Source: Whatcom Trails Co-Op www.whatcomtrails.com

What is happening?

Beginning on April 2nd the Washington State Department of Resources (DNR) will be decommissioning all user-built bike trails on Slide Mountain at the North Fork Nooksack in Whatcom County.

The work, estimated to cost $23,000, will begin on April 2nd and will be done by the DNR and a crew from Washington Conservation Corps. Work will include closure signage, removal of larger structures, blocking and revegetating trail entrances, and a gate to block all motorized access to Slide Mountain.

-Closure of all user-built bike trails at the North Fork in Whatcom County.
-Work begins on April 2nd by the DNR and a volunteer crew from Washington Conservation Corps
-All trails will be signed closed.
-Bigger structures will be decommissioned.
-Trails will be blocked off and re-vegetated near the exits/entrances.
-A gate will be constructed at the bottom of the hill blocking all motorized access to Slide Mountain.
-Increased enforcement patrols by DNR.
-Riders caught on these trails will receive a warning on the first occurrence (starting April 7th 2012), a ticket of $120 the second time and will be arrested the third time.

Why is this happening?

Whatcom Trails Co-op and Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance were informed of the trail decommissioning two weeks ago by DNR. At that time the explanation for the closure was that an individual from a motorized user group was insisting that if motorized use wasn’t allowed on Slide Mountain, then all unauthorized trails must be closed down.

In an effort to learn more about DNR concerns and find a way to address them while keeping trails open, we arranged a meeting that was held Friday, March 23rd. What we heard from DNR was that there was no solution short of complete closure, a position which is made all the more difficult to accept given that much of this area is currently being logged—a scale of impact beyond anything non- motorized recreation could ever cause.

The DNR was represented at the meeting by Region and Division staff and by the statewide recreation manager. The primary concerns expressed by DNR, and our responses, were:

-Unauthorized Trail Construction – Certainly it is true that there are mountain bike trails on the hill and DNR has difficulty managing unauthorized trail areas. However, it is also true that there are hundreds or thousands of miles of unauthorized, non-motorized trails on DNR forests across the state and very little effort is made to decommission or enforce closures on those trails, even those with clear environmental impacts. It is important to note that there are no authorized areas to recreate on DNR land in Whatcom County. Unauthorized areas like North Fork are reflections of the huge unmet need for recreational access.

-Structures – Most “structures” are simple bridges, built to span wet zones or creeks that were constructed in accordance with industry-leading trail building standards. We offered to decommission any structure that wasn’t built to address sediment or erosion concerns.

-Sediment / Erosion – The North Fork was closed to motorized use roughly 7 years ago because of heavy sediment runoff from the trails and four-wheeling in or near the North Fork of the Nooksack. Sediment transport is not a real issue for the trails constructed by mountain bikers because:
1. We have no trails near the river.
2. Our trails were specifically routed to avoid creeks and riparian zones wherever possible and were built sustainably to avoid erosion and reduce maintenance.
3. When necessary, bridges were constructed from blowdown (not live trees) for spanning any small creeks or wet zones.
4. Put simply, it would be difficult and unenjoyable to ride a mountain bike in such overtly muddy areas, resulting in a low-quality recreational experience and an obvious detrimental effect on the environment.

-Popularity – Despite our attempts to keep the area from becoming widely known, it has become too popular. Riders are now coming not just from Bellingham but from across the state and even Canada – a testament to the quality of the trail network and the need for such human-powered recreational areas.

What can you do?

Whatcom County residents and business owners:
If you live in Whatcom County and access to outdoor recreation is a quality of life issue for you, please contact the people listed below to voice your displeasure about this decision and ask them for an interim solution which keeps trails open while working towards a formal Recreational plan for the North Fork area.

Seattle/Tacoma Mt. bikers:
Contact DNR staff and Whatcom County Tourism and voice your displeasure with this decision and ask them for an interim solution to be determined while working towards a formal Recreational plan for the North Fork areas. Also, please let them know that you spend money at businesses in Bellingham and Whatcom County because of this trail network.

