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A pathway for Gateway Green

Vision for vacant eastside land includes cyclocross, trails, education


TRIBUNE PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE  - Linda Robinson, an East Portland parks advocate and cofounder of the Friends of Gateway Green, takes a ride to the site last week from the Gateway Transit Center. Pending another successful crowdfunding campaign this fall, the project could break ground next year. What’s 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 County’s 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 children’s 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 Green’s 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.

“It’s beginning to look like it’s actually going to happen,” says Robinson, an advocate for parks who’s lived in East Portland since 1975. “In 2009, it was not clear if it was going to happen or not.”

But it won’t 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, there’s 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 that’s hardly the case — in fact it’ll 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 don’t see, or don’t 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 aren’t in conflict.

“That can be a lesson we can learn from, to bring communities together rather than polarize,” Gilbert says.

COURTESY OF FRIENDS OF GATEWAY GREEN  - A cyclist pedals through Gateway Green, which held a fundraising cyclocross race last fall and just received $250,000 from the citys budget toward development.

Defining Gateway

While there’s been a lot of attention to and investment in East Portland lately, Gateway Green organizers say this development will be a key milestone.

“Gateway doesn’t have an identity,” says Robinson, who has served on the Gateway Urban Renewal Process citizen advisory group for several years.

“There’s an image problem with all of East Portland to start with. Gateway doesn’t 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.

“It’s potentially a game-changer for East Portland,” he says. “It’ll 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. It’ll 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.”

Cleaning up

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 they’ll 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 there’s 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 didn’t 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 city’s budget, which includes $250,000 in one-time general fund resources to support the Friends of Gateway Green’s goal of raising $1 million by 2016.

So far, they’ve raised $500,000 in cash and in-kind contributions; the city’s contribution brings it to $750,000.

They need another $1.25 million to get the full $1 million matching grant from Metro’s 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.

There’s plenty to do until then.

Friends of Gateway Green’s nine-person board of directors has several grant requests pending, and they’re 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 Indigogo’s fifth-highest community fundraising project.

They’re 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 can’t wait to see the project become a reality.

“I care deeply about Portland,” Gilbert says. “Here’s a chance I can give back to a portion of our community that really needs it.”

janderson@portlandtribune.com

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