A mountain bike club backed off on its proposal for Grand Forest North trails, but its opposition reiterated its same concerns anyway at an online parks board meeting Thursday.
The Bainbridge Island Mountain Bike Club deleted its “Skills Zone” from the proposal where aggressive jumps and obstacles would have been. It also reduced the number of trails from five to three, which now total .84 miles.
But the opposition did not back off on its concerns including: It goes against what the park was purchased for; the public wasn’t part of the process; it would displace wildlife; it’s not good for critical areas and the watershed; liability could be an issue; and more.
The Zoom meeting of the Bainbridge Island and Metro Parks Department board had as many as 170 people signed on, with hundreds commenting on chat. About 40 people signed up to comment in the meeting that lasted over four hours.
Dan Hamlin gave a staff report, saying the district’s 2020 Vision Plan explains that because trails are being used more, leading to potential conflicts, a goal would be to have some “site specific” trail development. He also said the Bainbridge Island Sustainable Transportation Plan encourages nonmotorized use. Use of bicycles on trails has increased, especially during COVID-19. Because of its popularity, the Land Trust also suggested the need for such an area.
Hamlin said sites were looked at at Gazzam, Grand Forest West, East Sakai, Fort Ward and the least impact would be at GFN. It has less wildlife, critical areas and human usage, about 17 people a day in one survey. It’s also centrally located. Bikers and hikers could use all the trails, but bikers would go in one direction and have the right of way on the three inside trails. Signage would point that out. People could “walk the opposite way and give those kids the opportunity to have a great time at the park. We think it can work,” said John Benges of the bike club.
His presentation started with a video of three families enjoying mountain biking. Parents said they worry about their kids riding along roads. They also appreciate getting their kids out of the house and being active. And they liked their kids appreciating nature. Of the new proposal, Benges said the trails would not be designed for speed or even advanced riding. Benges repeated mountain bikers would build and maintain the trails, so cost to the public is minimal.
He said soccer and baseball have their own fields, and tennis and pickleball their own court. The parks district provides for their “unique needs” so they need to “meet our needs as well.” Benges said opponents are telling them to “go somewhere else,” like Port Gamble, which has 60 miles of trails. But that would mean packing up the car and driving, adding to carbon emissions concerns. “The island doesn’t do that to other users,” he said.
Don Rooks, Kent Salisbury, William Glasser and Rosemary Hollinger represented the opposition.
Rooks said he mountain bikes but GFN is the wrong place as it’s supposed to have “passive” use. He said there are many other options. He also said the right of way part of their proposal goes against state law, which says bicyclists must yield to pedestrians. He also talked about the Land Trust’s “Heart of the Forest” between GFN and Grand Forest West, which would link all of the grand forests. However, he said mountain biking could jeopardize that.
Salisbury, who has mountain biked for 30 years, said the opposition did note the changes the bike club made but called them “unrealistic.” Some of the problems he mentioned were: parking, noise, traffic, safety, environmental damage, it would attract off-island riders and the original bond issue is being ignored. He said they put out a petition signed by 1,020 people, and on social media their survey shows 65% against bike trails and 35% in favor. He also said they put up signs and almost 100 were destroyed, “showing incredible and illegal disregard for public debate.”
Glasser said he has lived in the area for 30 years, and the intersection on Miller Road is dangerous as many people are using it instead of Highway 3 and going way over the speed limit. He said parks is wrong about GFN wildlife because he has seen coyotes, bears, herons, owls, eagles, hawks, osprey, doves and even a river otter that ate his koi. He said there are feeding, breeding and migration areas in GFN. He’s also concerned about water quality, erosion and wetlands, along with stormwater and watersheds. He’s also worried about how many trees would be removed, adding carbon storage capacity is lost with each one.
Rosemary Hollinger said she walks the park daily and sees all types of users. “It’s beautiful, peaceful, magical,” she said of GFN. She said this isn’t a clear issue because the “public isn’t of one mind.” She said this “extraordinary proposal” should have been open from the start. For 1 1/2 years mountain bikers had a place at the table but the general public did not. “A lot of hard feelings began at that point,” she said, adding it could have been more transparent and fair. She also expressed concern about the city’s liability. “Waivers are not always enforceable,” she said. In closing, she recommended the parks district work with the entire community in a transparent process that looks at many other areas, including private and public lands.
Two of the dozens of speakers said they like the idea of stepping back and finding a larger place that wouldn’t need a scaled back proposal.
“They’d have more fun, have their skills training and the environmental impact would be less,” Ed Campbell said.
Pam Walker agreed, saying, “I’m a speed demon. You need a great place to do your sport. You find that place, and I’ll be out there trying to build those trails with you.”
Penny Jones worries about injuries and liability, while Lisa Neal said it’s unfair to make trails available to only one group. Babette Gazarian Cherne said the mountain bikers should fund their project on their own land.
Two among those who spoke in favor were Steven Johnson and Scott Morton.
Johnson called mountain biking a “wholesome kind of family fun.” He said not everyone can do sports, but mountain biking is a lifelong activity. He said the older green community is trying to drive out kids – adding school enrollment is down because young families “can’t afford to live here.” He said BI should be a less exclusive place, not like a senior only restricted community.
Morton said the biggest threat to GFN is climate change, and the island would burn less fossil fuel if folks didn’t have to go off island to mountain bike. “I want to recreate closer to home and reduce my carbon impact.”