I don't know how many of us here are on this email list. Marcy is complaining about the lack of transparency in discussions with PP&R, FPSTAC and FoFP, I thought I'd help her out a bit.
Dear Mr. Abbate:
I have deep concerns over your letter of January 3. Further, after reading John Deshler’s December 2012 Forest Park Wildlife Report, my apprehensions are only heightened.
In short, your proposal to design and build trails for a new form of active use in Forest Park reflects a significant deviation to Forest Park’s present management. Beyond that, it is a decision that could have a permanent and degrading impact upon the park’s future health.
Let me state at the outset that I will not, at this time, address the problem of the misinformation that is being put forward as “recommendations” of the Off-Road Cycling Advisory Committee. As a member of that committee, I will attest there was never consensus on the issue. Moreover, the question we deliberated was based on the premise of discussing “if” not “where” new trails should be built.
There are at least three issues about PP&R’s proposal to create and build new trails for new uses in Forest Park I find disturbing:
1. The proposal does not recognize that Forest Park was created, and has been carefully managed, to be an urban wilderness. This designation has been the guiding principle of the park since it was envisioned by John Olmsted in 1903, founded by Fred Cleator, Thornton Munger, and Ding Cannon, in 1947, and, in 1995, became land use law under the Forest Park Natural Resources Management Plan.
2. It does not follow the Forest Park Natural Resources Management Plan because it fails to give priority to preservation of the park’s natural resources.
3. The internal process followed by PP&R to get to this point – as it prepares to go BDS to implement this proposal -- has lacked public transparency. The voices of the primary user groups of the park have not been heard.
After spending more than thirty years studying Forest Park as a consulting biologist, author, and advocate, I believe there is a critical message that you don’t seem to understand:
Forest Park is unique among all city parks – not just in the region – but in the nation. Scientists have confirmed the exceptional nature of Forest Park’s wildlife diversity, the quality of its internal forest habitat, and the health of its watersheds. This fact is the foundation of the Forest Park Management Plan – the park’s guiding document – and the north star we need to keep before us in making all major management decisions.
Why is Forest Park unique? I do not use that word lightly. There are several things that set Forest Park apart, but two are of fundamental importance in regard to your new proposal, for they could be lost if your plan goes forward:
1. Forest Park is unique in that it is the only “urban wilderness park” in the United States.
Forest Park was created to allow the citizens of Portland a place where they could enjoy a wilderness experience in an urban setting. As well as providing an escape from the frenetic pace of urban existence, the park also offers many important services to Portland, including acting as the “Lungs of the City”, providing carbon sequestration, and supplying clean water to the ailing Willamette River. The goal of maintaining Forest Park as an “urban wilderness” has been expressed repeatedly since the Park’s inception. John Olmsted wrote “(Forest Park is) intended to afford to visitors that sort of mental refreshment which can only be derived from the quiet contemplation of natural scenery.” Thornton Munger said “This wilderness within a city is not a place for speeding. ..It is hoped that the feeling of an extensive, uninterrupted forest sanctuary may be preserved “far from the madding crowd.” The Forest Park Management Plan states in its vision statement: “Forest Park represents an unparalleled resource where citizens can enjoy the peace, solitude… beauty and unspoiled naturalness of an urban wilderness. (It is) a place that maintains the wilderness quality while allowing appropriate passive recreational and educational use without degrading (its) natural resources.”
For generations, park commissioners have taken up this challenge to protect Forest Park’s wilderness values. From Emanuel Mische in 1908, to Charles Jordan in 1998, the bar has been kept high: “You will not find any place in America, an urban park, so close to the heart of the city, that provides the wilderness experience five minutes from downtown. Forest Park is unique; it is priceless.” (Charles Jordan, in his remarks to the City Club of Portland.)
For these reasons, your proposal to build additional trails specifically to be used for a new, highly active form of recreation is not in keeping with the philosophy of “passive recreation” that has been the hallmark of Forest Park.
2. Forest Park exhibits more native wildlife species than any other city park in the nation.
As Deshler’s recent 2012 study reaffirms, many of the bird species within Forest Park are sensitive – some are even of national concern – and are exhibiting declining numbers. Deshler also states that his study (actually what biologists call a “snapshot in time”) lacks crucial information on the park’s breeding birds, their abundance, habitat use, seasonality, population trends, and ecology and threats to forest health.
As a biologist, I agree that that these questions are of vital importance to determine. In fact, we risk losing the occurrence of many of these species in Forest Park if we charge ahead to increase recreation use before these variables are studied. Any increase in recreation use, especially a new form of active use, could potentially be detrimental to the future of many of these sensitive species.
The Forest Park Management Plan is clear about this threat. The Plan identifies “overuse by recreationalists” as one of the greatest issues facing Forest Park wildlife and habitat, citing “Threats to (Forest Park’s) natural resources (are) recreational overuse… and conflicts in recreational use. In recent years, use of Forest Park has increased dramatically, with detrimental consequences to the park and its resources.”
