Molalla River bridge

From left, neighbors Georgia Baker, Jason Paolo and Ken Baker stand on an old bridge over the Molalla River that’s long been an attractive nuisance. Critics worry about a proposal to turn the crossing into part of a recreational trail.

CANBY, Ore. — Before the barricade went up, neighbors were regularly aggravated by drinking and mayhem at a pair of bridges across Oregon’s Molalla River.

Blockading an access road — and regular police intervention — eventually discouraged visitors from the longtime party spot in rural Clackamas County.

Now that the river crossing is proposed to become part of a recreational trail, though, neighbors fear the eventual re-opening will bring a return to the bad old days.

“That is a huge mistake. The county closed it because they couldn’t control it,” said Ken Baker, a neighboring hazelnut farmer.

Neighbors complain that problems with trespass, camping, shooting, dumping and illicit activities have already increased since a private landowner donated the 3-mile stretch of abandoned logging road to the City of Canby in 2017.

“It’s frustrating that there’s a complete disregard for private property,” said Mitch Magenheimer, a neighboring landowner.

Apart from safety concerns, the proposed trail’s critics argue that it would complicate spraying pesticides, moving farm machinery and other agricultural operations.

Hazelnuts are harvested from the ground and adjacent orchards would be prone to contamination by trespassers or their pets, which has regulatory implications, said Baker. “Good agricultural practices are a huge concern.”

Critics argue that extending culverts and filling wetlands along portions of the trail, and then maintaining the corridor, will consume money that Canby could put to better use.

“I don’t think they’ve been forthcoming with the people who are going to be paying for this. All they’re talking about is rainbows and kittens,” said Jason Paolo, president of a neighboring gun club.

A similar proposal in Oregon’s Yamhill County — turning three miles of abandoned railroad into a recreational trail — was repeatedly blocked by the state’s Land Use Board of Appeals.

In its two most recent rulings, LUBA ruled that Yamhill County had failed to fully analyze farm impacts from the project in granting a conditional use permit.

At this point, though, opponents of the Canby project prefer to avoid the legal route and instead want to convince the city it’s not a worthwhile investment.

“We hope that through dialogue we can take the steam out of this,” Baker said.

The City of Canby is also seeking to strike a conciliatory tone with neighbors to solve potential problems with the trail, said Greg Parker, a city councilor and liaison to the bicycle and pedestrian committee that’s steering the project.

“From the very beginning, I’ve said I want to do everything that we can to ensure the safety, privacy and sanctity of neighboring landowners,” Parker said.

It’s unlikely the abandoned logging road would become populated by homeless encampments, such as the infamous Springwater Corridor in Portland, since it’s so far from an urban center, he said.

The Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office has also committed to patrolling and responding to incidents along the trail as necessary, Parker said.

However, a similar trail already owned by Canby hasn’t encountered such problems in 20 years, with users helping to clean and maintain it, he said.

Fences, cameras, patrols and official policies will help prevent safety issues, while measures can be taken to avoid agricultural conflicts, he said.

Right now, the city is still at the beginning of a planning process that will probably take five years, Parker said.

In that time, Canby hopes to work with neighboring landowners to mitigate their concerns about turning the trail into a public amenity, he said.

“Access to waterways is one way to bring us closer to nature, to make us happier, healthier and better people,” Parker said.

I've been working at Capital Press since 2006 and I primarily cover legislative, regulatory and legal issues.

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