The Willamette Week published an article on Wednesday that specifically singled out Portland’s first public bike park, Gateway Green as being threatened by a loophole in Oregon law. Titled “Portland’s First Mountain-Bike Park Could Be Crippled by a Court Decision” it’s gone viral amongst local riders this week, concerned with the status of the park.
The topic of the article in question? Johnson v. Gibson, a case ruled on by the Oregon Supreme Court in 2016; a case that could have long standing effects on Oregon’s Recreational Immunity law, ORS 105.672.
The Oregon Public Use of Lands Act, ORS 105.672 et seq, provides immunity from tort liability to private and public owners of land that is made available to the public for recreational purposes. The purpose of the Act is to encourage both private and public landowners to open their lands to the public.
Our issue with the piece? It targets new project that has already faced its share of hurdles. The reality is that the 2016 ruling effects ALL parks and trails, as well as the volunteers that come out to help maintain them. Not just Gateway Green, but practically every mountain bike destination in Oregon, as they’re all maintained in part by volunteers.
With the case in question, Johnson v. Gibson, 358 Or 624 (2016), the Oregon Supreme Court answers the question posed to it by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals: Does the recreational immunity provided in the Public Use of Lands Act extend to employees of a landowner?
The Oregon Supreme Court found that it did not. Although the case was based on negligence of city employees, it appears it may extend to volunteers donating their time as well. As a result of the ruling, insurance costs for the our local mountain bike advocacy group, the NWTA have already risen.
I’m not sure how ORS 105.672 really effects the Friends of Gateway Green, or the Northwest Trail Alliance, as Portland Parks has already purchased insurance that covers their volunteers.
My opinion is that the headline of the Willamette Week article, “Portland’s First Mountain Bike Park Could Be Crippled by a Court Decision” is simply click bait.
It also appears there is legislation in the works intended to close this legal loophole. Hopefully this happens soon; things are already bad enough for those of us engaged in the sport in a community leadership role as trail builders, crew leaders, ride leaders or skills coach,
What are your thoughts? Here are some links if you’re interested in investigating further.
GSBlaw.com: The Gaping Hole in Recreational Immunity Under the Oregon Public Use of Lands Act
The Oregonian’s article from March 2016 was much more thorough: Blind Runner who stepped into hole in Portland park can sue city workers: Oregon Supreme Court
Oregon Supreme Court: Johnson v. Gibson
Jonathan Maus at Bike Portland did some investigating into the consequences of the ruling as well as the scary headline that includes a statement from Portland Parks: Portland Parks says immunity ruling won’t impact volunteers at Gateway Green, other sites – thanks Jonathan!