Portland officials are currently on the hunt for a group of mountain bikers. The allegation? Cutting a mile-long bike trail through a roadless section of Forest Park.
OPB’s Rob Manning recently walked the trail - with the biologist who found it.
Portland’s Forest Park has miles of trails for hikers, bikers, and horseback riders. But Portland officials just learned about one more, in Forest Park’s roadless north end.
John Deshler is the Portland biologist who found it.
John Deshler: “It’s an access point I use to find pygmy owls, and find their nests in this large off-trail area.”
The trail is about a mile-and-a-half long, and cuts through some of the park’s best habitat.
Among the first people Deshler told about the damage was OPB’s Oregon Field Guide producer, Vince Patton.
Patton took a television camera to the trail over the weekend and came across two men who were moving plant debris near the trail.
Vince Patton: “Are you putting in a legal trail? Do you have permission to be here?”
That’s Patton. The men declined to identify themselves and contended they weren’t building a trail – but were modifying it.
In the course of preparing a story on Forest Park for Oregon Field Guide, producer Vince Patton encountered bicyclists creating a new trail to bypass deep damage caused by another unsanctioned trail. He captured the encounter on video.
Man: “Oh, I’m not putting in anything.”
Vince Patton: “Sounded like you said you were trying to clear this spot.”
Man: “Well, that’s a problem.”
Vince Patton: “So you can ride over here instead, right?”
Man: “So people who want to use the trail can avoid those puddles. There are obvious drainage issues.”
Biologist John Deshler points out clear evidence of damage on the rogue trail.
John Deshler: “Now we’re getting to things that were cut.”
Deshler grabs one of numerous western red cedars that were cut down
John Deshler: “So, we’re mostly standing in a forest of alder and big-leaf maple, overwhelmingly so, and the western red cedar were just starting to get a foothold. And at least this small stand has been cut.”
He also points to a Douglas fir.
John Deshler: “This one actually looks to have been dead, even though it’s about six inches in diameter. But this one was alive, and this one is probably, 25 to 30 feet tall, that Doug fir.”
A tiny, seldom seen bird is discovered alive and well in an unexpected place. Join a biologist who spent more than 300 days tracking dozens of elusive pygmy owls in the middle of city of Portland. They live in Forest Park.
As the trail descends more sharply, whoever worked on the trail began using the cut trees to reinforce the trail’s edges.
John Deshler: “This is where they got into some trail-building, where they started adding some supports in. There’s sort of a nice jump, with some elk scat there are the bottom of it.”
Deshler says he’s dismayed, because elk are known to live in these relatively large and intact wild parts of Forest Park. But the large animals tend to avoid roads, and other signs of human activity.
City officials say they are particularly concerned about the bottom of the trail - where builders put rocks into a stream, so that bikes could get across it.
Dan Moeller is a parks’ supervisor for the area that includes Forest Park.
Dan Moeller: “It’s really a pristine area, it’s really wonderful. You know, Forest Park is an extremely healthy and vibrant and wonderful park, as a whole. And within that whole, this area is one of the gems of the park.”
Moeller says he’s in conversations right now with other parks’ officials and conservationists about what it will take to restore the area.
The discovery of the rogue trail comes at a sensitive time for the city, because a parks’ committee is trying to find legitimate places to add mountain bike trails in Forest Park.
Parks’ commissioner Nick Fish condemned the trail.
Nick Fish: “This kind of vandalism to our natural areas will not be tolerated. Our director of security is investigating. We will cooperate with law enforcement – we’re going to find out who did this. This was a significant act of vandalism.”
The lead mountain bike group on Fish’s mountain bike committee, the Northwest Trail Alliance, has put up signs at the trail, to discourage people from using it. And the group echoes Fish’s condemnation.
Frank Selker is a mountain bike enthusiast on Fish’s committee. He agrees that the bike trail shouldn’t have been built. But he says it underscores the need for trails.
Frank Selker: “Finding this trail just highlights that mountain bikers don’t have access to trails, or single-track, and much like skateboarders didn’t have anything ten years ago, there are mountain bikers who are frustrated and it leads to this kind of problem.”
But members of the conservation community say there is no excuse for the way this trail was built.