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City adopts River View management plan; mountain bike access still on table

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COURTESY: PORTLAND PARKS & RECREATION - City Council adopted a management plan for River View Natural Area, which maintains the temporary ban on mountain biking but leaves the potential for trails to be resolved through the citywide Off-Road Cycling Master Plan. Mountain biking still isn't allowed at River View Natural Area, but could be in the future.

That much was made clear Thursday as the Portland City Council voted 4-0 to adopt a management plan for the site after nearly three hours of testimony.

River View is a 146-acre undeveloped, forested parcel in Southwest Portland that's been a flashpoint for much controversy in past year.

The city last March issued a temporary ban on mountain bike access to River View — an action supporters protested, the Northwest Trail Alliance fought in court, and that's otherwise caused a wave of distrust of City Hall by many in the cycling community.

Council leaders used Wednesday's session to make amends, repeatedly telling the mountain bike advocates in attendance that they are a legitimate recreational user group.

"I'm really sorry ... that there's some mistrust in this room," Mayor Charlie Hales told the crowd.

"I'm sorry there's been either a real or perceived exclusion of legitimate interest from a Portland process when we make policy. Because we always try to have all the legitimate interests at the table. ... That perception that was felt by some of you in this process, I hope you'll forgive and give some credit and good hope to these people" (pointing to his colleagues).

The nonprofit Northwest Trail Alliance had rallied people to attend the session and ask to delay the plan adoption until after the citywide Off-Road Cycling Master Plan process wraps up, this fall.

Commissioner Amanda Fritz launched the master plan process this summer to look at mountain biking at a system-wide level.

Advocates worried that approval of the management plan for River View — which states that mountain biking is prohibited for the time being — would shut the door on mountain bike access there before the master plan was developed.

But Commissioner Steve Novick introduced an amendment, which the council adopted, that said that would not be the case.

It said that the outcome of the master plan process would supercede the managment plan's temporary prohibition.

Novick and Hales said they were at first hesitant to approve the management plan, but felt better after adding the amendment.

The River View management plan sets a vision for the site, which is to protect its unique ecology and wildlife.

The new plan includes a no-dogs policy, seasonal trail closures and no recreational users within the 300-foot interior.

Construction at the site to implement the plan is estimated at $5 million, and includes soft-surface trail construction, trail decommission, portable toilets, overlooks, signage, kiosks, trail bridges, parking, and an optional pedestrian crossing at an additional cost of $3.5 million at Oregon Highway 43.

"We're protecting something in nature that is irreplacable," Commissioner Nick Fish said, calling the 2011 acquisition of the site one of his biggest accomplishments as parks commissioner.

Hales urged Parks Director Mike Abatte to keep a broad view of the city's recreational needs.

"The parks system ought to have big shoulders," Hales said. "Every recreational use should be accommodated.

Abatte agreed that it's the parks bureau's responsiblity to do so.

Fish, however, said from the Bureau of Environmental Services perspective, he uses a different "filter" when considering the numerous requests by various groups to use the city's natural areas for uses like camping or events.

If mountain biking comes back to the table, he said, "we are going to err in our analysis on the side of protecting natural resources."

In trying to balance preservation with recreation, Fish said, "the challenge is in harmonizing these values. I do not see them as inconsistent. At River View ... it's a unique challenge of how we can harmonize it."

Hales also spoke about striking the right balance, but his comments showed that he's been in touch with the cycling community for much of the past year.

"In a city with 200 parks, one of them 5,000 acres, there should be ample places to ride a bike without burning a quart of gasoline to do that," Hales said. "We're going to get there. ... We need to accommodate this legitimate recreational use, and River View may be one place to do that."

For more: portlandoregon.gov/parks/62001.

@jenmomanderson

River View Natural Area's ecological significance

• The site includes seven streams, 130 plant species, 31 mammal species and 74 avian species that have been documented.

• It comprises about half of the forest canopy in the 350-acre River View Subwatershed of the Lower Willamette Watershed.

• Under private ownership until 2011, the site was logged in the 1800s and 1950s and fell to neglect until the city, Metro and Trust for Public Land acquired it in 2011. It's one of the largest single natural area acquisitions in the city’s history.