SNOHOMISH — On a damp, misty day, Rick Reed trekked to one of the wettest parts of Lord Hill Regional Park to show off one facet of its delicate beauty.
Within a few minutes’ walk of a parking lot, a path led into moss-carpeted world straight out of J.R.R. Tolkien’s fantastical Middle-earth. A canopy of western red cedar and bigleaf maple loomed over a wetland dubbed “Wayne’s World” after a local man who blazed a trail through it.
On the ground, a procession of boot prints and bicycle tire ruts interrupted the illusion of an undiscovered wonderland.
“Now it’s one of the most popular and fragile areas of the park,” Reed said.
An avid hiker who leads tours and meditation groups at Lord Hill, Reed is among the park users helping Snohomish County study plans for reconfiguring trail systems and other features. Stakeholder meetings since last fall have brought together nearby homeowners, hikers, horseback riders, mountain bikers, environmentalists and others. They’re mulling possible changes, which could include rerouting some trails, shutting down others, installing restrooms and expanding parking.
Early plans feature a 607-acre equestrian park in the southeast part of the park. In the northwest corner, 337 acres designated for mountain biking in the draft plan covers the area known as Wayne’s World. That overlap concerns Reed, who has responded with the slogan, “great sport, wrong park.”
“That’s the crux of our position. It isn’t that we’re anti-mountain bike at all. There are mountain-bike activities all over Snohomish County and more coming up,” he said. “The extensive wetlands throughout the park are incompatible with mountain biking.”
Many in the equestrian community are leery of the biking proposals for a different reason: being crowded out of their historical stomping ground, where horse-riding enthusiasts built much of the trail system.
Mountain-biking advocates, for their part, say there’s enough room at the nearly 1,500-acre park for everyone. It’s possible to minimize conflict through better design, they contend.
Orienteers, trail runners and bird-watchers flock there as well.
Senior parks planner Amy Lucas is trying to sort it all out. Lucas hopes to present some ideas at an open-house meeting in late spring or early summer. She’s hoping state grants will come through to pay for the planning, which could lead to new trail designs within a couple of years and more park amenities a few years after that.
“We’re in the pre-planning phase for Lord Hill, what we’re calling a site-management plan,” Lucas said.
Separately, an outside group called Preserve Lord Hill Park has arranged a meeting at the Snohomish library for 6:30 p.m. March 20 to discuss their concerns about the early plans.
Lord Hill covers varied terrain, including former Department of Natural Resources timberland. It rises abruptly from the valley between Snohomish and Monroe, offering stunning views. From the summit, it’s possible to see the Seattle skyline.
The county is revisiting a park master plan from 1988 that was updated in 1996, Lucas said.
The planning effort is about more than recreation.
“It’s also for public safety, so first responders can get to people,” Lucas said. “We have a lot of unmarked trails and when people get lost they have a hard time communicating where they are in the park.”
Another goal is identifying natural areas in need of protection.
Horseback riders consider Lord Hill the only part of Snohomish County’s parks system that offers a decent backcountry experience.
“It is beautiful. It has diverse terrain. It’s a friendly, local park,” said Cathy Nelson, director of the Traildusters Chapter of Back Country Horsemen of Washington.
They don’t mind sharing the space, but they do fear being pushed out.
“We feel like our park should not be taken away from us as a tourist destination,” said Nelson, who also joined in the county meetings.
She fears a scenario in which the mountain-biking area at Lord Hill could be transformed into something similar to King County’s Duthie Hill Mountain Bike Park near Issaquah. That is to say, a wildly popular bike park that erodes any sense of the wild.
That’s an unwarranted fear, said Yvonne Kraus, executive director of the Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance, an advocacy group based in Seattle.
“We’re looking to come up with a design that balances the park in terms of the quality user experience,” Kraus said. “Because of the size of the park, we believe that the approach that Snohomish County is taking can accommodate all of that.”
Mountain-biking is growing in popularity and parks that are open to the sport are crowded. Without tailoring some of Lord Hill’s trails for them, there’s the potential for cyclists to venture into other areas, increasing the chances of spooking horses, their riders or people on foot.
The part of the park designated for horses would double under the early plans, Kraus said. As for the wetlands, she said they don’t make for good bike trails because they require too much maintenance.
Reed, the hiker who led the tour to Wayne’s World, is holding the line on the wetlands. He wants Lord Hill’s character to remain as is.
“This is one of the rare places where you can actually find peace and quite and solitude,” he said. “The proposals being considered by the parks department will change that.”
An open house to discuss plans for trails and amenities at Lord Hill Regional Park is expected in late spring or early summer. Learn more about the early planning efforts at www.snohomishcountywa.gov/3757/Lord-Hill-Regional-Park.
Members of the newly formed Preserve Lord Hill Park group have scheduled an informational meeting at the Snohomish Library on March 20 to discuss their concerns about the park’s future. They have invited representatives from the county and various user groups to share concerns and seek out answers.