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Lord Hill Park users share diverse visions, new effort ramps up

SNOHOMISH — While there still may be obstacles to overcome, both literal and philosophical, on planning Lord Hill Regional Park, some stakeholders expressed optimism after a meeting last month with county parks officials in which they were given time to formally present their views.
In addition, a recently formed 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, Lord Hill Park Advocates, has pledged to support raising the estimated $150,000 needed to fund an environmental impact study of the park, which many consider important for future planning.
The county failed to secure a state grant for that amount last summer, which stalled progress toward an updated park master plan.
Rebecca Chatfield, who lives near the park and is a self-described environmentalist, hiker and “long-time horse person,” organized the Lord Hill Park Advocates group.  Chatfield said her group also wants to help pay for trail maintenance and safety patrols.  The organization hopes to “partner cooperatively” with the parks department, she said.
Chatfield and others believe an environmental impact study is crucial to planning—and to preserving the present character, and original intent, of the park.
“An environmental impact statement is imperative,” said Rick Reed, who represented Friends of Lord Hill Park and Lord Hill Park Hikers at the March meeting. “That needs to happen.”
Stakeholders were invited to give 10-minute presentations at the meeting. Reed shared a copy of his remarks with the Tribune. 
Reed’s six-page statement, aimed at maintaining the “quiet, slow, peaceful environment” in the park, contained numerous requests, including to: “Limit trails in the Park to 35 miles. … (11 multi-use miles and 8 miles dedicated to each of the hiking, biking and equestrian communities.)”
“Do not modify bike trails to include berms, obstacles, and jumps,” Reed wrote. “Such features that have recently been added to bike trails should be removed and the dangerous holes that have been left behind should be refilled.” 
Reed said enhancing the bike trail system would “attract a significant increase in bike traffic and pose safety dangers ruining the quality of user experience for everyone else.”
Yvonne Kraus, executive director of the Seattle-based Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance, said the park needs mountain biking facilities, but it shouldn’t be a “destination park.” 
There are a few individuals “who will not respect the mountain biking role in the process and the park,” she said.
 She believes the parks department is pursuing the right number of trails and trail types. When asked about Reed’s trail mileage proposal, Kraus said it was acceptable to her. “Yes, that’s been the plan all along. The plan is to have equal distribution (of trails).”
Sandra Baird, coach of the Snohomish Student Mountain Bike Team, presented benefits of mountain biking for youth at the March meeting, including getting kids outside. 
Baird said her team practices about twice a week at Lord Hill Regional Park, helps with trail work, and meets annually with an equestrian representative to learn trail etiquette. “Their (equestrians’) lives are in danger, too, if riders go up and spook a horse,” she said.
Danger to horse riders and hikers from speeding, unobservant mountain bikers — as well as the degradation of trails — has been one of the key concerns presented to the parks department in recent months.
Reed wrote that his groups do not believe the parks department has followed the evaluations called for in the 1996 Lord Hill Regional Master Plan, which reads in part to: “Preserve the natural, undeveloped character of Lord Hill and protect wildlife and their associated habitats … Allow mountain bikes on the trails on a trial basis” and evaluate whether mountain biking creates degradation to sensitive areas or conflicts between park user groups.
“We call on (Snohomish County Parks) to honor the Master Plan and seriously, objectively evaluate the impact of mountain bikes on the park,” Reed wrote.
Cynthia Easterson, president of the Pilchuck Audubon Society, said she’d had concerns about the direction the parks department was heading, but, “we have seen them step back” and start to conduct a park planning process.
In a “Bird Survey Report,” undertaken last June, her group documented 60 species of birds in the park and wrote: “Lord Hill Regional Park has revealed a unique and diverse collection of birds and it is this distinctive collection of species that give the park a sense of place. If the landscape is altered for high impact use, this collection of species will change forever and the qualities of the park that give rise to beauty and solitude will be lost.”
The report also said, “The introduction of increased mountain bike use would alter the character of this park.”
In a voicemail message, Snohomish County Parks, Recreation, and Tourism director Tom Teigen said his department is “excited about having an additional group that’s advocating for funding” for the park, referring to Lord Hill Park Advocates.
Teigen said he’s planning to hold more meetings with individual user groups and plans to meet with Lord Hill Park Advocates this month.

  

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