Commit more to building good trails

The machete and the mattock.

They make fine instruments in the cause of public service, as anyone who’s volunteered on a trail construction crew might tell you. Once a month for some time now, a cadre of volunteers has been turning out to forge new paths through Blakely Harbor Park and other forested public areas, working to improve our network of non-motorized connections.

Where intrepid islanders have gained expertise through experience, we now have a chance to learn from the Seabies (“Treebies”?) of the off-road world. As reported last week, a crew from the International Mountain Bike Association will be on the island for a few days, here to teach local folks the finer art of trail building. The workshop and hands-on construction series begins with a slide show at 7 p.m. July 8 at the Hat Factory Studio on lower Madison; classroom sessions and field work run July 10-11. Signups are under way; organizers say the emphasis will be on building sturdy, multi-use public trails that will stand up to bikes and horses as well as the humble booted foot.

We applaud island trails advocate John Grinter and the Bainbridge Island Park and Recreation District for bringing the IMBA trail crew to share their knowledge. We trust the workshops will provide fresh inspiration for those volunteers committed to building more paths, more traveled.

The question that follows next is, why not accelerate

the pace of local trail development? Indeed, why

leave trail building strictly to volunteers?

We are moved to ask this question largely thanks to the excellent work of the city’s Open Space Commission, which has added considerable acreage to public holdings – the Peters and Close properties near Gazzam Lake, the “Lost Valley” at the Head of the Bay, the route staked out between the Grand Forest and Battle Point. Tourism advocates say the Bainbridge trail network can become a regional draw for Northwest hikers and their dollars. Yet current estimates are that there are several years worth of trail work just waiting for volunteer labor and time.

We’ve argued in the past that the city should commit some financial resources to the removal of ivy and other invasive plants to protect our public forests; we think it’s time to embrace that responsibility, and extend it further to trail development. Each year, the city budgets $50,000 or more for salaries for seasonal hires – typically, college students eager to make some tuition money working outdoors – who perform mowing, weeding and other grounds maintenance chores around such facilities as Waterfront Park, City Hall. Why not expand that program to include improvements to our new open space, creating our own civilian conservation corps?

Dumping newly acquired public lands on the park district and expecting them to fund improvements is not the answer. Neither should we count on volunteers to shoulder the whole burden of trail development. There’s too much to be done.

With trail building becoming an economic development issue, perhaps it’s time to invest in it as such.

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