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No bike park? Lord Hill Regional Park master plans get reset

SNOHOMISH — After listening to constituents who hold strong views on both sides of the issue, Snohomish County officials say the county parks department has pressed the “reset button” on any plans to develop a mountain biking skills course in Lord Hill Regional Park (LHRP).
“There’s no long-range plan for changing the park from the way it is now,” said County Councilmember Sam Low of District 5, which includes the 1,400-acre park. He met with County Executive Dave Somers on Aug. 10, Low said, and Somers concurred. “He has the same thoughts I do. Keep things the way (they are) now,” Low said.
Low’s remarks come on the heels of recent challenges faced by the Snohomish County Parks, Recreation and Tourism Department regarding the park.
 On June 21, the department hosted a public meeting in Monroe, billed as informational, to gather input from park users via printed surveys. Park interest groups—such as Friends of Lord Hill Park, Pilchuck Audubon Society and Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance, among others—were invited to have information booths there.
The department quickly ran out of questionnaires, however. Turnout was higher than expected and attendees took more than one survey apiece, said Russ Bosanko, a parks department operations manager. Bosanko estimated the meeting’s attendance at between 250 and 350 people, but someone “walked off” with the sign-in sheet, he said.
“The county was unpre-pared with what happened,” said Don Heirman, a long-time park volunteer and mountain biking coach, who attended the meeting. “(They were) overwhelmed by the turnout.”
Those who failed to receive a printed survey were asked to complete a questionnaire online and had until July 19 to offer feedback, said Amy Lucas, a parks department planner.
Parks department director Tom Teigen could not be reached for comment.
Lucas also used the word “overwhelmed” to describe the department’s reaction to the volume of responses it received online about LHRP. Due to that volume, and summer construction projects, survey results may not be tabulated until
October, Lucas said.
The department also learned in July that it wasn’t selected for a $150,000 state grant it had hoped for to begin the process of
updating the park’s master plan. That “pushed us back even further” on the timeline to complete the master plan, Bosanko said.     
Despite diverse interests in the park, most parties agree on two things: Snohomish County is growing rapidly and so is interest in mountain biking. The question is how to reconcile this growth,
which brings both car and mountain biking traffic, with the desires of hikers, equestrians, naturalists,
bird-watchers, nearby homeowners, and others who fear a loss of quiet, safety, and animal habitat.
The parks department has been studying these issues with representatives of various user groups for over a year.    
Yvonne Kraus, executive director of the Seattle-based Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance (EMBA), said in an email that her group was asked by the county in August 2016 to present a plan for a mountain bike park in the southeast corner of the park. After learning of equestrian plans there, EMBA withdrew that proposal, she said.
“Lord Hill is an important resource to the Snohomish County mountain bike community,” Kraus wrote. ”(LHRP) offers a lot of opportunity for all
non-motorized recreational user groups, and we’re confident that any perceived user conflict can be resolved with good park planning and trail design, while ensuring habitat and wildlife protection.”
But some people disagree that the park can sustain both increased mountain bike activity and wildlife habitat.
Cindy Easterson, president of the Pilchuck Audubon Society, said her group “wants to work collaboratively with the county whenever possible, but will be a strong advocate for wildlife habitat.”
Easterson said she and other volunteers recently completed a systematic
study of birds in LHRP and found more than 60 species after surveying 43 different points in the park.
“(We were) so excited with what we got,” she said, citing a “cross range” of species that included owls, shore birds, hawks and waterfowl.
“The mountain biking people say we can co-exist, [but] there’s no way they can back that up,” she said. “The wildlife activity where they have (mountain biking) trail use will decline.”
The controversy is likely to continue as the county and user groups try to hammer out solutions everyone can live with.
“I’ve heard from a lot of different sides (on) this,” said Councilman Low. “There will be public discussion over the next few years.”

 

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