On tour with the commish
County commissioner Dick Schouten supports the Tualatin Riverkeepers by taking cyclists on a trek down the Banks-Vernonia trail on a fall Sunday
It took a veggie omelet and the promise of a nice, long bike ride to get him talking, but Dick Schouten obliged Sunday morning to the delight of four politically savvy cycling companions.
The 25-mile trip down the Banks-Vernonia Linear Trail to Stub Stewart State Park and back to Krissy's Koffee and Kones in Banks fulfilled a promise Schouten, a Washington County commissioner, made last spring when he offered the trek up at a Tualatin Riverkeepers fundraising auction.
Four folks - Deb Hartman of Cedar Mill, Martin Salinsky and Erin Peters of southwest Portland and Bill Weismann of Portland - outbid all the others to earn a morning's audience with Schouten, who hails from Beaverton.
As the miles rolled along, each learned a thing or two from the 58-year-old commissioner, who's spent a decade advocating for parks, green spaces and enhanced bicycle and transportation routes in his district, which serves Aloha, Beaverton and Cooper Mountain.
He's also been a staunch ally of folks who organized the Ten Year Plan To End Homelessness several years ago and a supporter of affordable housing projects throughout the county.
But it wasn't hard to get Schouten - who said he rode a bike 'constantly' while growing up because his family owned only one car - to admit his heartfelt allegiance to cycling issues of all kinds.
'Pretty much on a daily basis I use my bike and the [TriMet] MAX train to get to work,' Schouten said as he made short work of his breakfast before hopping on his Portland Trek bike and heading out on the trail with his assigned foursome.
'My bicycle is a handy tool for getting around, and the in-town and off-road bike trails we have all around the county now are wonderful.'
Weismann, a nonprofit consultant, joked that he'd done his 'due diligence' on Schouten prior to Sunday's scheduled ride, learning through his research that a decade ago, Schouten won an Alice B. Toeclips Award from the Portland-based Bicycle Transportation Alliance for service to the cycling community.
'This trip is like a 'three-fer,'' exclaimed Weismann, an avid cyclist who said he was happy to pay for the privilege of hanging out with Schouten. 'First, I'm a big Riverkeepers fan - I've been involved with them since the mid-1990s.
'Secondly, I do a lot of biking on the roads,' he added. 'Third, I have a chance to meet with Commissioner Schouten again and talk about what he's going to help create a more bicycle-friendly environment.'
For Peters, who directs a nonprofit mental health counseling agency, the best part of the bike tour was rolling down the 'truly fabulous' Banks-Vernonia trail.
'Marty and I hadn't done the trail before, and I couldn't believe how great it was for cycling,' Peters said. 'I wish there were more such jewels, and I hope there will be soon.'
Hartman, who sells newspaper advertising, called her trip with Schouten 'really interesting' and said she was pleased to view the Stub Stewart Park welcome center.
'We all want to go back and explore the park,' Hartman noted.
Her biggest surprise was 'gaining insight into the mechanics of how Washington County government functions around major quality of life improvements' on issues such as bike and pedestrian transportation. 'Projects that create trails, parks [and] bike lanes and enhance safety for all do not happen overnight.
'I think every community member would benefit from some one-on-one time with someone like Dick Schouten.'
For his part, Schouten expected 'a nice, leisurely ride' and wound up feeling more alert than ever to the needs of active constituents living in the northwest corner of the county.
'I was struck with the growing economic significance of the many bikers, hikers and horse riders enjoying the trail and the city of Banks,' he said. 'At the same time, the trail is profoundly respectful of the area's incredibly productive and scenic farm and timber lands.'
A member of the Clean Water Services board of directors, Schouten said he'd continue to support the Riverkeepers' mission 'to protect water quality in the Tualatin basin' by offering his time for future bike tours.
'A donated county commissioner bike ride helps give the Riverkeepers a broader, more stable funding base and enables [them] to speak forthrightly about the need to protect one of Washington County's greatest economic and natural resource assets - the Tualatin River,' he said.
Comfortable on a bike
A participant in past Cycle Oregon events, Schouten mused with the group about how he first fell in love with biking.
'Maybe it's my Dutch heritage, but I've always been comfortable on a bike,' he said before ordering up his morning meal at Krissy's.
He said he was proud that the Tualatin Hills Park and Recreation District had used bond money approved by voters in 2008 to 'provide some really serious extensions of multi-use trails for cyclists and pedestrians' in Beaverton, including the Springwater Corridor and the Fanno Creek Trail.
The commission has pushed efforts to bring similar amenities to Banks and beyond, Schouten noted.
'This trail was clearly part of our plan to create scenic bike route opportunities to rural Washington County,' he said.
Longer, regional trails are on Schouten's radar for future construction. 'Those kinds of things would be fabulous for our citizens,' he said.
Salinsky, who bought a new bike earlier this year and has begun to explore area cycling paths with Peters, was excited to spend his morning watching autumn leaves fall in Banks and Vernonia.
'This is the kind of thing that will attract people to this area,' Salinsky said. 'It's the kind of city I'd like to live in.'