Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Geer Park: New Site for Pump Track offers Deep Cut of Local History

The Salem Area Trail Alliance formally announced some news and a change in plans this morning:
Many of you may have heard that the facility will not be built in Wallace Marine Park. Environmental assessments of the area found that our good friend, the Western Pond Turtle, has nesting sites in and around Wallace Marine Park. The Western Pond Turtle is a “species of concern” in the region. While mitigation measures are possible, it seemed more prudent to give this creature its needed breeding space and begin exploring other locations for the facility.
Gov. T.T. Geer
SATA’s Bike Park and Trail Facility committee has been working with the City of Salem over the past 8 months to find just the right place to locate this amazing community-focused project. We have explored many possible parks in Salem over the past several months - the committee conducted assessments of each, trying to find that right balance between access and topography – and we found it! We are excited to announce that the facility will likely be built at Geer Community Park. SATA received unanimous support from the Northeast Salem Community Association just last week. Geer Community Park has much to offer and the topography and soil type are a great fit for this project. We’ve already started developing some rough concept plans for the pumptracks, halfpipe feature and trails:
Concept sketch for pump track and bike park at Geer Park
Ah, but crisis is also the mother of opportunity! - or something like that.

Wait, there's an important dead white guy involved!

Governor Theodore Thurston Geer  (1899 - 1903) frequently biked to the Capitol from his farm on State Street above Macleay and from his part-time residence on State Street inside Salem. Getting a bike was headline news.

And once in office, in February 1899 he signed into law Oregon's first Bike Bill. (It wasn't very successful legislation, and it's very hard to spin it as anything other than a failure, so that's an important part of the reason it has been forgotten, but it was still a law on the books until 1913, when the Highway Commission was established!)

In 1900 as one of the first acts of the nascent Oregon Historical Society he visited Champoeg to locate the site of the 1843 meetings on wolves that led to the first Provisional Government, and to meet with F.X. Matthieu, believed to to have been the only remaining survivor of those meetings.

He biked there. In his 1911 memoir, Fifty Years in Oregon, Geer wrote about this ride:
I shall never forget that beautiful ride from Salem to Champoeg. It was a perfect day, with a firm north breeze, not a cloud in the sky; the roads were in good condition, the crops were growing splendidly, birds were singing everywhere, seemingly to be in harmony with Nature’s glad mood – it was, in short, just that sort of day which is known in all its wealth of joy, beauty, and inspiration only in the Willamette valley in the spring and summer months.
Governor Geer at Champoeg in 1900
Geer didn't stick with bicycling. It was the fashion for a while, he joined in, even exercised leadership, but it didn't lead to anything enduring. It was a blip, but a big one.

With links to all that, having a bike park at Geer Park is one of the best things that could possibly happen!

Geer Line - Salem (1917) and Stayton (1925) USGS maps
Geer Park is at right-hand number 25 in center
I-5 follows the survey line exactly here!
In addition to this nod to our first bike boom, there's also a chunk of rail history here. The "Geer Line" was built in stages from the Depot to the Prison in 1881, and then out to the wye with the Silverton-Stayton line in 1912, and you can still see the railroad alignment through the park area and dead-ending at I-5.

Unfortunately ownership of the Geer Line has become increasingly fragmented, and seems unlikely this could become a rails-to-trails project.

But because of the massive north-south barrier I-5 represents, and the unpleasantness of the existing east-west connections along very busy arterial roads, we should keep in the back of our minds the opportunity a trail conversion still represents for key connectivity.

(A Willamette student did a thesis on the rail-to-trail concept in 1999, when ownership was less fragmented, and not executing on the trail conversion has to count as one of the City of Salem's biggest missed opportunities. Perhaps the prospect and then actuality of a bike park here will renew interest in a full or partial trail project.)

So there you go. The proposed bike park here will be at a nexus of some important transportation and bicycling history. (There's lots more, of course. His uncle's farm on which he spent lots of time still operates as Geercrest Farm, and uncle Ralph is part of Homer Davenport's story as well as an important orchardist. Concentric rings of history radiate out from just about any point here.)

This will be great to see.


d. davis said...

I still mourn the filled-in underpass where the rail line when under I-5. It probably would have been an enforcement nightmare but a valuable east/west link.

Mr.Thomas said...

I have always seen the rail alignment here and thought it was such a waste that it was not made into a pedestrian/bike friendly east/west corridor. So many other cities in Oregon have made great opportunities with trails like this. I do hope some day the political will can still drive this project. It would be a great connection from Geer Park headed east. In order to develop it now, it seems an overpass would be necessary, but that would ultimately be safer and easier to enforce than a tunnel.