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Metro Council OKs Tualatin Mountains plan

Councilors say it balances natural protection with recreation.

A plan for limited development and general restoration of natural areas in the North Tualatin Mountains, northwest of Portland, got a unanimous go-ahead Thursday (April 21) from the Metro Council.

The four forested areas, which total about 1,300 acres, are wedged between U.S. 30 and Cornelius Pass Road/Skyline Boulevard, northwest of Portland’s Forest Park.

“We are a public agency and we need to deal with a diverse region,” Councilor Shirley Craddock said.

She and other councilors said the plan balances environmental protection with human recreational opportunities.

The action gives the go-ahead for Metro parks and nature staff to seek permits from Multnomah County for an eventual $2 million in improvements in a couple of the forested areas. The first phase is scheduled for completion in late 2017.

For the Burlington Creek Forest, a small parking lot, restrooms and shared-use trails for hikers and off-road cyclists are projected at $1.4 million. For McCarthy Creek, similar work is projected at $700,000.

The money will come from a levy that voters approved in 2013, and that the Metro Council may request a renewal for on Nov. 8, two years ahead of its scheduled expiration.

Metro has already sent $1 million in restorative actions, such as thinning and planting of native trees and plants, in what was a formerly logged forest.

Although it proved to be more contentious than a similar plan for the Newell Creek Canyon in Oregon City, the access plan for the North Tualatin Mountains is the latest in a series that Metro has adopted or has in the works.

“People are passionate about this land, and they have different ideas about how to make the most of it,” said Dan Moeller, Metro conservation program manager.

Resolving conflicts

During a discussion a couple of days before Thursday’s vote, Metro councilors raised questions to their staff about potential conflicts between limited recreation and wildlife habitat. But they also concluded that the preferred alternative resolved those conflicts.

“I have not learned anything in recent days to lead me to want to change anything in this plan,” Councilor Sam Chase said.

“I think there are folks in this area who are going to continue to have concerns, who are seeing what happens on a daily basis – and it is important to continue to have that relationship with them. I think you have done a great job getting these folks on board.”

While some neighbors banded together as the Tualatin Wildlife Alliance to oppose the plan, other neighbors joined conservation groups and trail advocates in support of it during a public hearing last week (April 14).

The plan calls for no development in the Ennis Creek and North Abbey Creek forests. Existing informal trails and former logging roads would be removed, unless needed for maintenance, and the only future improvement envisioned is a Pacific Greenway Trail through Ennis.

Public access would focus on the Burlington Creek Forest, off U.S. 30, and the eastern part of the McCarthy Creek Forest.

Councilor Kathryn Harrington said that of the total of about 1,300 acres, almost 75 percent would be closed to access. In contrast, she said, the plan for the 590-acre Killin Wetlands Natural Area near Banks opens up about 60 percent to access.

Multiple needs

Harrington said she has come around to the view that both off-road cyclists and horse riders need trails, and that what Metro staff members learn from the first phase of work in the Burlington Creek Forest can be applied to later development in McCarthy Creek Forest, where planned access was scaled back from an initial version.

“The problem is that without having horse facilities built, the horse use on these sites feels like a private club to me,” she said.

“It is not fair and accessible to the general public. Otherwise, what we have is a private horse park for the neighbors and their friends.”

As for the shared-use trails, she said, “I am comfortable with the bike access up there. I appreciate your (staff) efforts to try this, build this out and learn from it.”

Jonathan Soll, conservation science manager for Metro parks and nature, acknowledged that any access by humans could be potential interference with wildlife.

“How much is hard to say,” Soll said. “No matter what we do, it comes down to a judgment call.”

But Metro Council President Tom Hughes said the staff plan does not impose such barriers, particularly for elk herds.

“Common sense would say that a critter of several hundred pounds that has just crossed several major roads is not going to stymied by a narrow dirt trail,” Hughes said.



Read more: Metro Council OKs Tualatin Mountains plan