After years of public process, Cheasty Greenspace trails plan gets green light

UPDATED map with more recent version (note "later phase" walking trail)

UPDATED map with more recent version (note “future phase” walking trail)

After a years long, sometimes heated public process, the Seattle Parks Board voted unanimously to move forward with a pilot set of soft surface biking and walking trails in the hilly Cheasty Greenspace natural area between Rainier Vista and Beacon Hill.

The Parks Board of Commissioners (a volunteer advisory board that the Parks Dept. takes very seriously) also gave a thumbs up to a second phase of the trails plan if environmental assessments of the first phase proves positive after 15 months.

This is not everything the Cheasty Trails advocates wanted, but represents a compromise that takes seriously neighbor concerns about disturbance to the natural area. Natural areas without lots of developed human access are rare within the Seattle city limits, and some people were concerned these trails would turn the area from a rare wildlife refuge into a packed and busy park.

But advocates in favor the trails point out that without proper access and trails built by professionals who know how to minimize environmental damage, people will — and have been — creating their own paths into the space. It’s in the middle of a dense urban area, and it’s not reasonable to expect people to stay out.

Plus, this is an area with very little access to forested parks, surrounded by residents with lower incomes and, therefore, less ability to escape the city to get to forest areas around the region. Kids love mountain and dirt biking, but many kids in the area can’t easily get out to popular mountain bike parks in the suburbs. This project hopes to bring that experience within reach of home, and Bike Works has expressed excitement about the opportunities it will provide for after school and summer camp programming.

Approval of the trails also activates volunteer power eager to do habitat restoration work in the park overrun by invasive plants.

The debate over the trails project raised some hard questions about who the trail is for. Is this just a playground for the often white and wealthier people who already enjoy mountain biking, or is this about bringing the joys of mountain biking and forest hiking to people who might not typically have access? Let’s make sure it’s the latter. Because urban natural space is special, and it should be a draw that brings communities together.

More details on the decision from Seattle Parks:

Seattle Parks and Recreation is moving forward with a plan to design and build the Cheasty Mountain Bike and Pedestrian Trail Pilot Project in the Cheasty Greenspace in southeast Seattle.

Last Thursday, May 28, the Seattle Park Board of Commissioners voted to move forward with the proposed trail project.

In addition, the Board voted unanimously to support the proposed designs for the trail. The Board also approved the Phase II addition of a cross trail to create a safe walking route from Rainier Vista to North Beacon Hill and “skills trails” on the south side of the proposed project area. Phase II will occur if the 15-month pilot project is successful and the environmental evaluation studies are favorable.

“This is an exciting opportunity to bring positive activation to a greenspace that has been plagued with dumping, encampments and illicit behavior,” said Christopher Williams, Acting Superintendent for Seattle Parks and Recreation. “We will be creating an accessible urban public space that can be enjoyed by the rapidly growing population of families in the surrounding neighborhoods, many of whom do not have access to the wilderness outside of their community. We are looking forward to the community spending time recreating and exploring in this wonderful space.”

The Greenspace is a 38-acre park on the east slope of Beacon Hill between Cheasty Boulevard and Martin Luther King Jr. Way S in southeast Seattle.

Acting Superintendent Williams will forward a recommendation to the City Council soon, as directed by Ordinance No. 124546.

The project will provide a soft surface mountain bike trail in the Greenspace. The goal is to provide a mountain bike experience for users of all ages and abilities in conjunction with ongoing and future forest restoration.

The Board of Park Commissioners discussed and deliberated on the Friends of Cheasty Greenspace at Mountain View’s mountain bike/pedestrian trail proposal at public meetings in November 2013 and January 2014. The recommendation to the Parks Superintendent was that Seattle Parks should initiate a pilot project to allow mountain bike trails to be built in the Cheasty Greenspace, in conjunction with restoration and foot trails. Seattle Parks and Recreation worked with community stakeholders during a five-month public Project Advisory Team process for the trail project.

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18 Responses to After years of public process, Cheasty Greenspace trails plan gets green light

  1. Mira Latoszek says:

    The map posted with this story is not the correct one – the latest is at http://www.seattle.gov/parks/projects/cheasty/files/Cheasty_Trail_PP_Schematic_Design_2015_Feb-25.pdf. The one that is shown in this post is dated Feb. 18, 2015. The main difference between the two is the removal of a pedestrian trail from the pilot project.

    A few days after the design was approved in the final Cheasty Project Advisory Team meeting (on Feb 22), it was revised by DPR to remove the foot trail originating at the Jefferson entry from the pilot project. This is what the Parks Board approved on May 28th – less pedestrian access.

