RIDGEFIELD — Over the last six years, volunteers have dedicated thousands of hours every spring and summer to improving the trails at Whipple Creek Regional Park.
Then, every rainy fall and winter, much of that work is wiped away on the primitive trails after countless bicycles rip through and horses plod along the muddy pathways.
“They tend to really chew up the surface,” said Karen Llewellyn, volunteer program coordinator for Clark County Public Works. “It creates a lot of maintenance headaches in the spring and summer.”
So this rainy season, the county is trying something new: Limiting access to the park’s primitive trails. As of Nov. 1, the primitive dirt trails are only open to foot traffic. The 4-plus miles of gravel trails at the park remain open to equestrians and bicyclists.
The county hasn’t set a date to reopen the dirt trails to all park visitors. That will depend on the weather and trail conditions. Signs will remain at primitive trail entrances throughout the closure. Once the ground dries out, the county will evaluate the trails and see if the seasonal closure was effective, Llewellyn said.
Over the last six years, volunteers have donated 7,600 hours to improve the condition of both the dirt and gravel trails. Volunteers have rerouted some trails, improved drainage and spread gravel across the park’s main trails. In addition, they’ve realigned and restored many of the primitive trails, Llewellyn said.
In addition to reducing spring maintenance, Llewellyn hopes the trial closure will prolong the life of the trails.
“I hope that people don’t feel that we’re trying to restrict them,” she said. “There’s still lots of loops they can do and lots of trail they can use.”
Sharon Patterson of Portland regularly rides her two Icelandic horses on the Ridgefield park’s primitive trails. She rents a pasture for her horses just a few miles from one of the main trailheads.
Patterson isn’t bothered by the closure, though, because once the heavy rains come and the trails get slick, she sticks to the gravel trails.
“It’s not a problem for me, because it makes total sense,” Patterson said.
The only downside, she said, would be if we get a dry stretch during the closure.
But for Darene Bowyer of Ridgefield, the primitive trail closure poses a problem. She typically takes the shoes off of her spotted walker, Dusty, during the winter months. Without shoes, the rocks on the gravel trails are often too sharp for Dusty’s hooves.
Now, with the dirt trails open only to walkers and runners, Bowyer won’t likely ride at the park, unless the falling leaves offer enough cushion for Dusty’s hooves.
Bowyer is disappointed to lose her go-to trails.
“This park was set up for equine, not walkers, not bikers,” she said. “There’s a lot of trails for walkers. There’s very few equine trails.”
Bruce Klug of Ridgefield runs on the park’s primitive trails every weekend with his dog, Denali. He’s happy to hear the trails will be closed to horses and bicyclists this winter.
“The side trails get so bad in the winter,” Klug said. “You just can’t use them at all in the winter. They just get so chewed up.”
The seasonal closure will be on the honor system; parks officials won’t be patrolling the area for violators. Instead, Llewellyn said, the county is hoping the community will buy-in to the effort to preserve the trails and follow the restrictions.
“Most of the trail system is open,” she said. “It is graveled, and it will be in good shape for the duration of the rainy season.”