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The City of Portland, Oregon

Portland Bureau of Transportation

Phone: 503-823-5185

Fax: 503-823-7576

1120 SW Fifth Ave, Suite 800, Portland, OR 97204

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Ask Mrs. Trails: Susan Schen

Susan is the Coast Stewardship Manager for Trailkeepers of Oregon. Recently she took a some time to tell us about her work on trails in Oregon.

What does Trailkeepers of Oregon (TKO) do, and why is it important?

TKO’s mission is to protect and enhance the hiking experience in Oregon through stewardship, advocacy, outreach, and education. Our programs transform trail users into trail stewards and provide a special connection between volunteer and trail that can only come from the experience of building or maintaining the trail. TKO’s bread and butter is the trail party — a day of work on the trail led by our volunteer crew leaders. The priorities for our trail parties are safety, fun, and getting work done — in that order. We teach volunteers everything they need to know to be safe and productive, so no experience is necessary to join in the fun. 

In addition, we maintain the oregonhikers.org field guide and hikers forum where folks can go to share their experiences and find trail resources; advocate for trails in forums and meetings with legislators; and host educational events that train volunteers and land manager staff in trail techniques. Our work is important because, as the population of the area grows and our trails see drastically increased use, the impact of humans on the trail system exceeds the ability of our land manager partner to mitigate with their limited resources. Our engagement with volunteers and land managers helps bridge the gap between maintenance needs and resources and build the skillset of the next generation of trail stewards.

What is your role at TKO?

I’m the Coast Stewardship Manager tasked with bringing volunteer stewardship resources to the Oregon Coast Trail. My position is largely funded through a partnership with the Oregon Coast Visitors Association. This is an expansion of my previous position as North Coast Stewardship Coordinator where we first started our programming and partnering on the coast.  I spend my time building new relationships with land managers and stewardship organizations, hosting trail parties and educational events, and developing maintenance plans for trail sections along the coast.  

How did you get into trails?

I’ve enjoyed hiking since I was a child, but I was introduced to trail design during a workshop while I was in graduate school at the Conway School of Landscape Design. We spent some time in the classroom but spent the rest of the day outside using clinometers to route trails through the woods. I thought that part was really, really fun. Immediately after completing my degree, my wife and I moved to Portland where I started looking for opportunities to learn more about trail construction. I figured the best way to learn about designing trails was to actually go out and learn how they’re built. That search brought me to TKO and signing up for my first trail party building new trail at Milo McIver State Park.

What surprised you along the way?

I was surprised at how often plans have to change to adapt to the landscape. There are often several changes to a trail’s path or design from an initial concept on a map to actual construction. Tree roots, steep topography, drainages, springs, large rocks, and buried rotting logs can all force changes to the route or require the incorporation of structures like rock walls or bridges. These impact construction time, cost, and maintenance plans and there is no way to know about them until you get out on the land and see things firsthand.

Where is your favorite trail in the region right now (and why)?

Right now I’d say my favorite Portland-area trail is the Multnomah Wahkeena Loop. I led a dozen or so trail parties on the Larch Mountain Trail portion of the loop repairing damage from the Eagle Creek Fire. We did everything from clearing logs and rockslides, to gabion installation, to drainage repairs. Breaking for lunch by Wiesendanger Falls after a morning of clearing the adjacent switchbacks of rockslide debris with no one on the trail but my crew is a cherished memory.

What’s the most exciting thing happening with trails in Oregon these days?

I think the relationship building after the Eagle Creek Fire and increased awareness of equity and access issues in outdoor recreation are super exciting. There was a great deal of collaboration between land managers, transportation organizations, and non-profits in the response to the Eagle Creek Fire and the relationships built during that time have continued to enhance stewardship efforts. We’re also seeing more land stewardship meetings opening with acknowledgement that land has been taken from indigenous people and that they are still here and will continue to be here as active partners and the Oregon Trails Summit coming up in October has a number of sessions on access and inclusion this year. I think these are all good signs that we’ll see more expansion of partnerships to include those currently underrepresented in outdoor recreation and that diversity, equity, and inclusion are becoming higher priority goals in enhancing the outdoor experience in Oregon. 

