That was the sentiment of some SW Portland residents at a packed meeting last night discussing the "issues" ("There used to be such a thing as 'problems,' now we have 'issues,'" noted city planner Paul Smith) over the trails that run all through Portland's woodsy southwest.

Eight years ago, City Council approved the SW Urban Trails Plan, which authorizes volunteer work crews from a neighborhood nonprofit named SW Trails to improve the footpaths winding mostly through "public rights of way" - swaths of land around Hillsdale that neighbors are responsible for maintaining but don't technically own. Since then, SW Trails has worked on about 25 trails and now some resentment and questions are bubbling up from people who own property along those paths.


volunteers buildin' stuff - via SW Trails

The big issue is, of course, money. Though no one has sued anyone yet and the law is not completely clear, it seems that if a hiker hurts themselves on the trail, the liability for the injury would fall on the person whose property the trail runs closest to. Neighbors in the area have been griping about this apparent loophole for a while and one man recently went so far as to tear out a set of stairs SW Trails constructed near his property because he was afraid he'd be liable for them. Property owner Larry Sloane thinks SW Trails or the city should be responsible for what happens on the path near his house. "Why does [SW Trails] liability cease the minute the works cease and they walk away?" he asked last night. "What about trails done with little or no oversight?"

This is interesting because most cities of our size don't have to deal with things like, "Who will clear brush from our trails?" because most cities don't have big swaths of woods in their neighborhoods. Portland's unique in that the border between residential and rural is much more blurred than most places. But not everyone's happy about how day to day living in the borderlands shapes up.

After the meeting, an older woman who didn't want her name in print listed the visitors who have walked down a trail and right up to her house. "An elk, a vandal, a thief and a vagrant," she said, continuing, "The trail is a nuisance. They treat it like a public trail but we're on private property. I pay property taxes on it." That woman, like others at the meeting, said they felt the trail maps distributed by the city and SW Trails threatened their privacy, since the trails run close to houses. "The trails are an attractive nuisance," resolved another neighbor.

SW Trails leader Don Baack said all trail projects were on hold until these issues are resolved, but in the mean time, he points out that all kinds of people appreciate the trails -- runners, schoolkids and neighbors who would rather walk through trees than along sidewalk-less roads. "All the projects SW trails have done have made trails safer," says Baack.

What's up next? What do you think, it's Portland: more meetings. The trails working group is convening again on January 13th.