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Park users skeptical toward latest Lord Hill bike plan

SNOHOMISH — Snohomish County Parks, Recreation and Tourism Director Tom Teigen reiterated that he has pressed the “re-set” button on controversial mountain biking plans in Lord Hill Regional Park (LHRP), but some stakeholders remain skeptical and a petition drive is under way here to keep mountain biking at the park in check.
“They’re not giving up on their plans to turn Lord Hill Park into a major biking attraction,” said Rick Reed, director of the group Lord Hill Hikes and author of the petitions. He said Parks has merely changed its “terminology” after recognizing public opposition to its previous plans.
“They are not sincere,” he said.
Teigen disputes that. “The County Council, County Executive Dave Somers, and the parks
department (are) committed to a ‘re-set,’ committed to getting full public input prior to continuing forward with (the park’s) Master Plan update,” he said.
What parks is talking about now, Reed said, are “bike progression trails,” something he and other stakeholders fear is just a new term for enticements that will
draw more mountain bikers to the park. “They haven’t changed their goal at all,” Reed said. 
Reed said he already has gathered hundreds of signatures on two petitions that oppose further development — or changes that would “attract more bikers.” He hopes to gather up to 2,000 signatures before submitting the petitions to the parks department, select County Council members, and the County Executive.
One petition addresses concerns of the equestrian community; the other speaks to those of nearby property owners, who worry about increased traffic congestion if more mountain bikers are attracted to the rural park.
The latter petition reads, in part: “Parks Department Director Tom Teigen is the primary promoter of changes to Lord Hill Park to attract more bikers to the nature preserve. Mr. Teigen says he wants us to tell him what we want the County to do with the Park. Here, Mr. Teigen, is our answer: Leave Lord Hill Park alone.”
While the petitions also support improved signage, trail maintenance, and parking lot surveillance cameras, their main thrust is limiting mountain bike activity. The latter concludes with the sentence: “Otherwise, do not develop the park or make any changes designed to attract more bikers to this unique and fragile nature preserve.”
“This is not a preserve,” Teigen said in an interview. “That’s not what Lord Hill is. Lord Hill is a regional park. It’s an urban oasis.”
Teigen said he meets regularly with equestrians to address their concerns, and with a variety of user groups, including Friends of Lord Hill Park, the Pilchuck Audubon Society, and the Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance, among others.
Suzy Hannus, an equestrian and co-founder of the group Preserve Lord Hill Park, shares some of Reed’s concerns. In an email to the Tribune, Hannus wrote, in part, “The plans for (mountain) bike trails have been given a new identity. They are now known as Bike Progression Trails with Obstacles and they will be designated as beginner, intermediate and advanced trails and obstacles.”
Hannus, who said she was nearly hit by mountain bikers at both LHRP and the Paradise Valley Conservation Area near Maltby, expressed safety concerns for horseback riders, hikers, and other trail users. “(Bikers) see how fast they can go….
Their activity doesn’t mesh with the activities of other people,” she said.
Teigen emphasized his involvement with a variety of park “stakeholders,” and acknowledged the need of bikers and equestrians to have separate trails.
He said the Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance still is interested in doing “skills progression” trails in the park for bikers of different abilities; some of those would have obstacles.
“Right now what we’re working on (is) equestrian trails,” he said.
Reed contends that money issues are at the root of Parks’ interest in attracting mountain bikers because the department is chronically underfunded and understaffed. Its goal is to make LHRP “economically self-sufficient,” he said, ultimately by
charging user fees to all park users.
“That is the way you monetize a park,” he said.
Teigen said he has discussed user fees for LHRP. “At some point you are going to want to do that,” he said, and that could happen in the next decade. “You have to be a good fiscal steward,” as well as an environmental steward, he said. “We should certainly never say there’ll never be a user fee for Lord Hill Park.”
Hannus also is anxious to learn the results of a parks department survey about LHRP distributed last June at an “open house” in Monroe.
Parks was expecting about 75 people at that meeting, Teigen said, but nearly 300 people showed up. The staff ran out of questionnaires and invited people to submit their opinions online until July 19. About 75 percent of the approximately 400 surveys
have been “scanned” so far, Teigen said, and a summary of the results will be available in late December or early January.
When asked how they’ll evaluate data from the survey, which was created by Parks staff, Teigen replied, “Don’t know.”
“That was a bogus survey,” said Reed, the petition
writer, who also called it “ridiculously-worded,” “meaningless,” and “a farce.”
“They don’t really want public input,” he said.
Teigen said he left his business cards at locations where Reed left his petitions, thus inviting the public to contact him.
While he said he wants to give equal footing to “all citizens,” Teigen said he works closely with those groups who do
a lot of trail work and have “sweat equity” in the park.


 

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