Can Winslow maintain its trail network?

Common use by the public often runs into private property interests.

The hole knocked through a new fence north of Knechtel Way doesn’t just mean Ed Harris can complete his regular trail walk to Safeway.

“It’s also a statement,” the Wyatt Way resident said, as he loped along a shaded path leading to the fence.

“I think it’s great somebody punched through it,” Harris said. “Someone said, ‘Don’t close us off. Just because you have the money to move to Bainbridge doesn’t mean you can shut down the trails that we’ve always used.’”

Recently built on the south end of Winslow Cohousing’s forest easement, the new wood-paneled wall bisects an old foot trail that winds from Madrona Lane to the Village Shopping Center.

A plank was removed and two others pushed aside, allowing walkers to squeeze through and continue north along forested paths recently preserved by the housing cooperative with a privately owned conservation easement.

For trail neighbor Amy Kraig, the new fence is the most recent obstacle toward preserving downtown’s dwindling trail network.

“I’ve lived in Winslow since 1988 and have always enjoyed these really nice trails,” she said. “They’re great for the kids to go to the store and not have to walk by a busy street. They’re quiet and great for retired people and for doggies walking off their bladders.”

Kraig and Harris say they have watched the network of downtown trails – largely set on private property – shrink as Winslow has grown.

“Old-timers have told me they used to walk the length of Winslow to High School Road, without seeing concrete,” Harris said. “I hate to see the face of Bainbridge change. It used to be trails. Now it’s condos.”

But transportation planner and Winslow Tomorrow consultant Jim Charlier says the island’s face can express both.

“The fabric of your urban environment needs these pedestrian connections to thrive,” Charlier said to a group of residents at a recent Winslow Tomorrow workshop. “We know people are increasingly looking for places to walk. We crave that. Walkable destinations, like your downtown, are really (popular) now because we’re tired of being in our cars all the time.”

Charlier recommended that preserving and expanding the downtown’s non-motorized transportation network serve as the guiding strategy in Winslow’s planning efforts.

“It’s number one because you clearly want Winslow to be pedestrian,” he said. “You want flexibility when you get around. One day you want to walk, the next day bike and the next day take a car.”

Charlier said the dirt paths running north and south through Winslow don’t just boost transportation options, they also add to residents’ quality of life.

“To be able to stroll downtown on a quiet path is a really compelling idea,” he said. “You can’t have this really high quality, interesting experience on your way to see a play or have dinner downtown in many other places.”

Whose trail?

But preserving a network of spontaneously occuring paths on a patchwork of privately owned land will be a challenge for city planners, he said.

The city could simply buy narrow easements to lock trails for public use, but this strategy is often expensive, he said.

Charlier plans to map downtown’s trails this summer and consult with residents to prioritize which paths should be preserved and maintained.

Wins­low Tomor­row project manager Sandy Fischer said these recommendations, if backed with public and City Council support, could guide city policy.

“If the community decides these trails are an important part of connecting downtown, we can write policy that perpetuates them,” she said.

Char­lier said diplomatic means are more effective in the long run than the direct action exhibited by the busted fence.

“The landowner, in the end, wins,” he said. “The landowner has the law on his side and has no technical obligation to provide these trails.

“The key is not to let people get their heels dug in because options get closed off.”

Winslow Cohousing board member Audrey Watson agrees.

“Kicking boards out of our fence is not particularly the right thing to do,” she said. “There’s several other places in Cohousing we allow people to walk, but that (trail connection) is not one of them.”

Set on a steep slope, the trail rolls down a hillside that Cohousing residents are attempting to replant after years of erosion and foot traffic.

The new fence replaces an earlier structure blocking the trail that had long ago been pushed aside by walkers and others who used the forest to nap or drink alcohol, residents say.

The Malibu Corporation, which recently built the Meridian condominium bordering the Cohousing property’s south side, removed the fence during construction but recently replaced it.

“We’d rather not have the fence and just have natural vegetation,” said Malibu president John Erickson. “It was put there to appease our neighbors.”

Landscape architect and former Cohousing resident Tim Goss designed the Meridian’s grounds but had hoped the fence could include an opening for walkers.

“I would have loved to have convinced my old neighbors (to) put up gates that can open up,” he said. “But that’s always been contentious. There used to be quite a lot of couches and forts and clients from Helpline using the woods to sit and drink in.

Cohousing folks with kids nearby got anxious. But so many people use that path, and they’ll continue to use it. I don’t know if that will ever change.”

Rather than erecting barriers, Goss believes the city, walkers and landowners should strive for compromise.

“I fully believe neighborhoods should be porous for pedestrians,” he said. “Hopefully, people can work this out and make it a model for the future.”

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