After more than a year of engaging community members and receiving hundreds of comments, Metro is recommending that two of its four sites in the North Tualatin Mountains be opened for official public access, including hiking and off-road cycling trails.
The recommendation would focus public access at the Burlington Creek site and the eastern portion of the McCarthy Creek site, two areas that have former logging roads used by the public.
All four sites would continue to be restored. At the Ennis Creek and North Abbey Creek sites, existing informal trails and former logging roads not needed for maintenance would be removed to preserve the two sites as core habitat areas. There are no planned visitor improvements at the two sites, except for a provision for the future Pacific Greenway Trail through Ennis.
“We’ve listened to the community and used their input, good science and our own experience to develop a recommendation that protects wildlife habitat, water quality and provide meaningful experiences in nature for visitors,” said Dan Moeller, conservation program director for Metro Parks and Nature.
The recommendation will be shared at the fourth and final open house 6:30 p.m. Nov. 17. More information is also available at oregonmetro.gov/tualatinmountains, where community members can also weigh in. The recommendation will be formalized into a master plan, which the Metro Council will consider approving in the coming months.
If the plan is approved, a design and engineering phase would then begin to refine trail alignments, and cost estimates for permitting and construction documents.
Metro’s four sites in the North Tualatin Mountains total 1,300 acres and sit northwest of Forest Park. Land acquisition, restoration and the public access planning effort are all made possible thanks to voter investments in the 1995 and 2006 natural areas bond measures and the 2013 parks and natural areas levy.
Recreation opportunities ahead
The recommendation calls for a mix of hiking-only, off-road-cycling only and shared trails at Burlington and McCarthy. Equestrian riders will continue to have local access to former logging roads at the two sites.
Access improvements at Burlington would be made first, with improvements at McCarthy following once additional funding is available.
At Burlington, about three miles of former logging roads would be converted to shared-use trails, with scenic overlooks that would provide sweeping views of Sauvie Island and the Columbia River.
The recommendation calls for about two miles of new trails for hiking only, some through a nearby ancient forest preserve, and about three or four miles of new trails for off-road-cycling only. A parking area off Northwest McNamee Road would accommodate about 15 vehicles.
At McCarthy, access would be focused on the east side of the site to preserve critical habitat on the west side.
About a mile of a former logging road would be converted to a shared-use trail. New trails would include about three miles for shared use and about a mile for off-road cycling only. Scenic overlooks would provide grand views of the Coast Range and the Tualatin River Valley. A parking area off Northwest Skyline Drive would accommodate about 15 vehicles.
Exact trail alignments at Burlington and McCarthy would be determined during design and engineering.
The sites would be the first place Metro provides off-road cycling opportunities and comes after hundreds of cyclists voiced their desire for new trails near Portland. Metro is also considering the possibility of off-road cycling trails at Newell Creek Canyon in Oregon City, with a fourth and final open house scheduled for Dec. 10.
“Not everybody experiences nature in the same way,” Moeller said. “We heard that loud and clear from the public.”
During the community engagement effort, some off-road cycling enthusiasts asked for more trails devoted to cycling.
“We’re intentionally starting small so we can make sure we’re successful,” said Olena Turula, an associate regional planner at Metro Parks and Nature who led the North Tualatin Mountains planning effort.
Burlington and McCarthy were also chosen for public access because they provide different types of experiences and scenic views, Turula said.
Habitat restoration to continue
Through more than a year of community engagement, Metro also heard from many experts, neighbors and representatives of other public agencies who identified North Abbey, Ennis and the west side of McCarthy as core habitat areas.
In particular, Metro aimed to maximize protection of existing, undisturbed habitat areas of 30 acres or larger because they provide important benefits to fish and wildlife and improve connections between protected habitat areas. For instance, the properties are already home to native elk and Northern red-legged frogs, which the state lists as a sensitive species that’s under threat.
North Abbey is the smallest of the four sites at 211 acres and has the steepest ravines. The headwaters of North Abbey Creek form on the site and later flow into the Tualatin River, directly affecting water quality in Washington County’s main river.
“From a recreation standpoint, it offers the least opportunities,” Turula said. “From a habitat standpoint, it has a lot of elk and wildlife use, and the stream is sensitive.”
Though Ennis has seen some public use over the years, it offers some of the largest, relatively undisturbed habitat areas and sits near similar habitat in Forest Park.
Restoration work will continue throughout the four sites. In recent years, crews have removed invasive weeds, such as blackberry, Scotch broom and English ivy. Last January, about 20,000 native shrubs and trees, including baldhip roses, red elderberries and Sitka willows, were planted at North Abbey.
Ecological thinning at North Abbey and McCarthy over the summer and fall helped improve forest health by reducing high tree densities, boosting the diversity of native plants and creating wildlife habitat, such as standing dead trees.
A community conversation
Metro received more than 500 comments through three previous open houses, online survey forms and other engagement efforts.
Some community members asked Metro to close all four sites to public access while others requested significantly more trails, uses and access than what is included in the recommendation.
Patty Brumley, who has lived on 10 acres just north of McCarthy for 20 years, said she believes Burlington is more suitable for public access, but isn’t sure that McCarthy’s habitat will be a good place for off-road cycling. She worries about the safety of cyclists riding to the sites on narrow, winding McNamee Road and Skyline Boulevard and the safety of all visitors when the local elk mate and give birth.
Another neighbor, Jess Gutierrez, said he thought Metro’s recommendation was “a good start.”
“You have to look at what’s best for the largest group of people versus the individuals at both ends of the spectrum,” said Gutierrez, who owns 22 acres near McCarthy and Ennis. “You’ve got to compromise and work with people. You’re not going to please everybody.”
Gutierrez and his family like to ride their four horses on the former logging roads, but equestrian use wasn’t strongly considered earlier in the process. That changed after horseback riders in the neighborhood voiced their opinions, he said.
“I think Metro has done a good job,” he said. “They started listening to the equestrian community and adjusted. As far as the process, they did well. They listened to us.”
Off-road cycling enthusiasts say they’re excited about future trails.
“The most exciting is the opportunity to have some single-track mountain biking trails closer to Portland and to bring that outdoor recreational experience closer to many people who might not have cars,” said Andy Jansky, advocacy chair for Northwest Trail Alliance. He would prefer if Ennis remains open to the possibility of off-road cycling trails based on how well the trails at Burlington and McCarthy do.
Jansky served on the stakeholder advisory group, which included neighbors, technical experts and representatives of the Forest Park Conservancy, conservation groups, outdoor education groups, public agencies, schools and others.
“I’ve been involved with a lot of public processes, and I’ve been very impressed with this open and honest conversation that we’ve had and the members on the committees’ professional approach to dealing with conflict,” Jansky said. “It’s been a very good experience.”
Moeller, the conservation program director for Metro Parks and Nature, thanked the community members who invested time and effort to share their thoughts on the future of the North Tualatin Mountains.
“Part of the process is to keep asking, ‘Do we have everybody at the table?’” Moeller said. “These processes are never easy. They take a lot of time and emotion for the planners and the public. I feel lucky to work with the communities we do who care so much.”