What’s your advice for people who want to get involved in trail work? Why should people help build/maintain trails?

I suggest choosing a trail party that really fits your needs for your first experience. Whether you want a short hike and light work or a multi-mile uphill trek with strenuous work, there is probably a trail party on our schedule that will match your style. Our event descriptions indicate the challenge level, so you can easily browse our calendar for a suitable event. For my first trail party, I asked the crew leader if I could come for only half a day because I wasn’t sure I could handle a full day of work. That isn’t always possible due to various factors, but folks should feel free to email volunteers@trailkeepersoforegon.org and ask if they have questions. 

As for why people should help, there are a number of great reasons. Trails are more environmentally friendly, more pleasant to hike on, and accessible to more people if they’re well-maintained. It feels good to give back and have some ownership of a trail. It’s fun and eye-opening to learn about how trails are built and what it takes to maintain them. It’s great exercise and some of the skills learned can even be applied in one’s own neighborhood. The photos of folks at work are great to show off to friends. If nothing else, one has a greater appreciation and respect for trails once one has learned how much effort goes into building and maintaining them.

How can people get involved?

The most obvious way to get involved with TKO is to go to trailkeepersoforegon.org and sign up for a trail party or one of our training events. We also need help with email lists, event organization, website hosting and other tasks that don’t require so much physical activity. Contributing trip reports on the oregonhikers.org forums is a great way to help keep folks informed about trail conditions and get the word out about maintenance needs.  

There are also lots of other stewardship organizations to volunteer with including trail associations, land trusts, watershed councils, conservancies, and “friends of -“ groups who do trail work, invasive plants removal, wildlife surveys, beach cleanups and other stewardship and education work. If folks find trails just aren’t their passion, I encourage them to take advantage of some of the many other volunteer opportunities that benefit our outdoor spaces.

Portland Pathway FAQs

Photo of happy dog sitting nearby an urban trail

How do I know if the trail I have in mind is on public right-of-way (ROW)?

  • Go to PortlandMaps.com
  • Type in the address where the trail ends or begins, OR the cross-streets
  • All the areas outlined in white are City right-of-way.
  • Email PBOT staff to confirm that the undeveloped ROW is under PBOT jurisdiction.

What kind of trails are perfect for this program?

Trails that are great for the Portland Pathways program are ones that:

  • Serve as important walking connections to parks, transit, schools, and other destinations
  • Are gravel or dirt areas located in underdeveloped low-volume streets, alleyways, and urban pathways.

I want to get involved! How can I participate?

You can participate in numerous ways as a knowledgeable trail user, a neighbor, and an adjacent property owner!

As a knowledgeable trail user, you can:

  • Propose a trail and apply for a permit
  • Volunteer to create or maintain a permitted trail
  • Volunteer to provide technical support for new trails

As a neighbor, you can lend your voice during trail design and volunteer to maintain a permitted trail.

As an adjacent property owner, you can participate by keeping the trail clear of obstacles. You can also rest assured that you will not be liable for any personal injury or damages that occur on permitted trails under House Bill 2865 (ORS 105.668).

What is the difference between the simple and moderate community support requirement?

The difference between the simple and moderate community support requirements stems from whether the proposed trail has been adopted by City Council from a PBOT plan. If it has, then the trail has already been vetted by PBOT and only requires a notification to be sent to residents adjacent to the trail, stating that the trail will be constructed soon. However, the proposed trail will still have to be examined by other City of Portland bureaus.

If a trail has not been adopted by City Council, that means the trail will have to undergo a more thorough community engagement process, including a notification letter to adjacent property owners, to gauge community support for this project.

What does it mean for a trail to be “City Council-adopted”?

For a trail to be “City Council-adopted” or, “adopted by City Council,” it means that the trail was a part of a plan that was accepted by City Council as an official City of Portland plan, and included community engagement as part of the plan. 

