City will launch $2.6 million trail improvement project at Kelly Butte this summer

    Kelly Butte photo by City of Portland.

    A 24-acre natural area in east Portland next to bike paths, arterial roads, and transit access is poised to receive a $2.6 million investment for new trails and visitor amenities.

    On Tuesday, Portland Parks & Recreation announced that Commissioner Dan Ryan has opted to inject an additional $560,000 in system development charges (SDCs) into Kelly Butte Natural Area, topping off the project budget and “ensuring its financial stability.”

    Ryan sees the heavily wooded parcel in the Powellhurst-Gilbert neighborhood — nestled between I-205, Division and SE Powell — as a way to provide outdoor recreation access for east Portlanders. The big question on our minds is whether or not the city will create quality access for people on bicycles.

    At this point the project will begin with development of a management plan that will lay out where trails might be built in the future. “Potential amenities, which will be determined through community engagement and design efforts,” reads the PP&R statement, “may include new trails, signage, and parking.”

    Open Street Map Cycle layer with RideWithGPS heatmap overlay.

    Riders say Kelly Butte is currently a very unpolished gem that would take a lot of work before it was appealing for a wide range of bicycle riders. The area is nearly undeveloped and only has a few rudimentary unpaved trails and one very steep climb.

    “It would be awesome if we could get access from the Powell side and the Division side,” said nearby resident and frequent bike rider Jordan Norris. “It would be cool to do an up-and-over.” 

    Portlander Michael Mann told BikePortland he’s ridden them and they are, “rough and brushy.” “Homeless camps randomly appear here and there, but the potential is definitely there for some sweet riding and easy access in a part of town that could really use this kind of stuff.”

    Ryan Francesconi, one of the founders of Our Mother Mountain, a riding club that focuses on unpaved routes and gravel riding, said Kelly Butte has “a lot of potential.” “We’ve been riding there for a long time, but it’s actually not that good, so I rarely bother.” Francesconi said existing trails are “meh.”

    For Francesconi, the most interesting part is that Kelly Butte used to be a nuclear bunker. The site was immortalized in a 1957, Cold War-era film titled, “A Day Called X.” The film was set in Portland and recreates disaster from a nuclear bomb. It reveals the park’s history as a sixty-bed municipal hospital that isolated patients with infectious diseases.

    Norris said you can still see parts of the bunker if you know where to look.

    In the coming months, PP&R will start a community engagement process with opportunities to share feedback about the design, dreams, and goals for the site.

    With memories of a rug being pulled from under them at Forest Park, River View, and most recently Rose City parks — local off-road cycling lovers are conditioned for disappointment from PP&R; but Mann won’t let past experiences prevent him from staying engaged this time around. “I’m choosing to see this as a positive. It might not be MTB Nirvana,” he said, “but it’s almost certain to be an improvement.”

    Stay tuned for updates as the outreach process begins.

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