Metro’s longtime regional trail planner, Mel Huie, is retiring at the end of the year.
Huie has served the public dating back to the Columbia Regional Association of Governments, a predecessor of Metro. He played a key role in adding parks and nature to Metro’s portfolio in 1990 when Smith and Bybee Wetlands became Metro’s first natural area. He led the Metropolitan Greenspaces master plan, which set up the mission for Metro’s current regional system of parks, natural areas, trails and historic cemeteries.
Huie is known to be a visionary planner and consistently insistent.
“You cannot say no to Mel, who is by nature a convener and collaborator,” Mike Houck, a naturalist at the Urban Greenspaces Institute, said to Metro councilors during a Dec. 15 work session recognizing Huie’s contributions. “He deserves great credit for pulling the region’s park providers together and keeping them together through an ongoing series of park forums and trails.”
Huie also deserves a lot of credit for the Springwater Corridor.
“That never would’ve happened if Mel hadn’t gotten together with George Hudson, who was working for (Portland Parks & Recreation) at the time,” said Jim Sjulin, who first met Huie while working at PPR. “To this day, Mel is still advocating for closing all the gaps on the Springwater as he does for many other gaps in our regional trail system.”
Huie recently answered a few questions about his time as a Metro regional trail planner.
Q. What got you interested in planning regional trails?
As a native Portlander, I saw how quickly the city and region were developing going back to the late 1970s and 1980s. I wondered what I could do to save greenspaces and forests as a volunteer or for a living. I was fortunate to land a job as an urban planner in 1977 and became the first Metro staffer for parks and trails planning in 1988.
Q. What do you love most about the work?
The best part of my job is listening, collaborating and working with folks and agency partners for the planning and construction of trails. The ideas and vision for all the work we have done came from many voices. This work also led to lots of hiking and cycling. You can’t go wrong with walking.
Q. What was your most noteworthy achievements at Metro?
Being part of the team that planned and built over 400 miles of regional trails separated from streets. It is amazing to see how they are so heavily used, particularly during the pandemic. The 26-mile long Springwater Corridor was a major achievement.
After the voter defeat of the first open spaces bond measure in 1992, we regrouped for the 1995 greenspaces bond approved by the voters. We were at a loss, but we stepped up to the challenge, and the rest is history with voter approval of two more bond measures and two operating levies.
Q. What were some of the biggest challenges in your career?
Being flexible in changing environments at work. I worked with many folks who left for other jobs or were laid off due to bad economic times and government cutbacks over the years. There were a lot of political changes over the past 40 years as well. But you have to weather the storm, do your best and be optimistic. Getting through 2020 was the biggest challenge of all. It’s been a heartfelt and emotional year, but we are still moving forward.
Q. What is your favorite trail? Why?
Eastbank Esplanade along the Willamette River in downtown Portland. It’s the perfect urban trail, ADA accessible to all and easy walking distance to literally thousands of residents and workers. It is so popular, particularly at lunch.
It has a special place in my heart. As a boy in the mid-1960s my buddies and I would hike along the muddy and smelly banks of the river for our weekend outings. This was before I-5 was built and the Willamette River was cleaned up. Little did I know that 40 years later there would be a beautiful trail for all to use and that I would have the opportunity to help design and build it.
Q. What are some words of wisdom you'd give to planners who are just starting out in their career?
Be a good listener and also share your ideas. Learn from your more experienced colleagues. Look for a potential mentor. Don’t personalize things and always think of the common good. Keep your eyes on the prize. As a professional, I have reached out to young people as an advisor and mentor. Many of these folks are now community and agency leaders. Special outreach is needed to recruit planners of color. BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and people of color) representation is very much needed to reflect diverse aspirations and changing demographics.
Q. How would you describe your career in one word?
Q. What are you looking forward to the most during retirement?
Volunteering as a citizen advocate for funding and building more nature parks and trails. Gardening. Cooking. Hiking and cycling all the trails in the region. And being a family guy.