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Trail system still full of weak links

Parks plan calls for filling the gaps in Portland's off-road web
by: Jim Clark, Pile buck Mike Weltsch of Mowat Construction Co. installs a railing on the new bridge over Southeast McLoughlin Boulevard. The bridge will unite two segments of the still-fragmented Springwater Corridor.

When Portlanders brag about their city, they often bring up its trails, conjuring images of bicycling families bowling along the Eastbank Esplanade, or runners pounding the Wildwood Trail in Forest Park. Hopping from trail to trail without ever having to join cars on the road is not yet possible, but it's a seductive idea for many.

Currently, though, Portlanders have to use the recreational trail network piecemeal because it's full of gaps. The so-called 40-Mile Loop, for instance, has around 15 gaps. Of the 220-mile network of regional recreational trails envisaged by Portland Parks and Recreation, 68 miles remain to be built. The bureau estimates it will take 20 years and $70 million to get the job done.

Last Wednesday Gregg Everhart, a senior planner with Portland Parks and Recreation, presented the bureau's Recreational Trails Strategy report (not an ordinance -they weren't officially asking for money yet) to the City Council, which voted 4-0 to approve it.

The plan calls for buying up land around the gaps, then building the trails and features such as water fountains and signage. High-profile routes, such as the Willamette River portion of the Springwater Corridor or the Eastbank Esplanade, do a great job in promoting the system as a whole.

The ability to say 'Did you know you could get from A to B without seeing a car?' is one of the things spurring the plan to complete the network. For instance, there is talk of creating a Sullivan's Gulch trail to parallel the Banfield, just as the Interstate 205 multiuse path is the green alter ego of that outer freeway.

The political power of cyclists and pedestrians was on display at the City Hall meeting as nine citizens spoke in favor of the trails plan and none against. Noelle Dobson, a program manager for Active Living by Design, talked about the health benefits to all, of exercising on the trails.

Meanwhile Bob Akers, president of the private nonprofit 40-Mile Loop Land Trust, said that because his home phone number is on the group's Web site, as well as on Metro's, he gets a lot of calls from hikers telling him the trail ran out. 'I have to tell them how to get to Gresham from Sellwood,' Akers says. 'Or they call me stuck in the Smith and Bybee Lake area, where the trail ends by the Wapato Jail.'

In the Springwater Corridor (which starts near the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry and extends to Boring), the Three Bridges project is expected to reduce the gap near Sellwood by the construction deadline of Sept. 30. Three bridges - called, from the west, Johnson Creek, McLoughlin and Union Pacific Railroad - carry the path of the old railroad across various obstacles. Most of the money for the Sellwood gap has been raised, Everhart says.

George Lozovoy, a landscape architect and project manager with Portland Parks and Recreation, says the Three Bridges project will be completed by September and landscaped in the fall. The orange metal McLoughlin Bridge will have a broomed concrete surface and 10 feet of bikeable width - that's the equivalent of an eight-lane freeway to a Hummer driver. If Portlanders were looking for a monument to sustainable transportation, here it comes.