Canadian riders:
If you live in British Columbia and ride the North Fork, please email Whatcom County tourism, Whatcom County commissioner and Whatcom County council members letting them know that you ride the area and spend money at businesses in Bellingham and Whatcom County because of the trail network.

Contact Information Legislators:
The area impacted is represented by legislators in the 40th and 42nd districts—if you are unsure which district you live in, you can look it up here.

Email Whatcom County Executive:
Jack Louws

Email the Whatcom County Council :
Bill Knutzen
Kathy Kershner
Ken Mann
Sam Crawford
Carl Weimer
Barbara Brenner
Pete Kremen

Whatcom County Tourism:
tourism@bellingham.org

Talking Points

We are intentionally not crafting a form letter because they do not make the same impact as personal letters. If you care enough about the trails and the area, please take 10 minutes to write something and send it to the appropriate folks above.

Your letter should state what you want and why, and should ask for a response. We’ve highlighted a set of goals below that you can use in your letter.

This issue is a passionate one for many of us but remember that the goal is to change the outcome not to vent our anger and frustration. Please be honest but civil in your communications.

IMPORTANT: To be even more effective, take an extra 5 minutes to also print out your emails, sign them and send a hard copy.

The primary Issues:
1. There are NO legal areas to recreate on DNR land in Whatcom County
2. No planning process has begun to address recreation needs in Whatcom County despite our continued meetings with DNR over several years. We were the largest user group at all of the recreational planning meetings in Burlington.
3. Closing the trails doesn’t address the issue, rather it disperses the use and creates additional management and enforcement issues.
4. Trails will likely spring up in other areas.
5. Using $22k for closing trails when that money could be better spent on planning or other items.

Short-term goals:
1. Continued access to the trail network.
2. Conduct a full site evaluation to determine any non-essential structures that could be removed.
3. Conduct a full site evaluation of any wetland or erosion issues. Sean Curran, a certified wetland delineator, has agreed to do a full site survey for Whatcom Trails Co-op pro bono. www.curranenvironmental.com/home.htm
4. Within a few months, we’d like to determine the framework to begin the recreational planning process so ALL recreationalists can gain formal authorization for this (and potentially other) area.

Long-term goals:
1. Complete the formal planning process for North Fork recreation for ALL users. This is the biggest issue and why there are user-built trails all over Whatcom County.
2. Establish the ability to rebuild trails post harvest.

Benefits:
1. Mountain bikers are good stewards of the areas in which we recreate. We’ve held annual clean-up days in the area and removed tons of trash left by other users. Additionally, the presence of mountain bikers and other responsible users keeps undesirable users away.
2. We’re a low maintenance user group.
a. We have built and continually maintained high-quality trails, using volunteer labor and private funds.
b. We close trails down if necessary during the wet season.
c. Our trails and activities do not interfere with timber harvests. In fact we are one of the few groups that would chose to recreate in a working forest environment.
3. Economic Benefit to local businesses
a. Seven bike shops in Bellingham
b. Two bike manufactures in Whatcom County (Transition and Kona).
c. Restaurants and other businesses in Bellingham and Whatcom County get increased business from riders who use our trail network.
4. Immediate access would provide a legitimate riding area and allow time for a larger planning process that could also address other areas and other user groups.

Summary:
– North Fork is a trail network in Bellingham
– Washington DNR is a state agency who owns the land
– We want to keep the message positive.
– No disrespect to DNR, but MTB is a healthy, low impact, legitimate form of recreation, and we should be able to do it on public land
– DNR has a mandate to provide the public access to recreation on their land when it does not conflict with resource management (ie logging which is the main activity in North Fork)
– DNR owns half the land in Whatcom county, yet has no recreation areas.
– Bellingham is world famous mountain bike destination, yet the only legal trails on public land are 5 hiking trails on Chuckanut.
– DNR does not have money for recreation. We are not asking for money, simply a place to volunteer