Port hears comments on waterfront pedestrian trail

The Port of Hood River’s meeting room was packed Tuesday night with members of the public who came to weigh in on a proposal to develop a waterfront bike and pedestrian path planned for the west bank of the Nichols Boat Basin.

Approximately a dozen people spoke in the audience of 30, but most made the same requests to the port regarding the design:

Make sure there’s plenty of green space and make sure recreational access to the water remains unimpeded.

$122K grant

The Port of Hood River received a $122,000 grant last year for the trail, but the grant requires it be constructed by the end of 2014.

Similar suggestions were made by the 15-member project advisory committee also in attendance that evening. The committee is made up of a variety of stakeholders including local government, port staff, recreation groups, developers, and citizen groups.

The port has been planning to develop the Nichols Boat Basin for years and received a $122,000 state grant in 2013 for the creation of a bike and pedestrian trail along the basin. The grant, however, requires that a contractor has to be in place to construct the trail by the end of this year, which has caused the port to speed up, as of late, the planning stages of the project.

Walker Macy, a landscape architecture firm out of Portland, was on hand to present concept drawings of the trail, which would run north-south in between First Street and the west shore of the basin, providing a way to funnel people from the pathway that runs beneath the Interstate 84 overpass to the Event Site. Walker Macy representatives Mike Zilis and Christopher Miller presented various design styles that ranged from a bike and pedestrian path surrounded by green space to a more developed esplanade with permanent retail structures that might feature anything from cafés to kiteboarding schools.

The range in design stems, in part, from the uncertainty of funding outside of the $200,000 currently allocated to the project through state grants and port funds. The port reported that it is currently seeking two additional grants that if either is successful, could increase the port’s project budget to $500,000.

Port of Hood River Executive Director Michael McElwee said during the meeting that the project could “get more constructed in a shorter time span,” but noted the port “will not be able to do additional work without additional grant approval.”

Steve Gates, owner of local board shop Big Winds, was not in favor of the development of permanent buildings, on the site, saying that he would “hate to see buildings become a part of that space.” He added that he wanted to see continued launch access for kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding, and other forms of aquatic recreation. Currently, many residents drive their vehicles down the dirt path that goes to the water’s edge and use it as a launch for small, personal watercraft

“This is something that has received a ton of use by locals, probably more than the visitors at this point,” Gates noted.

Columbia Riverkeeper Executive Director Brett Vandenheuvel, also on the committee, championed a park with more green space and less parking and building space. Other Riverkeeper members stood at the entrance to the port office handing out information sheets promoting a 220-foot-wide park instead of the port’s initial proposed 130-foot-wide green space.

Hood River Mayor Arthur Babitz also advocated for green space, but suggested the need for an arboretum or larger vegetation, wryly noting that a large lawn would serve as little more than “wonderful Canada geese habitat.”

Hood River Parks and Recreation Director Lori Stirn asked the port consider developing economically sustainable facilities, and advised that “with lawns, you got to have somebody mowing it.”

Members of the public had similar suggestions. Jacquie Brown-Barone advocated the use of vacant space under the boardwalk proposed for the trail to store SUPs and other gear as a way to encourage users to walk from the downtown area to the basin instead of drive. She suggested it would be especially beneficial to children. She also offered up the idea of creating “pocket parks” to sprinkle some green space throughout the parking area.

Polly Wood of the Hood River Valley Residents Committee advocated for more green space, saying the park would not attract enough users if it was not substantial.

“Who wants to sit on a front porch that is too narrow?” she asked.

Eileen Garvin, who identified herself as a travel writer living in Hood River, said she felt that businesses should be allowed at the waterfront, but advocated food carts and seasonal businesses over “brick-and-mortar” buildings

“What I love about the waterfront is that you have the sense of immediate access to the natural environment of Hood River,” she explained, “and if you put up a three story building, suddenly you don’t have that vista and you feel more enclosed.”

After all the comments were received, Brian Shortt, a Hood River port commissioner who was sitting in the audience, told everyone there would be plenty more opportunities for public input on the project.

“Hopefully nobody is leaving here with some angst that this is locked, loaded, and see ya later,” he said.

The port plans to have public meetings Feb. 13, March 11, and April 8 on the project, all of which are scheduled to begin at 5:30 p.m. McElwee reported during the meeting that the port is aiming for construction to begin the first quarter of 2015.

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