Cascadia Connect: Bringing people and nature together

Forest Park

 

Forest ParkOregon is a beautiful place to explore the outdoors; from kayaking on rolling rivers, to hiking trails along the Gorge, to biking along the chilly coast, Oregon is an outdoor lover’s dream. It’s no wonder that tourism – let alone population – is booming here. But as many of us know, with this growth and the change in driving habits comes traffic and parking problems that reach beyond city limits. While Portland may have a great inner city transportation set up, traveling to the great outdoors without a car can be difficult.

“We’re looking at ways to provide car-free access to some of Oregon’s most loved outdoor recreation areas. Right now if you don’t have a car it can be really difficult to get to these destinations,” said Kristen Stallman, a strategic initiative advisor in ODOT’s Portland area office. “If you think of going to places like Europe, you just fly into a city and you don’t have to rent a car: you can get out and go places because there’s a good transit system.”

Stallman is working with the team that helped initiate ODOT’s Columbia Gorge Express – a transit service that runs from the Gateway Transit Center in Portland out to Multnomah Falls – in 2016 to alleviate some of the congestion problems at Multnomah Falls. She looked at what was done in the Gorge, how much value it brought to the community, and whether or not this kind of system could be used elsewhere.Kristen Stallman

Along with members from Travel Oregon, Stallman created an action team through the Oregon Outdoor Recreation Initiative to work on improving access for people who want to reach outdoor destinations. This was the start of the project now known as Cascadia Connect, and it had an impact on the participants.

“I was really attracted to the project because I am an avid outdoor recreationist,” said John Whitman, graduate student of Portland State University and team member of Cascadia Connect.

Along with interviewing stakeholders and land managers around the state, the team took on a unique approach to the project: what better way to treat a problem than to experience it?

“The most fun and interesting component of the project was the site visits we were able to do,” said Whitman. “We used existing transit networks to get out to recreation sites to see how the current system is working, what could be improved, and what could be replicated throughout the state.”

“What we learned from Cascadia Connect was that a lot of the system already exists, but it’s a bit challenging,” said Stallman. “You have to work to figure out how to get to some of these great places. It could be so much more improved.”

Access for all

The project also opened up the discussion of equity. The team found that underrepresented individuals were disproportionally not visiting Oregon’s outdoor recreation areas.

“For the people who haven’t traditionally been connected with Oregon’s outdoors, especially people with disabilities, we want to make sure that certain tools or policies are being considered to enhance access for all,” said Whitman. Stallman agreed. “It’s going to take a coordinated approach: by working together, the different organizations and partners can make going car-free to the outdoors easier and even more fun because it becomes a part of the adventure. It’s not just for visitors, its promoting access for all in Oregon.”