A pathway for Gateway Green
Vision for vacant eastside land includes cyclocross, trails, education
Whats now a narrow, weedy, unused 38-acre parcel at the confluence of Interstate 205 and I-84 in East Portland is a field of dreams for Linda Robinson and Ted Gilbert.
Since 2008, the community activist and developer have been spearheading a grassroots community project called Gateway Green.
The vision for the former site of Multnomah Countys Rocky Butte jail left as an undeveloped island after the construction of I-205 is to build a haven for walkers, cyclists and residents in the surrounding neighborhoods and across the region. It would include a year-round cyclocross park (featuring hills, turns and muddy terrain) as well as pedestrian trails in a walk-through forest, a childrens nature play area, and a field house for environmental education classes.
The cyclocross park alone could attract at least 500,000 visitors each year, one of the Gateway Greens commissioned studies shows.
Thanks to partnerships with 40 different entities, and donations from 7,600 individuals, the project is now on its final fundraising push before nearing the finish line.
Its beginning to look like its actually going to happen, says Robinson, an advocate for parks whos lived in East Portland since 1975. In 2009, it was not clear if it was going to happen or not.
But it wont just be a place to play. Gateway Green will be a significant development for the entire city of Portland for two big reasons, organizers say: As a catalyst and destination for East Portland; and as a working laboratory to show how active recreation can be balanced with habitat restoration and preservation.
To the latter point, theres been some backlash from the cycling community that city leaders will point to Gateway Green as enough of an off-road cycling facility in the city, in the controversial discussions to open up access for mountain biking at River View Natural Area and Forest Park.
Gilbert says thats hardly the case in fact itll be an opportunity to demonstrate how different uses can coexist in harmony.
Unequivocably, Gateway Green is not in lieu of anything else, he says. People tend to be afraid of that which they dont see, or dont know about. This is going to be such a visible location.
The Audubon Society of Portland is one of the partners on the project, and will help manage the trails and wildlife so the two arent in conflict.
That can be a lesson we can learn from, to bring communities together rather than polarize, Gilbert says.
While theres been a lot of attention to and investment in East Portland lately, Gateway Green organizers say this development will be a key milestone.
Gateway doesnt have an identity, says Robinson, who has served on the Gateway Urban Renewal Process citizen advisory group for several years.
Theres an image problem with all of East Portland to start with. Gateway doesnt have anything unique ... We see this as a catalyst something that could help the Gateway Urban Renewal Area.
Gilbert, a Portland native and a commercial real estate developer, also is passionate about what Gateway Green represents in the big picture.
Its potentially a game-changer for East Portland, he says. Itll be a catalyst to get the region to take a fresh look at all of the opportunities East Portland has going for it.
Geographically, Gateway Green is a five-minute walk from the Gateway Regional Center, and a hub for other East Portland neighborhoods including Parkrose, Parkrose Heights, Woodland Park and Hazelwood. Itll also be a connector to Madison South, Sumner and other neighborhoods to the west.
The Gateway area is bordered by three MAX light-rail lines, with 65 million people passing by Gateway Green each year by car, MAX or bike trails that cut right through.
The idea behind the project was not just to create a bike park and open space, but also a rebranding tool, Gilbert says, something highly visible by the entire region.
The city acquired the property from the Oregon Department of Transporation last fall, and has started cutting down the dangerous trees and clearing out blackberry bushes.
Soon theyll put a fence at the property line between Union Pacific Railroad and the park, which adjoins the site.
An extensive portion of the forest has deteriorated, and theres lots of invasive species at the site.
One of the priorities is to restore the health of the forest, and create a wetland with the help of city experts to clean pollutants from the stormwater that runs directly into the Columbia River when it rains.
When they built I-205, they didnt worry about things like hydrocarbons and heavy metals, Gilbert says. If we do nothing more than ventilate that pipe naturally through those poor soils, we can keep tons of pollutants out of the Columbia River.
Plans are underway to create a water quality demonstration project, which children from across the region can visit.
They also may create a mini hydropower station, which would be used to produce electricity to keep the Gateway Green lights on at night.
Funding has come from many sources, including the citys budget, which includes $250,000 in one-time general fund resources to support the Friends of Gateway Greens goal of raising $1 million by 2016.
So far, theyve raised $500,000 in cash and in-kind contributions; the citys contribution brings it to $750,000.
They need another $1.25 million to get the full $1 million matching grant from Metros Nature in Neighborhoods grant program, which requires a two-to-one match.
Meeting the goal would allow the team to complete the design process so the project is ready to go for permits, then hold a round of public meetings in the fall, then start construction perhaps next year.
Theres plenty to do until then.
Friends of Gateway Greens nine-person board of directors has several grant requests pending, and theyre planning another crowdfunding campaign ths fall.
We feel pretty confident we can raise or at least get very close to raising the rest of the $2 million match, Robinson says.
Their previous campaign raised $123,880 through Indigogo in 33 days, and ranked as Indigogos fifth-highest community fundraising project.
Theyre also looking to get the word out through public outreach through events such as the one coming up July 9, a partnership with Portland Parks & Recreation. (See sidebar.)
Robinson and Gilbert cant wait to see the project become a reality.
I care deeply about Portland, Gilbert says. Heres a chance I can give back to a portion of our community that really needs it.