On Thursday, Aug. 31, the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners celebrated the 40-Mile Loop and the Regional Trail System as “integral parts of a safe, healthy, and sustainable urban ecosystem for all community members,” marking decades of work to forge a regional trail network.
As part of a unanimously adopted Board proclamation, Jim Sjulin, a board member with the 40-Mile Loop Land Trust, shared the history of the trail network, presenting alongside Transportation Planning Manager Allison Boyd.
What’s known today as the 40-Mile Loop is technically 150 miles long, Sjulin noted — a system that connects community members to nature and healthier transportation options, building on trail-building plans that first took root in the early 1900s. Nearly three-quarters of the trails that make up the Loop are multi-use paths, with the rest set aside for pedestrians.
“The 40-Mile Loop is an assemblage of trails,” Sjulin said. “Many of them are well-known by their own name and each offering a unique experience.”
The Olmsted Parks Plan of 1903, a park system connected by pathways, served as a guide at the time for local and state parks officials who wanted a way to connect more people to close-to-home recreational activities.
But 80 years later, the plan was just 30% complete. And that’s when regional leaders created the 40-Mile Loop Master Plan of 1983, which aimed to finally connect the loop their predecessors envisioned, through a new system of multiple use paths.
That work is still not done, but Sjulin said the Loop’s focus on multi-use paths in recent decades is key to connecting the community.
Multiple use paths “are well named for their capability to accommodate multiple modes of transportation for multiple purposes,” he said, “including recreation, transportation, physical and mental well-being and importantly they provide a margin of safety that bike lanes simply cannot provide.”
Sjulin noted that Multnomah County was very much involved in these planning discussions, helping to fund and build multi-use paths.
The project will be 73% complete in just a few years.
“The 40-Mile Loop and the Regional Trail System not only will enable free access to nature, but also the ability to move from neighborhood to neighborhood, from city to city, and from home to work using a safe network of trails separated from traffic, multiple use pathways,” Sjulin said.
Commissioners echoed that sentiment, sharing their own experiences using the trail system.
“It was so great to get the historical perspective about the loop, the role that this County commission has played over the years,” Chair Jessica Vega Pederson said. “I also have spent many beautiful afternoons and days with my family in different parts of the trail, but not all of them, so there's always something new to explore.”
Commissioner Susheela Jayapal noted the intersection between the trail network and the County’s role as a local health authority.
“A lot of the transportation work that we do I think is so connected to the public health work that we do,” she said, “And this is an example of that. The public health benefits multiply the transportation benefits of this, and I have fond memories of riding segments of the Loop with my kids and walking it.”
Commissioner Lori Stegmann thanked advocates for their long, tenacious years of work to continue completing the Loop.
“The fact that you all have been part of this so long in your commitment, it's a testament to why this region is so special,” she said. “It's because of our natural beauty and all the amenities and the parks and the trail system. So I really want to thank you.”
Commissioner Sharon Meieran echoed that gratitude and said she was planning on spending even more time exploring the trail network.
“I am just grateful. There's so much in my district,” she said of her district, which includes Forest Park and the West Hills. “I've been on little tiny portions, but I will be on more and here's to getting to 100%.”
Commissioner Julia Brim-Edwards called the loop “a great asset for our community.”
“On a sunny day, it's beautiful to see how many people are out there using portions of it,” she said.
But she also warned that safety concerns in some areas could limit how many people are able to fully enjoy the breadth of the trail system.
“The only thing I'd note is there are portions of the loop that are less safe now to ride on if you were by yourself potentially,” she said. “Just thinking about who's the steward of the safety of people being able to access it.”
Sjulin acknowledged Commissioner Brim-Edwards’ concerns.
“We're aware of that issue just as much as you are, I think,” he said. “We're working on it. I feel like we're turning a corner in the right direction.”