North Portland npGREENWAY route

Planning for the future of the npGREENWAY.

Modern history of the npGREENWAY dates back to the 1967 Oregon Legislature when the Willamette River Greenway was established to acquire land for parks along the Willamette River from Eugene to Portland. This is an excerpt from the “Project History” section of the North Portland Greenway Trail Alignment Plan (pages 4 and 5) whose PDF is linked at the lower right of this website.

The Willamette River is the centerpiece of the city, a valued resource that shapes history, landscape, economy, and culture. The RP/NR is a testament to how important access to, and along, the Willamette is to the community, including the ability to walk and bike to the river from neighborhoods and commute to work using riverfront trails. The Willamette River Greenway originated in the 1967 Oregon Legislature as a grant program to acquire land for state parks along the Willamette River from Eugene to Portland. The greenway evolved from a state parks and recreation program in 1970 to a natural corridor program in 1972. The Willamette River Greenway was then created in 1973 with the enactment of House Bill 2497 (ORS 390.310- 368). House Bill 2497 became Statewide Planning Goal 15, Willamette River Greenway, with a stated purpose:

“To protect, conserve, enhance and maintain the natural, scenic, historical, agricultural, economic and recreational qualities of lands along the Willamette River as the Willamette River Greenway.”

Goal 15 provides an overarching framework by which state and local governments carry out protection and enhancement of the greenway. The City of Portland implements Goal 15 through the Willamette Greenway Plan (1988). An objective of the plan is:

“To increase public access to and along the Willamette River. To achieve this, the Plan identifies a continuous recreational trail extending the full length on both sides of the Willamette River, but not necessarily adjacent to the river for the entire length. The Plan also identifies trail and river access points, viewpoints and view corridors, and provides direction as to their design. The purposes to be achieved by designating and requiring property owners to dedicate right-of-way or recreational trail easements include increasing recreational opportunities, providing emergency vehicle access, assisting in flood protection and control, providing connections to other transportation systems and helping to create a pleasant, aesthetically pleasing urban environment.”

To update the 1988 Willamette Greenway Plan, the City of Portland is developing the River Plan with completion of the North Reach as the first section. The River Plan is a comprehensive plan for the land along the Willamette River. The RP/NR, adopted by Portland City Council in 2010, included a trail alignment along the east bank of the Willamette River from the Eastbank Esplanade to Kelley Point Park. To implement the RP/NR, Portland Parks & Recreation (PP&R), working with Metro and Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT), renewed its commitment and effort to improving access and recreation opportunities along the NPGT by applying for and receiving a Regional Flexible Funds grant. There are many completed trail sections in northeast and north Portland (including large sections of the 40-Mile Loop trail); however, significant gaps remain. The NPGT fills one of the largest trail gaps in the 40-Mile Loop trail by connecting residents to the river, downtown Portland, employment opportunities, recreation opportunities, natural areas, and each other.

Read on for more chapters about the history of the npGREENWAY written by volunteers

The Ash Grove Cement Road

Ash Grove Cement (AGC) which operates a cement plant/lime kiln in Lime, OR, has two docks along the Willamette River just south of the Swan Island Industrial District, adjacent to the Union Pacific Railroad’s Albina Yard.

Ash Grove Cement Road

Entrance to the Ash Grove Cement Road as seen from Swan Island.

The southern most dock was, until a dozen years ago, an alumina import dock for Goldendale Aluminum which formally operated smelters in The Dalles and just down stream from the John Day dam on the Columbia River in Klickitat county, WA.  Both of those smelters have been shut down.  AGC purchased the old Goldendale dock and the two AGC facilities on the Willamette are now joined by a conveyor system.  These docks are used to transfer cement between ships, trucks and rail cars.

AGC, in cooperation with the UPRR, built a 20’ wide concrete road for accessing their docks from the south end of Port Center Way on Swan Island.  It immediately attracted attention of bike commuters to Swan Island as it is a water level, low traffic alternative to N. Greeley, Interstate and Williams Avenues, all of which present challenges to bicyclists.  Though posted “No Trespassing,” the UPRR crews usually just waved and enforcement by UPRR police was sporadic enough to not discourage most riders.  As the number of bike commuters to Swan Island grew in the last 10 years, especially to Daimler Trucks NA, enforcement increased.  The Swan Island TMA actively though quietly supported use of Ash Grove Cement Road for years, despite its “illegality.”

The Ash Grove Cement Road (AGCR), apart from being located on private UPRR property, has some issues, chief among them the necessity for bicyclists to cross five active rail tracks at very steep angles.  Over the years this has caused a number of experienced bike commuters to crash with broken limbs as a result.  A second issue is the connection along N. River Street from the south end of AGCR to the Tillamook Street rail viaduct.  River Street is a heavily used industrial access road.  Truck traffic on the AGCR consists of semi-tractor trailers hauling cement to and from the AGC facilities as well as semis hauling loads of cut lumber to the transfer station in the Albina Yard.  Rail traffic is limited to small sets of cement cars moving to and from the AGC facilities, short sets of grain cars moving in and out of the grain elevator just south of Tillamook, and likewise small sets of tank cars and occasional flat cars moving across the road on the Swan Island spur to Vigor Industrial’s Portland Shipyard.  These rail activities are almost exclusively take place at night.

Lenny Anderson at the entrance to the Ash Grove Cement Road.

Lenny Anderson at the entrance to the Ash Grove Cement Road.

npGreenway until 2014 fully supported the inclusion of the Ash Grove Cement Road in the Willamette Greenway Trail.  Alta Planning & Design did an initial scoping and analysis that showed that rail and truck operations could safely accommodate the trail.  UPRR has been adamant in refusing to allow any non-industrial usage.  Under pressure from the City of Portland, Swan Island businesses, especially Daimler, and the OR congressional delegation, the UPRR agreed to allow the City to analyze other options for a multi-use trail between N. Going Street and N. Russell through or around their Albina Yard. npGreenway agreed to discontinue their advocacy of the AGCR as part of this deal with the understanding that an acceptable alignment could be determined to be feasible.  If these efforts fail, npGreenway fully intends to continue its advocacy for the AGCR as the Willamette Greenway Trail alignment south of Swan Island.

By Lenny Anderson, 6/2015

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