For Mel Huie, passion for urban planning began in his youth. His family didn’t have a car, so the native Portlander walked, took the bus or rode his bike everywhere. He even marked up a map to show all the streets he biked on.
That interest carried over into his work as a regional trails planner. Huie has worked for Metro and one of its predecessors, Columbia Region Association of Governments, since 1977. He has served as a parks and trails planner for the agency since 1988 and has been instrumental in planning and implementing a regional system of off-street trails.
The vision is to create a 1,000-mile trail network in the Portland-Vancouver region that would stretch from the Oregon Coast to Mount Hood. So far, more than 350 miles have been completed.
“You can’t build trails without a lot of cooperation and passion and stay-with-it ability,” he said. “It’s taken the work of hundreds if not thousands of people and
volunteers over these 40 years.”
Support trails projects
Every September since 2008, volunteers survey people biking and walking the region’s trails, parks and natural areas. The data, gathered using nationally standardized methods, are used for transportation planning and grant applications.
During trail counts in September 2017, volunteers at 125 different sites counted:
- 45,002 total users
- 28,855 pedestrians
- 15,405 bicyclists
- 72 people using mobility devices
- 670 using other modes, such as skateboarding and rollerblading
- 21,292 female trail users
- 23,710 male trail users
Volunteers are needed to conduct this year's counts. Learn more at a required orientation session before hitting local trails Sept. 11 to 13, and Sept. 15 to 16:
Wednesday, Aug. 29; 4 to 5 p.m. or 5:30 to 6:30 p.m.
Metro Regional Center, Room 270, 600 NE Grand Ave., Portland
Q. Why is it so important to have a regional trails network?
A. Portland’s grown so much in the last 40 years I’ve been here, so we need to plan for alternative ways of getting around – cycling, walking and transit. Trails don’t understand political or city and county boundaries. They keep going, so you want to have a trail that goes from Portland to Gresham to Troutdale that’s continuous. You have to have all the jurisdictions working cooperatively together so the trail keeps going, otherwise it could just drop off.
It’s important to get a strategy to decide where the regional trails should go and a strategy to have consistent design standards so it’s not different in every city. All cities and counties like the regional trail system, but they look to Metro as a facilitator and convener for the planning because they only have authority within their city limits.
Q. What goes into deciding what would make a good trail?
A. Metro can only work with willing sellers if we’re buying trail corridors or easements, so the fact that there’s a willing seller or somebody who wants to donate land or a trail easement is important. It takes a long time to build a trail. Some of these trails have taken five, 10, 20, 25, 30 years to come to fruition because we can only deal with willing sellers. Then you have to find the money to design and build it. We also look for corridors like railroad or
utility corridors … and generally try to find areas that are not overly hilly so people of various physical abilities can go on them.
The other important thing is Metro works with all the city and county and state parks departments and trail programs. We’re working in total partnership so we get their ideas and trail maps and plans and blend it into the regional system. Metro is a convener and planner and facilitator, but we couldn’t do this without the full partnership of the local governments – not only designing and planning and acquiring the rights-of-way, but someone has to maintain these trails. They’re mostly owned by non-Metro agencies.
Q. What are the most difficult challenges to planning and developing a regional trails network?
A. Part of it is the funding. We need more funding for trails acquisition, design and construction. The federal government used to help a lot on trail design and construction, but they’ve cut back. Then also having willing sellers because one trail corridor could have hundreds of ownerships along the way, not just one or two.
Q. What is your favorite trail and why?
A. I like the Eastbank Esplanade and the Springwater on the Willamette trails because they’re on the river. It’s always nice to walk or ride a bike along the river. One side is more natural like Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge and the other side is more urban. They’re also close to my office … and convenience is important for me to get to trails. I don’t have to drive to it.