For example, the Southwest Urban Trails Plan from 2000 was adopted by City Council, so trails on this map (Map 3.1) are considered "adopted":

Click here to see full plan and enlarged Map 3.1 in Appendix B.

Is there a Code of Conduct for Portland Pathways applications?

Yes! A Portland Pathways application requires applicants to adhere to a Code of Conduct for the benefit of themselves, the community, community partners, and city staff. The Code of Conduct is as follows:

  • 1. No person shall violate any Federal, State or City of Portland Laws.
  • 2. No person shall take, deface, degrade, damage or destroy any personal property located in or upon this location. 
  • 3. No person may light any object on fire except for smoking devices designed for smoking.
  • 4. No person shall engage in behavior that constitutes as harassment toward private property owners, residents or neighbors regardless of their support or opposition of the proposed trail.
  • 5. No person shall engage in behavior that constitutes as harassment toward City staff.
  • 6. No person shall engage in unsafe action during trail construction or during trail maintenance.

Consequences for not abiding by this Code of Conduct may result in the termination of a trail application or the removal of an existing permit.

Do tax payers have to pay for newly permitted trails? 

  • No. Trails that are permitted through this program are not provided with funds for trail development. This program provides technical support as well as a pathway to permit for eligible trails. However, we do work to inform those who subscribe to our eNewsletter and who inquire with us directly about grant opportunities to support trail development and maintenance across the City of Portland. 

Still have a question? Email us at trails@portlandoregon.gov and will add your question to the FAQ page! 

Updated June 2019

Ask Mrs. Trails: Nicole Lewis

Trails are important in our regional parks system, and Metro is about to release its Parks and Nature ADA Transition Plan later this summer. Nicole Lewis, a regional planner with Metro Parks and Nature, talked to us about that plan, her connection to trails, and her favorite trail.

Could you tell us who you are and how you are connected to trails?

I am a regional planner with Metro Parks and Nature. My connection to trails is personal and I hope will be life-long. As a kid, I discovered the colors and textures and scents of my home along the trails of Marquam Hill and Washington and Forest parks (I may have wandered off-trail a bit in my teenage years). As a young adult I explored the leading edges of both my confidence and openness to healing on trails thousands of miles away.

Some days my professional connection to trails feels accidental, but my path into public service with a conservation focus was no accident. A portion of my work is about helping make the trail system that Metro stewards more accessible and inclusive for people with disabilities and multiple generations, through a focus on strengthening related agency policies and practices.

 

What is your favorite part about trails?

I enjoy the human and technical side of trails. I’ve really enjoyed learning, decoding and sharing the planning and design guidelines for making trails accessible. The federal Guidelines for Outdoor Developed Areas published by the U.S. Access Board provide a great place to start. For me personally, I love getting a little lost on a trail, or being so deep in that forward is the only way to go. I love finding the unexpected, and taking my boys (2yrs and 4yrs) on a trail adventure that may be their greatest adventure yet.  Photo: Hikespeak.com

 

You mentioned that you are leading the Metro Parks and Nature ADA Transition Plan. Could you tell us more about that?

 Americans with Disabilities Act is civil rights legislation. And it’s almost thirty years old! A transition plan focuses on the built environment – including trails and other outdoor recreation facilities. The plan is largely about removing physical barriers to help fulfill an agency’s responsibilities under the ADA. While compliance is critical, I hope we use the Metro plan as a stepping stone to offer something much greater. In my mind, the greater goal is a demonstrated commitment to and investment in proactive inclusion in all outdoor recreation programs and experiences across the region.

 Everyone deserves to find home in nature. No matter what that looks like for you and those you love, you deserve a safe and dignified path to get you there. In literal terms, providing accessibility is not always about paving that path (though firm and stable surfaces are essential). It is about creating an intentional variety of trail challenges and experiences and meaningfully engaging people with disabilities in policy design and project decision-making, start to finish.

