Advocating for Access and Inclusion to Portland Trails
By: David Estrin
The Northwest Trail Alliance is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization based in Portland, OR with a mission to create a culture of land stewardship and community inclusion central to mountain biking. The NWTA pairs empowerment clinics with conservation to promote cycling as a means of transportation, freedom, and therapy. The logging and timber industry in Oregon has overtaken a lot of the land outside of Portland, particularly northwest of the city; this, coupled with land usage laws that favor this industry, makes it difficult for people to find an escape from the concrete jungle of Portland and its neighboring towns to find peace and tranquility.
Public access to land for recreation purposes is important for creating opportunities for people to enjoy mountain biking, running, hiking, and the general outdoors. In the Portland area, however, runners and hikers lobby strongly against cycling advocacy groups and therefore, less public land is available for use. This creates wasteful and unequal land usage and forces mountain bikers to build on private land, therefore restricting access to many, or building illegal trails on public land. By partnering with land management agencies and private land managers, the NWTA team is able to dedicate public land for mountain biking purposes while preventing harmful disruption of the natural earth.
Over the last thirty years of their existence, the NWTA has been able to serve communities in a stretch of land that spans from parts of the Oregon coast to as far east as the Mount Hood National Forest. They have even found innovative ways to create recreational spaces for cyclists (and even hikers) in the middle of Portland, where green space is limited. They also sponsor mountain bike clinics for all people to learn and improve their mountain biking, with emphasis on empowering women and the LGBTQ+ community.
My Connection to The Northwest Trail Alliance
Land stewardship and ecosystem preservation are personal to me because of my love for cycling and being outdoors. With the damage caused to the forests in the Pacific Northwest due to the expansion of the logging and timber industry as well as new innovations with materials, I feel strongly that this industry’s land would be better suited for enjoyment by the people. Furthermore, as someone who values exercise and the wellbeing that comes with it, I find being in nature as the most enticing way to get healthy. The physical benefits of exercise in nature are obvious but the thought-cleansing and meditational aspects are often undermined. Weakened mental health can be healed and nourished through time spent in nature.
Opening Opportunities for Trail Access
Inclusion is a major issue in cycling, as much of the sport is overwhelmingly upper-middle-class white males. Leaving the financial barrier of cycling aside, access is a crucial barrier in place that disallows many to enjoy riding a bike safely. Many take to riding on paths because of the dangers of being out on the car-infested roads, and many more voice their interest in riding on dirt as a fun challenge. Creating access to safe trails for folks to ride on is a big step toward inclusion of all in the sport. From expert-level trails to kid’s parks, the NWTA is making sure there are opportunities for everyone to ride, regardless of skill level.
Having helped to build trails in the past, I was hoping to head out to some of NWTA’s trail-building days to support the trail networks they have built; however, the recent pandemic has canceled all of the workdays for the year.
The Way Forward
The NWTA supports their goals by partnering with private land managers and land advocacy agencies at the county, state, and federal level and promoting efficient land usage. They are a unique organization because they combine the charitable aspects of a nonprofit with the advocacy focus of a regional mountain biking association, which is common in other states in the United States. NWTA runs trail-building days that offer volunteers and land activists the opportunity to be a part of the process of creation and conservation. The organization teaches folks about the care that goes into maintaining trails and best practices for preserving the landscape around them, despite the stigma often associated with mountain bikers that they destroy the land that they ride on. As opposed to traditional models of mountain bike organizations, the NWTA is offering an elevated platform of inclusion, advocacy, and participation.
Photography & Animation by Aimée Auguin
Recently, the NWTA worked with Portland Parks and Recreation to come to an agreement to build, manage, and maintain soft-surface trails for mountain bikers within the Portland city limits. This created recreational cycling access for many who use their bicycles as a primary means of transportation and don’t have a car to travel to trail networks. This was a milestone in their progress to create access because it was the first legal and purpose-built trail network within city limits for riders of all skill levels, from the day-one mountain biker to the hardened veteran.
Overall, with an emphasis on land preservation with a push for outdoor recreation, The Northwest Trail Alliance hopes to work with land management partners, both private and public, to create access for all to enjoy the outdoors on a bike, no matter their skill level.
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David Estrin – Content Marketing and Editorial Development
David is a rising senior at the University of Portland studying Business Marketing. He is a passionate cyclist, vegetarian, and lover of design. If he is not out exploring the world, then you’ll likely find him at home, trying to find new ways to eat vegetables.
My cause of choice: Northwest Trail Alliance