For this reason, the Management Plan firmly advocates that pressures to increase recreation should be redirected to other regional parks, to “reduce dependence on Forest Park.” This is a wise strategy, for Forest Park is already densely loaded with trails. Presently, the park’s extensive trail network offers over 80 miles of trails for pedestrian use with 30 miles available for cyclists. The proportion of trails to park size in Forest Park, when compared to national parks, state parks, and local parks, is far greater and more concentrated. A proposal to construct even more trails in this fragile resource – especially without understanding the impacts to sensitive wildlife species and native vegetation -- comes with the very real risk of creating resource degradation.
In conclusion, we need to be realistic: the future of Forest Park as a regional and national treasure is not assured. The decisions we make today will determine if we keep – or lose – what makes this park unique. Your proposal is a far-reaching policy decision that flies in the face of the Forest Park Management Plan and would reset the course for how the Park is managed in the future. For this reason, I am distressed that this discussion is occurring without the knowledge of most of the people in Portland. One powerful lobby should not determine this great park’s future. I become nervous when I read in North West Trail’s Alliance Newsletter, “(Our) goal is to create a network of (bike) trails in Forest Park… We will continue to work with Parks to deliver a world-class system over the coming years. …Parks staff agreed to vet internally to get consensus.”
This appears to be a blatant lack of transparency, ignoring the concerns of countless other Park users.
There is a long-standing legacy, Mr. Abbate, surrounding Forest Park. Although you disagreed with me at our meeting, saying “times have changed”, I think differently. I believe that Olmsted, Munger, Cleator, Cannon, and the many others who fought so hard to give us this uniquely beautiful Park, would still feel the same way as they did when they created Forest Park:
They would still hope, as I do, to see Forest Park remain an urban wilderness. They would wish to preserve Forest Park’s native resources and countless varieties of wildlife. They would want us to advocate that the park remain a place where peace and solitude can still be found …where people can connect with and discover the natural heritage and beauty of Oregon.
The legacy they left was not just for us, and for our use.
It was meant for all future generations.
she's responding to this:
To Forest Park Constituents,
I met recently with Renee Myers, Executive Director of the Forest Park Conservancy, and Les Blaize and Marcy Houle, park advocates, to discuss stewardship activities and the proposal to enhance mountain biking adjacent to Fire Lane 5 in Forest Park. They listened to the proposal and I, in turn, heard their concerns. We agree that the highest priority for Forest Park management is protecting and enhancing ecological health and that Portland Parks & Recreation needs to bring more resources to the park for both ecological restoration and use management and enforcement. I also let them know that I feel recreation is compatible with this priority and about the importance of improving community health through recreation and the creation of the next generation of park stewards.
Our stewardship activities in this unique urban natural area are guided by the Forest Park Natural Resource Management Plan (FPNRMP), knowledgeable staff, studies and surveys. The FPNRMP conservation, recreational and educational goals are the foundation of our management decisions. Preservation of natural systems is our top priority.
Over the past two years, PP&R completed, or is moving forward, on the actions laid out in the September 2010 Forest Park Off-Road Biking Joint Directive which was a follow-up of the Off-road Cycling Advisory Committee. One action was to develop and implement a one-year wildlife study. The Forest Park Wildlife Report is now completed and is a broad description of wildlife and detailed species information based on the best available data – historic to present. The report is comprehensive for all wildlife, including sensitive species; it details trends and identifies additional research needs. You can find the Wildlife report on our website at http://www.portlandoregon.gov/parks/article/427357.
In addition, PP&R staff completed the desired future condition, ecological prescriptions and recreational surveys. In the next three months PP&R and its partners intend to synthesize the information from these recent documents to assist us in making management decisions in our continual effort to be good stewards of Forest Park and use this as a basis to develop a framework for making management decisions.
Another component of the Forest Park Off-Road Biking Joint Directive was to improve the cycling experience by creating more single track on one to two fire lanes already open to bikes. We hired a consulting firm to evaluate Fire Lanes 3 and 5. Based on information from their report, we dropped Fire Lane 3 because of several challenges, including the steep grade and lack of connectivity. We continued to look at enhancing FL 5 where a short section of single track already exits. The consultant recommended enhancing the mountain biking experience by building a portion of single track adjacent to Fire Lane 5. This was presented as the most sustainable option, minimizing the potential for erosion and trail user conflict.
We are now exploring this possibility and have talked to Northwest Trail Alliance who would partner with us on design and funding. As with any park improvement, we will follow the Bureau of Development Service requirements for environmental review that are detailed in the FPNRMP.
To put this proposed action into a larger context for Forest Park, PP&R is only looking at a limited range of options for single track cycling. The Forest Park Single Track Advisory Committee also recommended creating a trailhead at Yeon and building a trail connector to Leif Erikson as allowed in the FPNRMP. When funds are available for the new trail head, we will also consider this trail option.
PP&R’s next steps for implementation of the September 2010 Forest Park Off-Road Biking Joint Directive are to work with our partners to:
Synthesize the biological and ecological information we have gathered over the past two years as a basis for developing a framework for decision making; and
Schedule a pre-application conference with the Bureau of Development Services on the proposal to construct a single track trail adjacent to Fire Lane 5 to understand the type of environmental review needed and the information required.
We will continue to update our Forest Park Management Initiatives webpage at Parks & Recreation | The City of Portland, Oregon as we gain more information.
Portland Parks & Recreation
1120 SW 5th Ave, Room 1302
Portland, OR 97204
Parks & Recreation | The City of Portland, Oregon
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