Two large groups of people will face off in front of the Bainbridge Island parks commissioners to decide if mountain bike trails will be built at North Grand Forest.
Proponents say there are a growing number of mountain bikers who need places to ride. While they share all the trails on the island with other users, supporters say they need their own facility – such as what others have at skateboard parks, tennis courts, pickleball courts, etc. However, proponents emphasize that even if the new trails are built, only one uphill one-way trail will not be for other users.
Those in opposition say North Grand Forest, when it was purchased, was supposed to be for passive use. It was supposed to be for wildlife and remain in its natural state as much as possible. And trails there, just like everywhere else on the island, should be all-inclusive.
The stances of the parties involved are shared below:
The Grand Forest encompasses 240 acres across three parcels, with approximately 8 miles of trails in largely second growth forest that was previously a state Department of Natural Resources tract. The Grand Forest was purchased through a local bond and grant funds in 1989. The $5 million bond levy passed with 82% approval. It is now paid off. Grand Forest is a popular destination for trail users. It has a canopy of lush firs, cedars and maples and a few giant conifers. Trails are relatively flat with few inclines and a trail surface of dirt, mulch and gravel.
The West Grand Forest (121 acres) is a trail user destination with the “Main Trail” loop being a flat 1.5-mile walk with wood bridge over Issei Creek and a small pond on the eastern boundary shared with Hilltop. There are three connecting pathways that lead from West to East Grand Forest with The Forest to Sky Trail the longest (1 mile) and leads to Battle Point Park. The North Grand Forest (39 acres) is a separate non-contiguous parcel with similar terrain and forest canopy. A deal is in the works to connect those two parts of the parks. Approximately 10 parking spaces are located at Miller Road and the West Grand Forest and eight spaces at the East Grand Forest, Mandus Olson Road.
Dan Hamlin, Park Services Division director, said the district’s programming for mountain biking has grown over the years, and there’s been an uptick during the pandemic. When mountain bike clubs approached the district with the idea of building and maintaining trails the district agreed to listen.
”User conflict is the biggest challenge with trail management” mixing mountain bikers with other users. “This idea seemed good to us because it provides an outlet for the kind of trail riding that other folks are concerned about sharing the trail with.” However, Hamlin emphasized if trails eventually are built at North Grand Forest they will not be exclusive to mountain bikers, although the activity is likely to cause some to avoid the center trails.
”Trail No. 4 is uphill only for bikes making it less of a concern for hikers. The outer loop will remain multi-use,” he said, adding equestrians will be limited to the outer trail, which will be improved if the proposal is approved.. He said North is not used as much as other parts of Grand Forest. On a recent visit he saw no one enter the trail system for 1 1/2 hours.
Hamlin said he finds it ironic that for 10 years mountain bikers have used North Grand Forest without complaints. The complaints only started when the new trails were discussed. Hamlin said there would be no trails at North at all if it wasn’t for the Gear Grinders mountain bike club for middle and high schoolers. Prior to 2010 the site was chocked off with fallen trees with no district maintenance due to limited resources and limited use. “It was only because we had a stewardship group that we opened it,” Hamlin said of the Gear Grinders.
He said they are already looking at ways to mitigate new trails. ”It will just be designed in a way that is more fun for the bike riders with flowing banked turns and such that control the speed at intersections, have site lines for user safety, and are built to sustainable trail construction standards that mitigate any negative impacts to the environment. We are conducting a wildlife biology review to determine the impacts of the design on existing wildlife, considering changes to the skills zone, considering the proximity of the interior trails to the outer multiuse trail, and looking to make sure all four of the downhill trails are necessary.”
Terry Lande, executive director parks district, added 800 kids are involved in their mountain biking programs every year. He said the Gear Grinders already have been using the one outside loop trail at North a few times a week after school. They looked at other sites, but none seemed to work as well.
Lande emphasized that the district wasn’t trying to keep this project secret. It has been in the investigation and research phase, just like any project. Now the project will be coming before the park commissioners for a few meetings where they and the public can ask questions. “There will be a lot of input on both sides,” Lande said. “You didn’t miss your chance.” Lande said some things he likes about the project is the club plans to build the trails with volunteers and its own money. They also will maintain the trails.