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Into the woods

THPRD board approves 8-foot trail for Lowami Hart Woods Park despite neighbors' plea for scaled-down path
by: Jaime Valdez Grant Christensen, followed by Rick Williams, hike along a trail in Lowami Hart Woods Park. They are among neighbors who want to see minimal development of the natural area.

The Tualatin Hills Park and Recreation District board of directors Monday night endorsed a development proposal for Lowami Hart Woods Park that calls for an asphalt-paved, 8-foot-wide main trail, a parking lot for eight vehicles on Hart Road and an environmental education area by Johnson Creek.

Despite pleas from neighbors and community members to adopt a scaled-down plan they said would better preserve the densely wooded park's natural ambience, the board agreed to most of the staff's original recommendations, but actually increased by 2 feet the suggested width of the main Wahoo Trail.

Anticipating a larger-than-usual number of attendees and guest speakers, the board's decision to hold the meeting at the Elsie Stuhr Center's Manzanita Room proved well founded. The 50 seats were filled for most of the nearly five-hour meeting, where no fewer than 30 residents and area professionals addressed the board and staff.

Less is more

Many of those who testified advocated a less ambitious plan for the park at Hart Road and Southwest 152nd Avenue than the district staff recommended.

'I'm concerned that the current plan is overreaching,' said David Cherry. 'I'm not asking to halt the project, just to pull back. In a sense, we may be defeating the entire purpose of the project, which is to educate people about wildlife.'

The updated master plan for Lowami Hart Woods is intended to address environmental problems in the natural area - primarily related to erosion and invasive plant species - while improving accessibility for all residents in the park district, including those with physical disabilities.

Everyone in the room, the five board members agreed, had positive feelings about the natural area.

'It's not about who loves the park,' said board member John Griffiths. 'The question is what is the best method of (improving) it. This park has been fundamentally closed to the public since it's been acquired. We want to open it up to the point where the people who paid for the property can get the most out of it.'

Staying the course

Discussing, but ultimately rejecting, testimony of those favoring scaled-down plans, the board members voted three to two to widen the main Wahoo Trail to 8 feet, up from the originally proposed 6 feet, and pave it with asphalt.

In retaining its 'community trail' designation as opposed to 'neighborhood trail,' the board affirmed the staff recommendation that the Wahoo Trail should be groomed as an eventual link to the South Johnson Creek Community Trail network.

Board members John Griffiths, Larry Pelatt and Bill Kanable favored the plan, while Joe Blowers and board President Bob Scott voted against the measure, saying they favored the 6 feet width.

'I'd like to see a narrower pathway, 6 feet with gravel shoulders to (later) expand,' Scott said. 'To connect with other trails is a long way out.'

The board also approved an eight-space parking lot - reduced from the 10 spaces proposed - with permeable pavement, and favored cyclists walking their bikes through the park.

After the meeting, Blowers admitted there is a disconnect between the designations of community trail and natural area.

'The question is to what extent does a community trail designation override the natural area designation, and frankly I don't think we've answered that question,' he said of the board.

It's unclear whether the bike-walking provision would remain at Lowami Woods after the Wahoo Trail is connected with the network.

'While it's (now) a dead-end trail, we're asking people to walk their bikes,' Blowers said. 'I want to see more connecting trails for bicycles.'

A learning experience

Other, less controversial aspects of the plan include replacing invasive plants - such as English ivy and English holly - with native vegetation, upgrading the shorter Madrone Trail's surface and installing an interpretive kiosk with wooden benches for nature-education activities.

Blowers said the educational area would ideally be located near Johnson Creek - in the clearing that once contained a Camp Fire Girls day camp - but built in a way that minimizes erosion and impact on the stream.

In addition to improving access for two-way pedestrian traffic, a key impetus for trail upgrades was to help protect the creek from erosion caused by wear from foot and bicycle traffic.

Kanable acknowledged the seeming incongruity in favoring a wider, paved trail to enhance what is more like an arboretum than a developed urban park.

'We have a park that needs to be managed, and it's not going to be managed by allowing invasive growth. Putting in a hard-surface asphalt trail seems like the wrong thing to do,' he said. 'But we have to be cognizant of the rest of the community.'

Far from over

However, the day after the meeting, Priscilla Christensen, who resides in a house that backs up to Lowami Woods, said she was incensed that the board seemingly ignored the community's wishes for a scaled-down park plan.

'The community simply asked for a lower-impact compromise in between,' she said, 'but what the board voted on last night wasn't a compromise.

'The community is devastated. There were people crying last night. I thought the board and the staff should be ashamed of themselves for what they did.'

Despite the setback of the board vote, Christensen said the process to preserve the nature of Lowami Woods is hardly over for her and other friends of the park.

'This is not the end of it. We wouldn't have spent this much time and energy if we didn't feel it was the right thing to do,' she said.