With no formal public access, Newell Creek Canyon’s wildlife and verdant forests of firs, maples and Western red cedars have remained largely inaccessible for years.
That’s about to change.
After nearly two years of conversations with the community, Metro is recommending hiking and off-road cycling trails and improvements such as picnic areas, restrooms, parking, a nature play area and an overlook to allow visitors to access the 240-acre natural area in Oregon City. The site will provide an opportunity to escape into nature in a neighborhood surrounded by homes, businesses and bustling Oregon 213.
About 50 people attended a fourth and final community event Dec. 10 in Oregon City to review the recommendation and to share their thoughts.
Weigh in: Review the recommendation for public access at Newell Creek Canyon and submit your comments by Jan. 4, 2016.
The recommendation calls for more than a mile of trail to be shared by hikers and off-road cyclists. About a mile and a half of trails would be for hikers only, and a mile for cyclists only. All visitors would be able to enjoy views of the canyon and a small waterfall, a cedar grove and several ponds formed by past landslides.
The trailhead off Fox Lane would provide parking for 24 vehicles, with eight to 10 additional spots available in case of overflow. An entry plaza, restrooms, picnic and an overlook area are all included in the first phase of construction. If all goes according to plan, the public would be able to visit Newell Creek Canyon in late 2017.
The recommendation includes space for a nature play area, picnic shelter and overlook shelter if money becomes available later for additional improvements.
Coming up with the recommendation wasn’t easy. Hundreds of comments from community members ranged from requests to keep the site closed to public access to those wanting significantly more trails.
Metro’s recommendation lands somewhere in the middle, said Tannen Printz, an associate regional planner who is leading the Newell project.
“The hybrid trail system is the most flexible system to get both hikers and off-road cyclists to see the significant natural elements,” he said. “At the same time, we’ve also avoided the majority of the habitat area around Tumble Creek.”
One challenge was “groundproofing” the recommendation to ensure the proposed trails could be built, he said. Printz used GPS to walk each of the proposed trail alignments to ensure they would avoid the most sensitive habitat and would be feasible on the canyon’s slopes. Consultants with the International Mountain Bicycling Association also visited the site.
The recommendation will be formalized into a master plan in early 2016. Design and engineering, including further refinement of the trail alignments, would follow. Construction will begin once necessary permits are obtained.
Metro will continue to work with local social service agencies and police to transition illegal campers found in the canyon to local homes. The canyon has long served as a refuge for those without homes, but illegal camping also brings litter, dumping, unauthorized trails and other impacts that affect the habitat. The hope is that officially opening Newell Creek Canyon to public access will attract a steady flow of visitors and, in the process, help discourage illegal camping.
A community greenspace
The top priority at Newell Creek Canyon is to protect water quality and habitat for deer, Pacific wren, pileated woodpeckers, varied thrush, coyotes, Northern red-legged frogs and other wildlife. Newell Creek has native coho salmon and steelhead trout.
“The plan allows public access in a way that preserves our core goals of protecting water quality and wildlife habitat,” said Brian Vaughn, a senior natural resources scientist who has led restoration efforts at the site.
The Greater Oregon City Watershed Council launched a major restoration project in 2012, in partnership with Oregon City, Metro, private landowners and the Clackamas County Soil and Water Conservation District. The work controlled invasive plants. In their place, crews planted thousands of Western red cedars, grand firs and Douglas firs to re-establish the forest that historically dominated the site.
Metro started acquiring land in Newell Creek Canyon after voters in the region approved a natural areas bond measure in 1995. Neighbors such as Sha Spady campaigned for the measure, going door-to-door toting “vote yes” placards and installing a solar-paneled sign along Oregon 213. With the area rapidly developing, neighbors wanted to protect the watershed, its steep slopes and the significant natural area in their backyard.
“The fact that we have an open space to enjoy, I just think it’s a tribute to a community of people who refused to compromise, didn’t want development and did everything they could to ensure the land would be given to the next generation as an open space that they loved,” Spady said. “Newell is unique. When you step into the canyon, you’re just transported into another place, another feeling, another way of being that’s really lost to us.”
Spady, whose property borders Newell Creek Canyon, served on a stakeholder committee. Though she would have preferred the recommendation not include off-road cycling trails, she thinks the overall plan is a good compromise.
“I think the recommendation reflects a superb job of taking into consideration so many different interests and agendas that people in the community have for the use of the canyon,” she said. “I thought it was an excellent process.”
Andy Crump, a neighbor and membership director of Northwest Trail Alliance, said he’s “ecstatic” that off-road cycling trails are included in the recommendation.
“We really appreciate Metro’s efforts to come up with a solution that kind of balances everybody’s needs,” he said. “When we went to the first meeting, it sounded like it’d be a real tough challenge to even get trails. That Metro had these open houses and we all went and they listened to us, I can’t say more about how impressed I am.”
With just over two miles of trails that would be accessible to off-road cyclists, Newell Creek Canyon would likely attract beginning and intermediate cyclists and families, he said. It wouldn’t be a “destination” like the popular, extensive cycling trails at Sandy Ridge is near Sandy.
“It’d be awesome if you live in the area and have a family,” he said. “You could take your kids down there, ride around for a little bit and come back.”
Blane Meier hopes the opening of Newell Creek Canyon – as well as historic Willamette Falls – will help turn Oregon City into an epicenter for recreational cycling in the coming years. Meier owns First City Cycles bicycle shop in downtown Oregon City and is also planning to open a market and bistro nearby.
As an experienced road bicyclist but novice off-road cyclist, Meier is already making plans to try out the future trails himself.
“If I don’t know how to do mountain biking, to go up to Sandy Ridge, that would be quite intimidating,” he said. “Here, I’d be able to start at Newell Creek Canyon and take my time because they’re not going to be aggressive trails. I think it’d be a great way to educate people about outdoor recreational cycling.”