Developing plans to create new walking and mountain bike trails in the overgrown Cheasty Greenspace between Rainier Vista and Beacon Hill has run into a problem: The proposed plan may not include enough trails to meet the project’s goals.
That’s the essence of a recent letter (PDF) from the largely advisory Board of Parks Commissioners to members of the City Council and the Mayor asking for more guidance on the scope of the controversial pilot project approved over the summer. The pilot is designed to see whether building trails for walking and mountain biking through undeveloped green spaces could be a sustainable way to increase access to natural spaces, defend urban forests from destructive invasive species, provide safe routes to school and improve public safety.
That’s a lot of goals to accomplish with just a few trails, but the extremely active and engaged supporters and volunteers powering the project are determined to make it happen, including Eagle Scout candidate Chiem “Oou” Saeteurn as shown in this video:
However, there are people who do not like the project, mostly citing environmental concerns.
“If human activity increases within Cheasty Greenspace, it is likely that the wildlife will suffer,” according to the petition. As of press time, 464 people has signed this request to only build walking trails.
But the Parks Board sees the opposite problem. Where the original plan included biking and walking trails around the perimeter of Cheasty and through parts of the center, plans were scaled back to just include the perimeter trails (pictured at the top of this post) as something of a compromise.
However, the Parks Board is concerned that some of the project’s major goals would not be met by just a perimeter trail. Here’s how the Board outlined their concerns (see their full memo (PDF) for more background):
- Constrained Access: By only building the perimeter trail, significant user groups are effectively denied the opportunity to use the space, notably the students and parents living in Rainier Vista and served by Kimball Elementary. From both a Race and Social Justice and Safe Routes to School perspective, we have concerns about this lack of access. Additionally, parents with young kids of several kids may find a long perimeter trail unmanageable as they try to provide effective supervision.
- Endangered Sustainable Stewardship: The one aspect of the plan that everyone agrees on is the importance of forest restoration. Our hope was that by having the bike park partners be the implementers and stewards of the forest, the plants would thrive at the same time that the bike park took root. In fact, the volunteers in Cheasty recorded the second most GSP volunteer hours of any restoration area last year. By only developing the perimeter trail, current plans may hinder this goal. Best practices for mountain bike trail-building—tested and developed over several decades in forests around the world—recommend using fall line loops to provide riders of various skills with appropriate challenges so that they do not build their own trails. Without planning for and accommodating these users, we fear that desire lines will be created through the forest, potentially damaging newly planted natives.
- Safety: Safety becomes an issue on two fronts when the conversation is limited to the perimeter trail. First, the long distance and relative isolation of segments of the perimeter trail may present some challenges from a crime prevention through environmental design (CPTED) perspective. Second, without thoughtful professional planning for fall line trails, ad hoc trails may create unsafe junctions with the perimeter trail.
If you are interested in getting involved, the fourth of five Project Advisory Team meetings is 6 p.m. tonight (Thursday) at Jefferson Park Community Center.