My View: Mountain bikers won't mar park trails, nature
Another lock is about to be placed on Forest Park's door. Mayor Charlie Hales started a process to give cyclists some trails, and that process is winding up. Unfortunately, the draft plan shows the influence of politically connected cycling opponents: It provides no bicycle access to nice areas or trails, and offers the mere possibility of future trails in the most degraded areas of the park that nobody wants to visit.
Opponents justify this by hollering, "Bikes will run you over!" and "Bikes tear up trails!" But science and experience show those to be patently false. Just visit Bend or trails all over the Northwest that are shared.
Or they ask "don't you love nature and care about the park?!" Cyclists say, "Yes, absolutely!" Regional experience and research show that bikes are just as park-friendly and sustainable as other users, contrary to opponents' claims. Just look at all the cities and parks nationwide that offer trail riding, and you'll find less crime, less trash, and a whole new group of enthusiastic park supporters.
To be clear, cyclists generally suggest using separate, dedicated trails or less-used trails, perhaps on certain days of the week, so hikers needn't encounter bikes in Forest Park. This is even though bikes and people share nearly all trails nationwide without problems. With separation in time and/or space, those afraid of bikes needn't worry. Period.
But opponents ignore such good-faith proposals that undermine their talking points and fear-mongering.
Opponents cast anyone who likes to ride bicycles in nature as adrenaline junkies. But our families are just like theirs: We want to go outside, enjoy nature together, and be active. Their attacks remind me of how snowboarders and skateboarders were unwelcomed 30 years ago.
Opponents' idea of equity is absurd: "East Portland, you play in your little neighborhood parks while we play in our 5,000-acre neighborhood park." It's totally unfair because Forest Park is the vast majority of all natural space in the city, and it's for everyone.
And it won't stop with cycling. The Parks bureau now wants to build a $1.5 million main entrance to Forest Park down on Highway 30 among railyards, fuel storage tanks, and strip clubs. You ask "doesn't that require climbing hundreds of feet up through degraded landscape just to get to Leif Erickson Drive? And hundreds more to reach Wildwood Trail?"
Yes, it would effectively prevent many Portlanders — especially older citizens, the disabled and kids — from reaching the best parts of the park. Which is fine with a few vocal park neighbors and their allies who won't be using the entrance on Highway 30 — they'll just walk a hundred feet down their street into the heart of a park.
It's time for a more equitable approach to managing Forest Park, to manage it for the benefit for all of Portland. As a start, we should provide the trail-riding that polls and public input clearly show are in demand, and that experience elsewhere shows is sustainable and beneficial in natural areas.
To paraphrase a local doctor who enjoys mountain biking: "Portland is unusual in having a small militant group opposed to mountain bikers. I have lived in many areas where both hikers and mountain bikers share trails without issue. Forest Park has a plethora of hiker-only trails — is it that hard to share a few of these? Well-maintained mountain bike trails have been shown to have no more erosion or habitat impacts than hiking trails. The mountain bike community is also very active in helping maintain trails and can be a great resource in volunteer hours and donations."
Frank Selker of Portland is an avid hiker and cyclist. He has a degree in biology and served on the Forest Park Single Track Advisory Committee.