    • Tom Fucoloro says:

      Thanks, Mira. I did not see that there was an updated map a few days later. I’ve changed it.

      For those who want to compare the versions, here’s a link to the Feb 18 map: http://1p40p3gwj70rhpc423s8rzjaz.wpengine.netdna-cdn.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/Cheasty-Trail-PP_Schematic-Design_18Feb15.jpg

      • Mira Latoszek says:

        That has been the history of this project, Tom. Constant morphing of the design and details of the project without notification. It is difficult for people to follow because it is constantly being manipulated by the Parks Dept. The video of the Park Board meeting shows just how screwed up the decision making process was: http://www.seattlechannel.org/misc-video?videoid=x55461 (starting at about 35:15. At times, some of the Board members are unclear on what they are voting for or against.

    • Joshua R says:

      @Mira Latoszek –

      As someone that does a MTB trail work and someone that presents a learning program/presentation regarding urban MTBing for cities and clubs (Knobbies in the Neighborhood), let me assure that a plan that changes as the result of public/city input is not a conspiracy. Its the public process in action. What a lot people get wrong about a city process is that every change will be based on an input point from the public or the city. Sometimes a change is made because of some external factor beyond the public’s or the city’s control.

      I watched the video you linked to (below). For a project with a lot of moving parts, the board did a pretty good job of working through the process. No one can keep all the moving parts in their head and they asked questions if they didn’t understand something, helped each other be reminded of certain features and discussed various aspects. Its true that the way the project was to voted on was confusing, but that was likely beyond their control.

      Chesty Greenspace could join the other 250+ urban mountain bike trail systems in country. I look forward to adding Chesty Greenspace to my urban mountain biking database as soon as its built.

      • Mira Latoszek says:

        I didn’t say conspiracy. I said it was a screwed up process based on observing it for over a year and having participated in various park planning process for about twenty years.

  2. SGG says:

    Awesome news!

  3. Ed Newbold says:

    The status quo ante was pretty good for birds. I was down there last week and I saw Red-breasted Sapsuckers are nesting there–hard to find that in Seattle–and the Wilson’s Warbler family seemed to be establishing in the same place as last year, plus Pacific-slope Flycatchers were so abundant they were getting into scuffles, probably over nest sites or mate-choices. The female of the long-running Cooper’s Hawk family came in like she owned the place, which she did till this nightmare happened.

    Mountain-Bike proponents will tell you all about restoring the forest but they don’t say a word about birds, nor does the Parks Dept. The proponents scare me to death with their idea of “cleaning” a forest and I fear the footprint of this athletic project will end up wiping out the at-risk and declining species that make this place so special and important.

    This is not about being anti-bike, I used to race and do cross-state long-distance rides back in the 70s (yes, I’m old and fearful of car-driving terrorists now), I’m as pro-bike as you can be, but this isn’t about bikes it’s about leaving one tenth of a percent of the land we have left for nature with nature coming first over the human need to play and amuse themselves.

    Best wishes everybody,

    Ed Newbold

    • Matt says:

      You clearly have the best intentions so just think of me as a devil’s advocate…but which prospect has the greatest value for the most amount of people? Last I looked, there are many places within the city for bird viewing (Discovery Park) but there is not one place to mountain bike (sorry the I-5 colonnade does not count) in this city. I just don’t buy this notion that things like trail running and mountain biking are bad for the environment and should be off-limits, yet getting in your SUV to drive anywhere is just fine for the environment. I hope the birds are not displaced with this project, but, even if this does happen, I think a lot more good will come out of it for the community than the current status quo. Let’s be honest, if this wasn’t turned into a real park, then it would probably be turned into housing units or something else.

      • RDPence says:

        No, Matt, the alternative to the mountain bike track is not “housing units or something else.” Cheasty is a dedicated natural area and would never be a candidate for that type of development. Part of the problem lies with recreation advocates who see natural areas as “parks in waiting”, there to be transformed into their vision of an exciting outdoor experience.

        The alternative for Cheasty is to continue the removal of invasive species and the replanting of native vegetation, and the construction of pedestrian paths to open up this natural area to the local community. But such an alternative was never even considered. The Parks Department structured their planning process to focus on mountain bikes, so they came up with only this one plan.

    • RossB says:

      I’ll admit I haven’t been there (or if I have it is has been many, many years), but I have a hard time believing that the area is the pristine wilderness you suggest it is. Maybe that wasn’t your intent, but I have to ask — are there any non-native species there? For example, Himalayan Blackberries, and the like? If so, does the community do a thorough job removing the invasive species and returning to a more native environment? My guess is the answer is yes and no.

