I have found myself studying, of all things, a site plan of a bicycle path in the City of Portola. Why would a small-town bike path be interesting, particularly one that exists only on paper? Perhaps because site plans, like all maps, seem so static, while the dotted line that represents the bike trail suggests movement and freedom. It is easy to imagine ourselves as tourists on bicycles in this small mountain town in the Sierra Nevada, tooling through the historic district, and then crossing the bridge into the riverfront area. Or maybe that dotted line, found on the update of the city's general plan, carries an added significance — a subliminal message, if you will — of showing all the parts of the town that ought to be better connected in downtown Portola. Looking at those connections in the city's new general plan update, in fact, is the best way to understand the strategy to revive the stagnant downtown in this city of 2,500 people in Plumas County. It would be wrong to suggest that that the plan of downtown Portola, especially the proposed Riverwalk and Old Town Corridor under discussion here, relies entirely on connections. Like all master plans, the city's general plan update relies on the construction of new streets and paths, new buildings and public spaces. Yet I would argue that the plan, prepared by Wade Associates of Sacramento, is an object lesson in getting the most out of bringing things together. And in a city with few resources and somewhat scattered attractions, making wise connections is the best way to get good weight out of planning. Like many other cities that have depended historically on the timber industry, Portola is casting about for ways to re-invent itself. The decline of logging has had a severe impact on a city that was essentially a railroad depot for timber. Tourism and fishing, while seasonal, have been a saving grace — except for the controversial program, sponsored by the state Department of Fish and Game, of poisoning nearby Lake Davis to rid the water of an invasive, non-native pike. The poisoning managed to kill the local fishing industry but not the pike, which eat the trout favored by anglers. The city apparently is looking to maximize its existing assets, which are strong. One is the city's adjacency to federally owned parkland, including campground areas. A second is the beauty of the Middle Fork of the Feather River as it meanders through the Sierra. And a third factor, possibly the city's single greatest source of international fame, is the Portola Railroad Museum. It not only has a collection a 35 locomotives but also offers lessons in driving locomotives and, for a price, will allow men and women who still fantasize about being Casey Jones — I'm a member of this community — to drive an actual locomotive around a circular track. The design problem, then, is how to bring all these disparate events into a single, coherent urban experience. The most obvious need for connection is between the older part of the city on the south side of the river, and the newer downtown on the north. Short of building new bridges, that means providing activity and lively uses on either side of the single bridge in town that spans the riverbank and the railroad tracks. In the Old Town area, the popular railroad museum is an obvious node for creating new activities and urban forms. To provide a better sense of an entrance to the museum, the plan proposes bending Colorado Street, a north-south corridor, so that it meets the east-west axis of First Street. The new quarter-circle-shaped block that results from this meeting would become a public green for "turfed recreation" and other events. A city block full of new restaurants, wedged between the public green and the railroad museum, would rely on its propinquity to these public areas to capture the lunch crowd. Visitors who want to walk off lunch might then be inclined to walk across the bridge to the river-oriented shops and restaurants on the river's northern bank. (This riverbank is a narrow finger of land between the river and Highway 70, two barriers that focus activity into a small area.) If visitors do walk across the bridge, they will find a collection of outdoor and camping-related amusements, including outdoor ice skating, camping, more "turfed recreation," and shops. The north part of the river bank is the most ingenious piece of connection-making in the plan, particularly in the way that the plan connects wilderness and urbanity in phases: starting with the federal park to the east, we go to a slightly denser, more settled use — the campground — then to a permanent building, the visitor center. Moving farther west, the plan provides several uses, including a park and an ice-skating rink, that buffer the campsite from urban life. The landscape grows more urban still as we move still farther west, passing by the amphitheater, the shops and restaurants, and the Memorial Hall Events Center. The weakness of the plan is that the two sides of riverbank need more connections, and hence at least one more bridge. One good spot for a new bridge would be immediately north of the Railroad Museum, connecting with the Visitor Gateway. Beyond providing more access between the divided downtown's north and south sides, a new bridge would make the bike path into a circuit that would allow our imaginary bicyclist to return to his or her starting point without retracing her route. And while I am generally a big supporter of parks, I am a little worried whether or not the several public greens in this plan will dissipate some of the energy in a downtown area where the experience of moving among other people can provide a pleasant contrast to the isolation of camping and fishing. This reflects an admittedly nostalgic note, because I remember camping outside Aspen, Colorado, during the 1960s. We woke up in tents, put on city clothes and went to the local music festival. It was a weirdly enchanting mixture of wildness and high culture. While Portola may not offer a music festival, the plan of the riverbank suggests the charm of leaving the forest and coming into a small city. Still, I hope it doesn't get too crowded in Portola. I have my heart set on driving a locomotive, and I don't want to wait too long in line.