Future Plans to Develop Molalla Forest Road Trail Could See Connection with Willamette Valley Scenic Bikeway

Of the some-34 million total overnight stays in Oregon each year, only 16 percent of those happen in the Willamette Valley. However, when you narrow the focus to bike enthusiasts, the majority of overnight stays are attracted by the Willamette Valley Scenic Bikeway, which draws almost twice as many cyclists as the next most popular bikeway.

The 134-mile stretch winds from Armitage County Park just outside Eugene all the way to the Champoeg State Heritage Area, hitting many quaint little towns along the way. Canby is not one of them, but that may not always be the case.

A desire to, potentially, connect with the Willamette Valley Scenic Bikeway is one of the motivations behind the planned development and expansion of the Molalla Forest Road Trail, which was recently given a boost in the form of a $35,000 regional tourism grant from Clackamas County.

Supporters of the project have an ambitious vision for what the Molalla Forest Road Trail could become. They believe it has the potential to be a recreation destination for not only cyclists but also hikers, kayakers and equestrians.

Like the Scenic Bikeway, the MFR closely intertwines with much of the area’s heritage and culture. It was designed as a logging road, one that extended 50 miles from the Table Rock Wilderness all the way to the banks of the Willamette River north of Canby, where raw timber would be floated down to the mills at Willamette Falls for processing.

“The MFR path allows visitors to see and experience the resources so sought by the indigenous peoples and the pioneers as it allows access along the Willamette and Molalla Rivers, travels through fertile farmlands, finally ascending into the forested mountains,” the city said in its successful grant application, adding: “It also has the potential to be a key link in eventually connecting to the Willamette Valley Scenic Bikeway through Molalla River State Park.”

A master plan exists for the development of the MFR, one first championed in 1994 by then-State Representative, now-U.S. Congressman Kurt Schrader. The earlier plans ran into trouble with lands that were privately owned and being used commercially.

One of these major barriers was removed in December 2017 by the Traverso family’s generous donation of 81.4 acres of land, including 3.5 miles of the Molalla Forest Road trail. If fully developed, the Traverso portion would effectively double the existing Molalla River Forest Trail, which currently terminates at 13th Avenue.

Once the Traverso Trail is connected, the MFR will feature a total of 7.3 miles of trail from the banks of the Willamette River, through Canby and terminating at Macksburg Road — less than 5 miles from the city of Molalla.

Creating a plan for clearing, developing and connecting the Traverson donation with the existing MFR trail is one of the main goals of the $35,000 grant project, but plenty of challenges remain on the horizon.

“Concerns of adjacent landowners need to be heard and addressed,” the city admitted in their grant application. “Additionally, ownership, easements, and rights-of-way are a complicated puzzle along the MFR that need to be dissected by a qualified contractor with help from City planning staff who have dedicated time to this project.”

With letters of support from the Canby Bicycle and Pedestrian Citizen Advisory Committee, Canby Heritage and Landmark Commission, and Willamette Falls & Landings Heritage Area Coalition, the grant was approved for the full amount requested.

The next steps involve issuing a request for proposal and selecting a consultant to lead the project.

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