      I remember when Fort Lawton became part of Discovery Park. Since the fort had very few people, and much of it was left alone, it could be considered wild. Now, of course, thousands and thousands of people travel there. But I think most naturalists would consider it an improvement. Despite the fact that people travel all over the park, it is more natural and more native than it was before. This is because the number of volunteers spending time cleaning it up has increased dramatically. I think the same thing could happen here.

      It is obvious from the topography that much of this will not be traveled by people — it is just too steep. A few trails will represent a very small portion of the overall park. It is also obvious that people will make their own trails through there. People don’t want to “go around”, especially on busy streets. Like Discovery Park, a well managed park would be better for everyone; people trying to walk from one neighborhood to the other, people trying to go out for a walk or a bike ride, and yes, birds.

    • pqbuffington says:

      The “nightmare” has already happened? That was fast…

  4. Zach S says:

    Those two pictures were too hard to compare so I resized them and combined them into one:

    http://i.imgur.com/Xzln4u0.png

  5. ws says:

    This is great news. I see nothing incompatible about nature and mountain biking. In fact, it’s quite the opposite: I largely gained my appreciation for nature and open space as a teenager discovering mountain biking. I found that it was a lot more fun to be out in the woods on a bike than in my room playing video games. I’m looking forward to my own son learning the same lesson, and being able to do so without a 2+ hour round trip drive.

    Thanks to everyone who made this possible!

  6. RossB says:

    This is great news. It looks like the only difference between the previous map is that one of the pedestrian trails — one that leads to an overlook — is put off until later. As a pedestrian, I see nothing wrong with that.

    My only concern, and it has been a concern from the beginning, is the lack of trails connecting the upper and lower areas. There is one, and only one, and it is to the south (to the left on the map(s)). This is a big improvement, and great for people coming from the east, but I would like to see something that connects better with the north. A lot of people wander around trails (which is the point of the overlook) but lots of people walk through parks as a way to get from one neighborhood to the other. From what I can tell, there is no pedestrian connection between Andover and 24th Place South. This means that if you started walking from 24th and Spokane, you have to “go around”, if you are headed down to Rainier Vista, or anywhere east of there (basically anything along Genessee). Either you head north, and cut down by Kimball Elementary, or you head south, walk 24th, but then continue on quite a ways around Cheasty before you can head down. That is a pretty big detour for a lot of people. I would suggest two different solutions:

    1) Connect 24th and Andover with a pedestrian walkway. This would requires stairs (it is very steep), but would provide for a very nice connection point for a lot of people.

    2) Put in a pedestrian trail going east-west (down the hill) from the Cheasty Viewpoint entrance. I know the hillside is steep, but there are steep trails everywhere in the mountains. The grade really isn’t that bad there, and you could just follow the ridge (negating the need for switchbacks). That reduces erosion (a ridge is much better than a gully). The only part that looks even moderately steep is between 250 and 270 feet (from my reading of the topo lines). I think stairs there would do the job (if they are even needed) and provide for a really nice, really good trail, without too much work.

  7. Harrison Davignon says:

    Maybe we could make a win win. Make the bike trial, but preserve the existing habitat for wildlife. We don’t have to choose between one or the other. There is a similar trial at lake wilderness in maple valley I have bicycle road and walked on several times, yet in spite of the the bike, pedestrian trial there is still plenty of habitat left for wildlife. People commuting on hybrid bikes can get a nice quit commute, and get a chance to enjoy nature, and mountain bikers can enjoy a low impact on the environment.

    • Joshua R says:

      @Harrison Davignon –

      The idea that creating a mountain bike trail obliterates the habitat is a falsehood promoted by anti-mountain biking groups and individuals. There will be clear-cutting or active removal of large trees for this (or any) mountain bike trail.

      In this case, the pedestrian trail (which is separated) will be higher impacts than the mountain bike trail due to its width and its surfacing. Construction is the big impact point for benchcut natural surface trails (like Chesty will be). But in the ensuing years, they revegetate to where the only area not covered by plants is the treadway that tends to be about 12-18″ wide (for MTB trails, its wider for hiking trails).

      There are over 250 urban mountain bike trail systems in United States, most of which have been around for 10-15 years, some as long as 25 years. There is history of mountain bike trails and riders being good stewards of the natural areas they are in.

  8. Pingback: Hearing Examiner: Cheasty mountain biking and hiking trails need more study | Seattle Bike Blog

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