 As a public agency, Metro is also responsible for providing information that can help people determine for themselves whether a trail is or is not accessible. Accesstrails.org, an initiative led by local expert and advocate Georgena Moran, models this practice. It is not Metro’s job to interpret what is accessible, and there is no standard of design or practice that can do this for us. Human capacity and experience is infinitely diverse; the goal is to empower people rather than provide a “yes/no” based on our own narrow experience.

 

What role do you think trails play in connecting areas in the region?

 Trail-making has the potential to advance transportation equity and ecological justice in our region. Working thoughtfully towards these objectives will connect our communities in a way that no regional trail facility can do on its own. Even trails can result in regional or neighborhood divisions and displacement, and benefits and impacts that are disproportionate across lines of race and geography.

 My art is not as a regional trails planner, but in asking questions that speak to the truth of what I see. This is a privilege I have. What I see is great opportunity to reflect on how we have planned traditionally, and to move forward building our regional trails network in a socially and ecologically sustainable way.

 

Do you have a favorite trail or a favorite destination on a trail?

 What a wonderful question! The trails at Riley Ranch Nature Reserve in Bend, Oregon are a recent discovery. Beautiful, open setting with views, relatively flat slopes, and a steep downhill connection to Tumalo State Park trail along the Deschutes River. A little something for everyone.  

 

Is there anything else you’d like to share?

The ADA transition plan for Metro Parks and Nature will be available for public review later this summer. If you’d like to receive notice when it’s ready, please let me know! Nicole.lewis@oregonmetro.gov.

Also, if you have examples of trails or trail systems that you feel model positive elements of accessible and inclusive design, please considering sharing them. What do you value most about the experience that the trail/network offers?

 

 

 

Ask Mrs. Trails: Erin Chipps

Trails can serve a diverse use, including mountain biking! We talked to Erin Chipps, a volunteer for the Northwest Trail Alliance, about her love of trails and mountain biking:

Could you tell us who you are and how you are personally connected to trails?

My name is Erin Chipps. By day, I'm an Environmental Protection Specialist with the Federal Highway Administration. Outside of work, I'm a mountain biker, hiker, trail runner, photographer, and I volunteer my time as Communications Director for the Northwest Trail Alliance (NWTA). NWTA is a regional mountain bike advocacy non-profit, and besides working hard to create a welcoming community for all ages and abilities of off-road cyclists and maintaining the trail systems we do have, we are also working with the City of Portland to create space for bikes on narrow unpaved trails throughout the city.

 

What is your favorite thing about trails?Portrait of Erin Chipps, volunteer at Northwest Trail Alliance.

I love that I can hop on a narrow, twisting trail in the woods, whether on foot or on a bicycle, and instantly feel more at ease. I grew up in the rural wooded outskirts of Salem, OR, and though I love a lot of what Portland has to offer, I absolutely need that escape back to the natural world to feel whole. It's really cool that Portland has some natural areas that can provide that connection for people on foot, and it will be extra cool when Portland someday provides that connection for more people on bikes all over the city. 

How important are the trails in your neighborhood?

Unfortunately, I don't have any unpaved trails that I can easily access from my home in North Portland. I need to get in a car or spend an hour or more on public transit to get to an unpaved trail in a natural area. Manyof my neighbors don't have the luxury of a car or the spare time to spend two hours on public transit just getting to and from a natural area. Having easier access to nature trails would immensely benefit both my neighborhood and the natural environment. Not only would more people experience the health benefits of getting outside and moving their bodies, we would all benefit mentally by having that small escape from the rigors of city life. In addition, when people are given the opportunity to access nature, and are allowed to experience it in the way they find most enjoyable (whether walking, running, biking, bird watching, fishing, kayaking, etc), they often grow an interest in doing their part to protect the natural environment. It turns out that nature needs us as much as we need nature. The more Portlanders we can provide with an opportunity to experience the great outdoors, the more Portlanders we see in turn become advocates for the long-term health of the environment.

What are some major or fun destinations along the trails you use?

