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The trailblazing talk pays off

For proposed St. Johns path, first connections are human ones
by: File, If the North Portland Greenway is completed, it will be easier than ever for music fans to bike to the annual Cathedral Park Jazz Festival, and for St. Johns residents and other North Portlanders to bike to jobs on Swan Island and downtown.

When Portland Parks and Recreation presented its trails strategy to the City Council last week, a group of North Portland trail enthusiasts was pleasantly surprised to see their neighborhood rank high on the city's to-do list.

For the past year and a half, a group calling itself North Portland Greenway has been getting the attention of decision makers and stimulating neighborhood interest in the idea of a trail that stretches along the east side of the Willamette River from the Steel Bridge to Cathedral Park in St. Johns - a trail they also call the North Portland Greenway.

'We all need good off-road connections,' said Joe Adamski, chair of the St. Johns Neighborhood Association and member of the group. 'Give us a place to have recreation.'

The group envisions an extension of the Eastbank Esplanade, which runs 1.5 miles from the Steel Bridge to the Hawthorne Bridge. The proposed North Portland Greenway would be a similar paved trail that accommodates commuters and recreational users, and also connects North Portland neighborhoods to the Willamette River and Swan Island.

'Getting on and off Swan Island is a traffic nightmare,' Adamski said. 'If you have people bicycling or walking, it frees up parking lots for business and then they become a source of income, rather than an expense.'

Building a trail along the Willamette River all the way to the Columbia River has been a goal of the city for decades. It was put down in writing when City Council adopted the Willamette Greenway Plan in 1987, but very little progress has been made.

With all the recent attention to the Willamette River waterfront - including the city's River Renaissance plan, the east-side Combined Sewer Overflow Big Pipe project and environmental cleanup - the North Portland Greenway group decided the time was ripe to make some noise about the long-awaited trail.

The group brought Pam Arden into the fold, a member of the 40-Mile Loop Land Trust who had experience getting government attention and community support for trail projects. In the mid-1990s, Arden spearheaded a movement that resulted in construction of the 3.5-mile Peninsula Crossing Trail, which runs from North Willamette Boulevard to the Columbia River.

'This is very similar to what happened with the Peninsula Crossing Trail,' Arden said. 'You need to have an advocacy group formed to elevate the status of it.'

Footwork comes first

Arden directed the group to fan out to rally support for the idea from all corners. The group members attended neighborhood meetings and community events, where they spoke about connecting North Portland to downtown through a trail.

One of the most important things they did, according to Arden, was to hold a meeting last year with government agencies and private companies to talk about all the activity along the river. Representatives from Portland Parks and Recreation, the city's Bureau of Environmental Services, the University of Portland and the Port of Portland were among 15 people at the meeting.

'Our purpose of having them sit in that room and say what they were doing was so they could know what everybody else was doing, too,' Arden said.

The group also held a meeting with community members, including bicycle advocates and walking groups, to get them excited about the trail. Members of North Portland Greenway also offer tours along the river to show where a trail would work. Arden believes the group's visibility is what landed portions of the North Portland Greenway trail higher on the Portland Parks and Recreation priority list.

Gregg Everhart, senior planner and trails specialist for the parks bureau, says portions of the North Portland Greenway trail became a high priority because, in some cases, funding is already in place and, in other cases, land acquisitions appear likely. But Everhart acknowledges that organized community support does help projects along.

'It's always important to have community members out working independently to get people excited,' she said.

Swan Island link ranks high

One of the top priorities in the parks bureau's Recreational Trails Strategy is to build the Swan Island Waud Bluff Trail, connecting Swan Island at the base of the bluff to the University of Portland at the top. Funding is already secured for the project, but a start date is not yet set. The strategic plan set out by Portland Parks and Recreation suggests that work can begin no later than 2010.

Two other sections of the North Portland Greenway, north and south of Swan Island, are listed as Level 2 priorities, which means construction can most likely begin by 2015, assuming funding is secured. In that case, according to Everhart, land acquisition is still needed, but it looks promising.

Now that the North Portland Greenway is on the city's radar, the actual route of the trail still needs to be plotted. That responsibility falls on the shoulders of the Bureau of Planning as part of its River Renaissance project. Everhart and members of the Greenway group are part of the trails subcommittee that will map out the trail. North Portland Greenway members say that although the proposed trail goes only as far as Cathedral Park in St. Johns, their ultimate goal is to connect it to Kelley Point Park, at the confluence of the Willamette and Columbia rivers.

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