Trail near Robert Gray Middle School (finally) receives funding
Two blocks below Robert Gray Middle School, near the intersection of Beaverton Hillsdale Highway and Southwest 25th Avenue, sits a trail that cuts straight into the Hillsdale neighborhood and runs toward the Stevens Creek Crossing Housing Project. In theory, students at the school could use the trail as a convenient and scenic commute home. But there's just one problem. The entrance to the trail is steep, and meandering down the path requires steady balance. For five years, SW Trails president Don Baack has lobbied the City of Portland to secure funding to allow SW Trails to develop a safer walkway. Along the way, he met resistance and bureaucratic hurdles. But due in part to SW Trails' persistence, community support and the help of City Commissioner Dan Saltzman, funding for the project was recently approved. Saltzman said he expected the funding to be delivered in the final week of September, although the City and SW Trails — a community group that builds trails in Southwest Portland —had yet to come to terms on a permit agreement by the middle of the month. Once those details are finalized, however, Baack and company finally can go to work. "As far as we are concerned, it's a done deal," Saltzman said. Despite the delays, Baack said he planned to wait to start the project until the rainy season anyway, because digging is easier when the soil is wet. The project is estimated to cost $23,000 and would include 90 steps and a handrail. Baack said the project is similar to the steps SW Trails built at the entrance to Stevens Creek Nature Park at the intersection of Southwest Chestnut Drive and Bertha Boulevard — except with the addition of a handrail. The funding will cover the cost of building the steps and
handrail, as well as other miscellaneous items.
However, SW Trails volunteers will provide the labor for free. Saltzman said it's reasonable to assume that projects completed by SW Trails cost the City less than City-driven projects, and "they can probably get the work done quicker and easier than if we were doing it ourselves." Hillsdale Business Association president and SW Trails member Mike Roach agreed. "To have a volunteer organization with experience to do this kind of work in an unusual situation where it's such a critical connection and there's no way to get it done, we're fortunate to have that in our community," Roach said. Robert Gray Middle School Principal Beth Madison understands the trail's pitfalls as much as anyone. A few years ago, when trying to dig steps at the top of the trail to mitigate the safety hazard, she fell and injured her elbow. "I went down to check it out. And I'm a trail builder.
That's one of the things that I do for fun. It became apparent very quickly that that trail was really unsafe the way that it was," Madison said. "So I took a shovel and I actually cut stairs into the very first part, which was very difficult to do because it's very hard-packed. As I was doing that, I slipped very fast and fell right on my elbow and all
but broke it." That's when she started talking to Baack. "He said, 'Hey, check out these trails and what we're doing around here.' Then he talked to me about the work that SW Trails would do until we finally get the thing done," Madison said. Madison has helped clean up brush to provide for a
clearer walkway over the years, but she said the steep incline at the top is her primary concern. She has not heard of any kids slipping and falling on the trail, she said, but the risk level is high. "I'm an outdoors person," she said, "and if I can get hurt — and I'm a very sure-footed, very strong individual — then what does that say about the
safety of our children?" Madison said that because the trail isn't walker-friendly, kids who could efficiently follow the trail into the neighborhood and home instead take the bus. That's a less efficient and scenic experience, she said. "They really would like to. It's beautiful. That's a fabulous way to walk. Whereas they have to sit around, wait for a school bus, the ride home is always an experience and then they have to walk home from the bus. You could have long walked it by the time they get out. People could get to that neighborhood almost before the buses even leave here," Madison said. In helping to finally greenlight the project, Baack, Madison, Roach and other community members sent letters to the City of Portland. Saltzman then asked the City Council to fund the project, and it obliged. "It all depends on who the commissioner is and what the vibes are that you're dealing with. If we had a different commissioner, it wouldn't have happened like that," Baack said. Saltzman said that along with the importance of providing safe connections, the combination of SW Trails' track record, community support and the inexpensive cost convinced him that the project was worth funding. "What appealed to me was the effectiveness and singular focus of the organization, their proven ability to get things done and the widespread community support. Those are the magic ingredients to get City Council funding on things," Saltzman said. Roach credited Baack for helping the project take a big step toward realization. "He (Baack) knows how to navigate and efficiently move through bureaucracy. His vision is to overcome the absence of sidewalks by means of improving these natural trail connections," Roach said.