An important link in the region's trail system took a big step forward this week as Metro Council approved the Westside Trail Master Plan. This multiuse trail stretches through King City, Tigard, Beaverton and Portland, connecting the Tualatin and Willamette Rivers.
A version of the Westside Trail has been envisioned since the 1904 "Olmstead Plan" for the City of Portland's park system. And in 1992 the need for this trail was recognized in a greenspace master plan. The version approved this week stretches for 25 miles and connects a number of significant parks and natural areas in Washington County.
About 10 miles of the trail have already been built or are under construction. This stretch, maintained by Tualatin Hills Park & Recreation District, goes through Beaverton, following the power lines in the area.
Using the space occupied by the power lines was a concerted effort on behalf of the planners because it allows the trail to go through highly urbanized areas without needing to buy land or disturb current development. Passing through urban areas means that the trail can act as a transportation corridor for residents.
"Roads are not the only transportation facility," said Mary Manseau, a member of the Washington County Planning Commission. "Trails are key to our transportation system, and our area is underserved."
Manseau, a resident of unincorporated Washington County in the Bethany area, has been working with her local Citizen Participation Organization to fight for more trails in the area. She spoke in favor of the Westside Trail saying her neighborhood and other nearby areas are underserved, with few options for transportation by foot or bike.
One feature of the trail is its ability to be used by both pedestrians and bicyclists. The Bicycle Transportation Alliance was an early supporter of the project because of the connectivity it will provide for residents wishing to get around on two wheels.
"The Westside Trail is a step in the right direction," said Gerik Kransky, advocacy director for the Bicycle Transportation Alliance. "It's a critical north-south connection that does not currently exist."
He said that the alliance has a blueprint for world class bicycling in the Portland region and the Westside Trail has long been on their wish list.
"This was a priority project for us," Kransky said.
According to Metro planners, the project is unique because of the opportunity to use the trail corridor to enhance the movement of wildlife through this urban area. Because the trail corridor will be a continuous open space, if certain habitat types are conserved or restored wildlife will be able to use the corridor to move around the region.
Opponents to the trail argue that not enough mitigation is planned to offset the impact on wildlife and natural areas – specifically, the portion of the trail that turns east from Bethany and climbs up the West Hills through Forest Park. Forest Park Neighborhood Association representative Carol Chesarek said she worries about the impact the trail will have on wildlife, particularly the retaining walls called for in parts of the route.
"Most of the trail is really wonderful," Chesarek said. "But looking at the proposed route and the retaining walls it requires, there isn't enough mitigation to offset the harm the trail will cause."
As a result of the issues raised by the Forest Park Neighborhood Association, both the Multnomah County Commission and the Portland Bureau of Parks and Recreation have asked for more study about the trail's impact on wildlife.
"There is an alternative route out there and it deserved more consideration by Metro," Chesarek explained.
The Metro Council, however, was unanimous in support of the project and approved it after a short discussion.
"I'm thrilled!" Councilor Kathryn Harrington said during discussion of the master plan.
Councilor Carlotta Collette agreed. Excited about the possibilities of the Westside Trail, she compared the recreation opportunities to the completed Springwater Trail on the eastside of Portland.
With the master plan approved and 10 miles of the trail built, all that remains is to find the funding for the last 15 miles. Planners on the project felt confident that a combination of local resources and grants could be assembled to complete the project as planned, allowing for bicyclists, pedestrians and wildlife to all connect in new ways to the region's parks and natural areas.