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Pedestrian trail could link Lake Oswego, Hillsdale

Armed with his e-mail list of about 1,000 people, SW Trails head Don Baack is turning on the heat at Portland City Hall to try to fund a project that would create the final link in the six-mile pedestrian trail from Hillsdale to Lake Oswego.

The effort comes as the Bureau of Environmental Services is planning to make the culvert that Tryon Creek now uses to get under Boones Ferry Road a little more fish-friendly. The new culvert would be open-bottom to make fish and wildlife passage a little easier.

But Baack is hoping that an even taller culvert would make it easier for human passage as well. Ideally, he said, there wouldn't even be a culvert at all - just an open creek with a trail alongside it. Cars would pass overhead on a bridge connecting what would become two sections of Boones Ferry Road.

The project caught the interest of the head of the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department, Tim Wood, who said the project represented a rare opportunity to advance both outdoor recreation and resource protection.

'Replacing the culvert with a design that improves fish passage and wildlife connectivity will have tremendous benefits for the threatened coho and steelhead populations in Tryon Creek,' Wood said in a letter to BES Director Dean Marriott. 'We strongly encourage the city to implement a design alternative that also accommodates pedestrian traffic underneath Boones Ferry Road.'

Wood also pledged to help find funding for the project and aid in construction of the trail.

The bridge design would cost about $680,000 more than the $2.42 million culvert project, according to BES estimates.

But Baack said it's worth it to encourage people from all over the metro area to hike around.

'If we want people to get out and exercise and so on we need to have places to get out and recreate,' he said. 'We need a nice trail.'

Though building a bridge wouldn't necessarily be more difficult for this already-complex proposal, the project would likely then fall under the jurisdiction of the Portland Department of Transportation, with an assist from BES.

Program manager Amin Wahab said the bridge design is feasible, 'but it certainly would require almost a consortium of different departments and funding sources.'

As it is, the culvert project involves Oregon State Parks, PDOT, Metro, state and federal fisheries agencies, as well as the surrounding community.

Officials are confident that the project will qualify for about $1 million in grants and have budgeted $1.4 million in the Capital Improvement Program for 2013-15.

But Baack is hoping to move that onto this year's budget, meaning that work could start as early as next year.

Baack said he has gotten some interest from Portland City Hall about the idea, including a meeting scheduled in Transportation City Commissioner Sam Adams' office.

'So we're making some progress, but that doesn't mean we're home free, by any stretch,' he said.