell the whole story. Rather, they have left it to private citizens and at great personal expense.
I know. I have just been publicly compared to a Nazi mass murderer for stating on a social media site that people should know there is a city ordinance that governs the management of Forest Park.
The reason I felt compelled to write a statement was in response to a flurry of comments on the Nextdoor website about BPS' proposal to include a new sport — single-track mountain biking — in Forest Park. If allowed, it will bring tens of thousands of new users to the park.
As the recommendation is heading to the finish line, what should be a rational, professional plan presenting a "win-win" for Portland — finding great locations for the sport while continuing to protect Forest Park's ecosystem integrity — has become something quite the opposite.
As a professional wildlife biologist who has studied and written about Forest Park for over 30 years, I have been distressed that BPS and Portland Parks have not informed the public about the laws that govern the park, and why they are written as such.
And I was dismayed when I saw comments on Nextdoor saying cyclists should be allowed to ride throughout Forest Park. Some went as far as saying cyclists would take matters into their own hands if the city denies them access.
Therefore, I wished to simply state the facts:
"While mt. biking is a great sport, we need to be aware that Forest Park is not the correct place at this point in time. There is a city ordinance, #168509, as well as land use law and comprehensive environmental code (that's three levels of law) that have set this place aside for its environmental health and wildlife habitat. The law is clear that, before any increase in use of any kind (more hiking trails, biking trails, off-leash dog areas, equestrian trails) there is a Six Point Wildlife Plan that needs to be completed to determine the carrying capacity of the park. Unfortunately, the Parks Department is deficient in carrying this legal requirement out. Write some letters to the city that these need to be done and then the discussions can begin. Thanks."
To my surprise, soon after my note was posted, this exchange came up:
J.M. of Lost City: "Marcy is the Joseph Goebbels of Forest Park ... little of what she says is factual."
K.M. of Willamette Heights: "Associating Marcie with Goebbels is cruel and wrong."
B.E. of Lost Park: "I thought the comparison with Goebbels was hysterical."
Of course, people get called names all the time. If one takes a stand of any kind, one needs to develop a thicker skin. I have been called other things when I have testified in defense of Forest Park. This time, though, feels worse.
Being compared to a Nazi propagandist is uncomfortable for me, yes, but for those whose friends and family members suffered from his role in the extermination effort, it seems truly disturbing for its utter lack of moral decency.
The issue goes deeper though. Some off-road cyclists, I know, are angry. And, I believe, understandably so. They wish for venues to do their sport. We need to look for these places. There are hundreds of acres in and around Portland that could be proposed — notably the buttes owned by the city in Southeast. Numerous locations do not have laws restricting this use, as Forest Park does — laws that have been carefully considered and written by scientists and professionals for the protection of Forest Park's highly sensitive natural habitat.
If there is blame to be laid for this unfortunate and inflammatory debate, then BPS must share in it. The Bureau of Planning and Sustainability and Portland Parks have not made the public aware of the legal issues surrounding the park.
For all the citizens of Portland's sake, it's time they took responsibility.