For me, the fun is the trails themselves. I enjoy seeing the changing seasons, watching or listening to wildlife, or at a bit quicker speed like trail running or biking, I love those little technical "wins" like picking my way through a rocky patch without tripping or riding through a series of roots or rocks that I'd previously had to push my bike through. 

Logo of the Northwest Trail AllianceHave you been involved with the construction of any of the trails as a volunteer? If so, what was that experience like?

Absolutely! The NWTA is a relatively small organization, but we log tons of volunteer hours: over 10,000 hours last year, and the majority of those hours were building and maintaining trails and bike parks like Gateway Green in East Portland, or our bigger riding destinations about an hour outside Portland. Trail work is something that mountain bikers pride themselves on, and we've literally written the book on sustainable trail design and management (Guidelines For A Quality Trail Experience). Working on trails is hard, dirty work but it's also a great community-building activity. We try to make each work party a fun event - we often provide coffee and donuts in the morning, then break into small groups that each will tackle a different section of trail, then reward everyone with lunch and beverages afterwards.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

I would like to add that most mountain bikers are not the full-face-helmet guys you see riding off cliffs on TV... Most of us know and follow the rules for sharing trails with other user groups, and we really just want to pedal through the quiet woods with our friends and families, challenge ourselves, and be outside enjoying a little bit of nature away from cars and the insanity of modern life in the city.

Want to know more about the proposed Markham Trail?

Update: 

Due to the number of emails and information we received about this site, we are taking a more lengthy look at the trail before making our decision. If you would like to talk with us or provide us with additional feedback, please feel free to reach out to the Portland Pathways team at trails@portlandoregon.gov.  (March 22, 2019). 

The Markham Neighborhood Association has submitted the 30th Ave Markham trail for review. The trail goes in a North/South direction along walkable terrain. Much of the trail (south of Huber) is used as an informal trail. No section of this trail is permitted yet. The proposal is to develop and permit this trail.

The trail may be able to provide better walking connectivity between neighbors in Markham and Arnold Creek Neighborhoods as well as improve access to Maricara Park.  The trail applicants believe this trail will also create a safer route for kids walking to Jackson Middle School and provide a safer alternative to walking along SW Huber Street between 30th and 35th Ave. There may also be benefits for users of Trimet Bus Line 43 that runs by SW Huber and 35th.  However, there have also been neighbor concerns about the need for a crosswalk or additional pedestrian support on 30th. 

 

 Map of the Proposed Markham Trail:

 

What is the neighborhood notification letter? 

The neighborhood notification is sent after the proposed trail application has undergone internal Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) and partnering bureau review. Once this initial stage is clear of potential environmental or permitting conflicts, the application enters into the second phase - community notification and engagement. Property owners and residents within 400 feet of the proposed trail are notified of the proposed trail via a mailed out comment card. Neighbors can then voice their support or concerns about the trail by sending the comment card back. If less than 40% of neighbors send written opposition of the trail, the application will move forward. If more than 40% of the neighbors send in written opposition of the trail, the the trail does not move forward. Your vote is private and will not be made public. 

The neighborhood notification letter for the Markham Trail has been sent to all residents within 400 ft of the proposed trail. We will tally the results of the responses after March 5, 2019. We plan to share the decision on March 22, 2019. 

If the trail is permitted, what happens next? 

If this trail is permitted, the trail applicants will work with PBOT staff to design the trail to make sure it meets the standards outlined here. The role for the property owners that reside adjacent to these trails will not change. They will not be liable for personal injury or damages that occur on the trail under House Bill 2865 (ORS 105.668). This bill provides “immunity for certain landowners” from fault for “personal injury or property damage resulting from specified uses of certain publicly accessible trails or structures”. In addition, the applicants of the permitted Portland Pathways process agree to ongoing maintenance of the trail, and therefore maintenance requirements of adjacent property owners will not change. 

 Application Status:

 

For more information on the proposed trails, email Trails@portlandoregon.gov or call 503-823-4414.