The Portland region is known for its bike friendly culture, and the State of Oregon has recently started to push its agencies to include bicycling into its transportation network, economic strategy (pdf), and statewide tourism plans. Now, several key projects are being planned around the Portland metro area that look to make the forests, mountains and water bodies easier to access without automobiles. These major projects, found on the map above, include the Salmonberry Trail (pink), the Crown-Zellerbach Trail (dark blue), the Yamhill County Rail-to-Trail (Yellow), the Springwater Trail extension (orange), the Tickle Creek Trail (purple), and the Mt. Hood Connector (dashed purple). The map above also highlights some of the existing (green) and proposed (light blue) trails in the Portland regional trail system.
The proposed Salmonberry Trail follows the badly storm-damaged Tillamook Railroad alignment from just North of Banks to Tillamook proper after it crosses the Coastal Range down the Salmonberry River Canyon. This would technically be a rails-with-trail project as the Port of Tillamook Bay wishes to maintain the possibility of restoring rail service to the ROW eventually. There are three trails proposed to connect the Banks-Vernonia Trail (along with the Salmonberry) directly to the Portland area, but until those are built there are State designated bike corridors on local roadways. The Salmonberry proposal is currently in the feasibility process, but the current study is looking at a paved surface for hiking and biking flanked by an equestrian path on one side and the freight rail line on the other. This 86-mile corridor goes through some of the most beautiful forests and some of the most rugged terrain on the Oregon Coast, making it a very desirable place to have non-motorized access to.
The Crown-Zellerbach Trail is another old railroad alignment connecting Scappoose with Vernonia and its popular Banks-Vernonia State Trail. The old rail line was once used to haul old-growth timber from the hills down to the Willamette River, but those days are long since past. The surface is only hard-packed gravel right now, but it could be paved in the future. A highlight of this trail is an old timber-frame tunnel, but that section is currently bypassed until funds become available for a safety retrofit.
The Yamhill County Rail-to-Trail is a yet-unnamed proposal to convert the abandoned Oregon and California Railroad from Gaston to McMinnville. North of Gaston, parts of the railroad are still in use, but the city of Forest Grove has already built a trail alongside the ROW that could eventually connect to this trail, and then connect further to the Banks-Vernonia and Salmonberry Trails.
The Springwater Trail extension, better known as the Cazadero Trail, is the last section of the old railroad that starts in Portland and ends near Estacada that once belonged to the Oregon Water Power Company. This trail is being slowly built one section at a time by the Metro Regional Government as funds for construction and land acquisitions become available. An offshoot of this trail is the Tickle Creek Trail that is being spearheaded by the City of Sandy. Sandy has already built a section of this trail within its city boundary, but now wants to connect it to the Springwater Corridor near Barton. The aim is to create a world-class bicycling route from Mt. Hood to the Portland Region for recreation and tourism purposes. The remainder of the route, from Sandy to Mt. Hood, is being looked at by the State DOT and regional planners (pdf).
The thing that excites me about all of these trails is their impact over time for the region. When a public trail gets built, it is there forever. Public trails are catalysts for conservancy and environmental protection, and create linear spaces that are enjoyed for more than just recreation, but also for a sense of place, a sense of connectivity. Imagine, if all of these trails get built, it would then be possible to have things like the hood to coast relay routed only on non-motorized pathways, completely off of highways, roads and streets.