Our front-page story on Aug. 24, 'BMXers trash Three-Creeks area,' stirred up some readers, but not exactly the way we expected. The purpose in writing the story was to bring attention to the fact that a group of people had trespassed on county land and destroyed two acres of fragile natural area in order to build a series of illegal BMX tracks.

We received a number of online comments that mostly fell into two categories: refusal to believe that BMX riders had built the trails, and denial of environmental damage to the Three-Creeks Natural Area, located behind the aquatic center in Clackamas.

Our sources said that builders of the site were adults, who needed both brute strength and tools to compact a huge amount of dirt in order to build a bowl-like structure right on the banks of Mt. Scott Creek. Tonia Burns, natural resources coordinator for North Clackamas Parks and Recreation District, said it was determined that the course was set up for BMX bikes, because the 'quarter pipes/half pipes would only fit BMX-type bikes in them.'

James Allison, from Portland Parks and Recreation, and Tom Archer, from the Northwest Trails Alliance, explained the difference between the activities of mountain bikers and those of BMX bikers. Mountain bikers prefer straightforward trails through wooded areas, while BMX riders like jumps, curves and mogul-like setups.

Our reporter did make a mistake in calling the site a 'BMX race course,' because, as one commenter said, that implies that it was a legal, sanctioned course, which clearly it was not.

Another reader advised us to further examine why people feel compelled to build these trails. There are few places for BMXers to practice their sport in the area, he noted, and these 'kids' were simply looking for a place to do that.

We have since learned there are three sanctioned BMX race courses not too far away: one in Salem, one in Molalla and one in Newberg. Also, we learned that Clackamette Park is allowing BMX riders to use the skateboard park there, which is a mere five miles from Three-Creeks.

Our purpose was not to blame all BMX riders for the damage at Three-Creeks. We simply thought the public should know it happened and that the county is having to devote time and money to righting the situation.

Which brings us to the environmental impact. Two of our sources have spent countless hours doing volunteer restoration work at Three-Creeks. Both are members of the North Clackamas Urban Watersheds Council, so they know how all the waterways in the county connect. Because hundreds of native plants were ripped out in building the BMX site at Three-Creeks, they told us the first heavy rains will cause erosion, washing compacted dirt into Mt. Scott Creek, which flows into the Willamette River. The resulting flooding and the added sediment in the water will deprive fish and numerous aquatic organisms of their normal requirement of dissolved oxygen.

These experts say it will take two to five years to repair the damage to the site. Native plants will have to be purchased and replanted and will need time to reestablish themselves on the site. Contrary to what some commenters believe, nature does not easily repair itself. But at least now we know about the problem.

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