Portland bikers and hikers are about to lose a key on- and off-ramp to one of the city's most beloved motorless superhighways.
By the end of the month, Terry Emmert plans to fence off the 10 acres surrounding the Eastmoreland Racquet Club, 3015 SE Berkeley Place, curbing access to the vaunted Springwater Corridor, a 17-mile trail stretching from Clackamas County to the south end of the Eastbank Esplanade.
Emmert, who owns a building-moving business, says he's got nothing against the health-conscious bikers and hikers (after all, he also owns a gym), but notes that the wooded area surrounding the health club has been invaded by homeless campers and others who have vandalized patrons' cars and harassed residents of a nearby development he also owns.
Pat Miksa, who lives nearby, agrees that the wood-dwellers cause problems. But she notes that dozens of cyclists and families use the path every morning.
Deep bicycle ruts grooved into the gravel path that leads to the club's paved parking are evidence of the trail's importance to commuters. In fact, in a recent survey of 900 local cyclists, the Springwater Corridor was voted the most popular path in the city.
"All around the county, people are begging for paths like the Springwater Corridor," says Jessica Roberts, of the Portland Bicycle Transportation Alliance, which conducted the survey this spring.
The former rail corridor starts (or ends) east of Portland in Boring, and stretches west until it comes to an abrupt stop at a concrete pavilion overlooking McLoughlin Boulevard. Plans call for an overpass to be built across the busy highway, but until then, a Portland Parks sign directs users to leave the trail, about a quarter-mile before the dead-end, onto a smaller path. The paved path crosses Johnson Creek and emerges from the forest onto the Racquet Club property.
The gravel parking lot is void of signs directing cyclists. But commuters have figured out how to get to Johnson Creek Boulevard, which turns into Tacoma Street and leads to the newest stretch of the Corridor, a three-mile trail along the Willamette River, which connects to the Eastside Esplanade.
Emmert says he was unaware of the bikers' use of his property when he bought the club in 1995. City officials confirm that while they had talked with the previous owner toward getting an easement, Emmert never signed an agreement.
If Emmert fences off the access trail, bikers and hikers will face a much more complex navigation. One alternate route is a steep, windy dirt path descending around the side of the pavilion, into a railroad yard and towards busy McLoughlin Boulevard. The other option is to head north, through a confusing web of neighborhood streets. These options work "only for the hardier riders, or those who really know the area," says Miksa.
The City of Portland asked Emmert to keep the trail open until 2006, when the overpass will eliminate the need for the Racquet Club access point.
After butting heads with city officials over numerous land-use issues over the years, Emmert isn't in the mood to give in with a government that he says has been unresponsive to the criminal activity on his property. "We've asked the city to enforce it, or do something, but they keep shining us on," he says.
Even though Emmert has been in contact with Portland Parks about use of the path, plans are still intact for the gates to go up within the week, a move which the BTA's Roberts says "shows a striking lack of civil spirit."