Lewis & Clark closed SW Trail #5 to all community members after concerns from neighbors amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The trail runs through campus and heads northeast to Macadam Avenue near the Sellwood Bridge. The trail entrance is near the outdoor pool and the rose garden. College Outdoors (CO) offered Riverview Natural Area Trail #3, which heads north off of the Fir Acres parking lot, as an alternative.
The decision to close the trail was first announced in an email sent by Director of College Outdoors Joe Yuska on Sept. 9.
“A couple of the neighbors that own the property (near) Lewis & Clark’s property are immunocompromised and elderly, and they’re worried about groups of students,” Yuska said. “They said there were groups of 30 students going down there at night making a lot of noise and going through these people’s property.”
David Reese, the vice president, chief of staff, general counsel and board secretary, confirmed that the college received complaints of this nature. According to Yuska, the college wanted to avoid potential lawsuits and keep first-years on campus to mitigate the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19.
“The college wants to be on good terms with its neighbors,” Yuska said. “Since there’s a pandemic, and immunocompromised people and elderly people are at high risk, they thought the best thing to do is to close the trail.”
LC had closed the trails on campus to the general public in late July in order to comply with an executive order issued by Gov. Kate Brown, J.D. ’85. The order mandated that college and university spaces only be used for official collegiate business.
“Only students, faculty, staff and persons with official College business will be permitted on College grounds,” LC said in a letter to neighbors. “We take this action with a heavy heart, but feel it is necessary in order to comply with public health directives from the State of Oregon.”
Reese said it was fair that the college restricted access to the trails for students, faculty and staff in light of the neighborhood’s complaints. However, he sympathizes with neighbors who are upset that LC closed its trails as they frequently use them.
“Although the neighbors have been generally understanding of the need to do that, why we had to do that, it’s also a significant inconvenience to them,” Reese said. “Some are particularly unhappy that the trail was closed.”
Dave Manville is in charge of the trail construction of SW Trails Portland. According to Manville, it is only recently that the trails associated with the college have been officialized. The organization functions off of legal and non-legal agreements with the owners of the properties that the trails run through. Because of this, he understands the decisions LC has made.
Manville supports that the majority of trails in Portland remain open, under modified conditions for COVID-19. He said he sees most people following the trail guidelines issued by the state government.
“We are not happy that Lewis & Clark closed (off) the school (trails),” Manville said. “But let’s just follow what the governor said.”
Reese said the trail closures are “temporary” and anticipates them reopening in the future.
“Hopefully once the COVID restrictions are lifted, we’ll be able to resume normal use of the trails both us off-campus and our neighbors on-campus,” Reese said. “In the meantime, we want to be a good neighbor.”