City of Mukilteo plans to improve Japanese Gulch trails

MUKILTEO — Two years ago, the city celebrated a milestone.

Some 140 acres of land with mature forest and wetlands, home to animals such as pileated woodpeckers, herons and mountain beavers, had been saved as a park. The land stretches from 76th Street downhill to Puget Sound.

Saving the property was the first step. The next was figuring out what to do with it. A document now details plans for the land, which include adding signs, picnic areas, restrooms, upgrading trails, and expanding the community garden.

People can give their opinions on the plan during a public hearing scheduled during Monday’s City Council meeting, which begins at 7 p.m.

People mostly said they wanted the area to largely be left alone, said Jennifer Berner, the city’s recreational and cultural services director. “We heard it loud and clear,” she said.

There are a few things the city hopes to do to improve safety, such as installing directional signs and improving trails, she said. “Part of it is conservation, but you have to have maintenance to conserve and preserve it.”

The 76th Street trailhead will be one of the main entrances to the property. The land previously was the site of a Grange, cemetery and police building. Plans call for restoration of native plants in the area, Berner said.

A community garden is nearby. The city hopes to install picnic tables and a dirt bike jump in the area. The city hopes to build restrooms there as well as a tool shed to store equipment for volunteers working in the park.

One of the biggest issues yet to be decided is whether to allow dogs to be unleashed on the property, as they have been for years, or require them to be on leashes.

One option would be to have some trails designated as off-leash, Berner said. Another suggestion is having specified off-leash times on specific days, said City Councilman Richard Emery.

Restricting off-leash days and hours would be “kind of a compromise,” said City Councilman Steve Schmalz. “We’ll bring it up and see how it all flies.”

Over the next 20 years, maintenance and improvements to the park are expected to cost $4.9 million, Berner said. Some of the smaller projects can be accomplished with volunteers and small grants. The city also plans to apply for bigger grants from the state’s Recreation and Conservation Office.

The city has established a park stewards program, where volunteers are trained on projects such as trail maintenance and then asked to donate 25 hours to park projects. Training for the first group of volunteers is now under way.

Emery helped lead the Japanese Gulch Group, which organized to keep part of the land from being developed as an industrial park.

“One of my favorite things is you can walk in about 30 feet and you really can’t tell you’re not in the wilderness,” he said. “It’s amazing to have that opportunity such a short distance away. The thing that’s been almost magical is how much people have cared for it. It’s one of the reasons that people who wanted to save it were able to make it happen.”

Sharon Salyer: 425-339-3486; salyer@heraldnet.com.

Public hearing

The Mukilteo City Council has scheduled a public hearing on the Japanese Gulch Master Plan during a meeting that begins at 7 p.m. Monday at Mukilteo City Hall, 11930 Cyrus Way. The master plan will define the future of the western portion of the gulch. The plan calls for recreational uses as well as places for a natural playground, an expanded community garden and dog park, viewpoints, picnic areas and a boardwalk.

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