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The end of the Oregon Trail - coming soon?

Everybody knows about Oregon City, it's the End of the Oregon Trail, right?

As the terminus of the Oregon Trail, Oregon City played an important role in the 19th century overland migration that claimed the West for the United States. With its numerous historic structures and sites, Oregon City is arguably one of the most important historical sites in Oregon. To promote Oregon City as a tourist destination, the city adopted policies to 'protect historic, recreational, and natural resources as the basis for tourism,' and 'ensure land uses and transportation connections that support tourism as an important aspect of the City's economic development strategy…including connections to the End of the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center…'

So why is the Oregon Trail disappearing in Oregon City? Isn't it protected?

Turns out there are multiple answers, because there are multiple jurisdictions involved. The significance of the trail in American history was recognized in 1978 when Congress designated the primary routes of the emigration as the Oregon National Historic Trail. The Oregon National Historic Trail is administered by the National Park Service, which works with a broad spectrum of private and public partners to preserve and protect important sites and trail remnants. According to the Act, the Secretary charged with the administration of a National Historic Trail 'shall provide for the development and maintenance of such trails within federally administered areas, and shall cooperate with and encourage the States to operate, develop, and maintain portions of such trails which are located outside the boundaries of federally administered areas.'

So how is the Oregon Trail protected outside of federally administered areas?

Within Oregon the Oregon Trail is administered by the state's Parks and Recreation Department. In 1998, the Governor established the Oregon Historic Trails Advisory Council (OHTAC) to oversee and provide advice on Oregon's 16 historic trails. Its goals include collecting and sharing information on locating and marking trails; encouraging local communities and agencies to develop directional and interpretive signs, brochures and maps, and helping them find the resources to protect and share these corridors of history. In May 2007 the Oregon Senate declared an emergency and passed Senate Bill 823 which prohibits issuance of building permits for new development within 100 feet on either side of the Oregon Trail, excluding segments in Clackamas County.

Clackamas County deals with the Oregon Trail in its development code, where the Barlow Road Historic Corridor is defined as a 40-foot wide historic corridor as shown on the Clackamas County assessor maps. It states, 'To the maximum practicable extent, the historic corridor shall be protected as open space. Where physical evidence of the Barlow Road exists, such as wagon ruts, such evidence shall not be disturbed by development unless it is shown that the property can not be developed if the historic corridor is preserved.'

The City of Oregon City also deals with the Oregon Trail in its development code, which states, 'Within the Oregon Trail-Barlow Road historic corridor, a minimum of a 30-foot-wide open visual corridor shall be maintained and shall follow the actual route of the Oregon Trail, if known. If the actual route is unknown, the open visual corridor shall connect within the open visual corridor on adjacent property. No new building or sign construction shall be permitted within required open visual corridors. Landscaping, parking, streets, driveways are permitted within required open visual corridors.'

Oregon City officially recognizes two maps of the Oregon Trail, and neither match the more recent and accurate Clackamas County assessor map Historic Corridor easement. Because of this discrepancy, in 2007 the City's Historic Review Board was unable to restrict development on the County-designated Barlow Road Historic Corridor within a subdivision application.

What about statewide land-use planning goals?

According to Goal 5, 'State and federal natural resource, open space, scenic and historic area plans should be reviewed and coordinated with local and regional plans.'

As part of the Statewide Land Use Planning requirement, the City of Oregon City held its first hearing on its recently completed Draft Parks and Recreation Master Plan Update. The hearing was continued to March 19 after inconsistencies were raised:

Mission Statement: to protect natural resources, preserve cultural resources, and be good stewards of public resources. Walking and biking trails are identified as the highest citizen priorities, followed by new parks, open space, and natural areas. Most of the plan's current and planned resources are not aligned with citizen priorities.

Goal 3: Increase access to parks by implementing 2004 Trails Master Plan.

• Only eight percent of 2008-2010 priority budget allocated to trails.

• Does not include the Oregon Trail.

Goal 4: Strategically increase programming and partnerships by collaborating with local historical organizations to cross-market and promote existing history programs.

• The plan does not acknowledge the Oregon Trail nor associated National Park Service grant-funded projects.

• Clackamas Heritage Partners was not consulted during the process.

Here's how the plan stacks up with statewide land use criteria:

Goal 1: Citizens who have participated in this program shall receive a response from policy makers.

• Citizens who commented during the plan's public process did not receive a response.

• Neighborhood associations were not notified of the plan.

• Citizen comments relating to protecting the Oregon Trail were not included in plan.

Goal 2: Cities and counties are expected to take into account the regional, state, and national needs.

• The Plan fails to coordinate with federal Trails Act or corresponding state and regional plans.

Goal 3: Urban growth should be separated from agricultural lands by buffer or transitional areas of open space.

• Although the Oregon Trail is adjacent to agricultural land and open space, the plan provides no buffer from encroaching development.

Goal 5: State and federal natural resource, open space, scenic and historic area plans should be reviewed and coordinated with local and regional plans.

• The Oregon Trail is a National Historic Trail, a State Goal 5 Historic Resource, and County Historic Corridor, yet the Plan fails to account for these resources.

Goal 6: Programs should manage land conservation and development activities in a manner that accurately reflects the community's desires for a quality environment.

• The Oregon Trail passes through Park Place Neighborhood in Oregon City.

• The community has expressed a desire for more trails, and passed a resolution in 2007 urging protection of the Oregon Trail.

• Although it has roughly 25 percent of the land area, Park Place has only 2 percent (5 of the 250 acres) of parks in Oregon City.

• Park Place has only about 70 square feet of park per person, nearly 10 times less than the City's standards.

Goal 8: Unique areas or resources capable of meeting one or more needs specific recreational needs requirements should be inventoried and protected or acquired.

• The Oregon Trail is a resource capable of meeting several specific recreational needs, yet the Plan has no protection or acquisition measures.

So, it's always about the money isn't it?

Actually, since 2002 the city collected almost $2 million in parks and transportation System Development Fees (SDCs) from the Park Place Neighborhood area, which includes the county and city maps of the Oregon Trail, yet no parks exist except for one developed in 1996. And despite being the highest citizen priority and the lowest cost to acquire and maintain, the City's Parks and Recreation Plan Update only provides eight percent of its 2008-2011 priority budget to trails, with none planned for the vicinity of the Oregon Trail. Unless the City changes its Parks Master Plan and current City code and process, existing Trail remains in Oregon City will be destroyed forever.

Brings new meaning to the End of the Trail doesn't it?

Revising Oregon City's Parks and Recreation Master Plan would give the community an opportunity to identify, preserve, and create a linear park to provide public enjoyment of any remaining historic trail sites and remnants - before they are lost for all time. This would not only provide recreational and educational opportunities for local residents, but for visitors from all over the world who follow the trail from Independence, Missouri, to Oregon City. Anybody can submit comments to the City (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.) or attend the hearing on March 19.

Nancy Walters is treasurer of the Park Place Neighborhood Association.