Comment: County plans for Lord Hill park won’t serve all users

A plan to build bike-only trails would shut out other users and seeks to ‘monentize’ a treasured park.

By Rick Reed / For The Herald

There’s a silver lining to most troubles. One positive result of the covid pandemic, for instance — with its heartbreaking increase in anxiety, despair and even suicide — is an increased appreciation of the peace, beauty and soul-soothing communion to be found in something as simple as a walk in the woods.

A comedian once joked that everyone in our neck of the woods is always wearing Levis and boots as if “expecting a hike to break out at any moment.” One reason that’s true is that we’re blessed to live in an area resplendent with mountains, clean rivers and lakes, and forests accessible to and maintained by taxpayers.

One such natural getaway is Lord Hill Regional Park, considered by many the “crown jewel” of the Snohomish County park system. Located west of Monroe, its 1,480 acres and miles of trails are a quiet, slow, peaceful environment that is home to a multitude of birds and other wildlife, frequented by thousands of hikers, equestrians, bikers, joggers, meditators, bird watchers and nature lovers who thus far have managed to co-exist harmoniously. But this is changing.

Safety is becoming an increasing problem. By far the largest user group at Lord Hill are hikers, many of whom are families with children. The winding trails that make for pleasant hiking don’t lend themselves to fast and heavy bike traffic. There are many reports of bikers speeding along shared trails, some of them harassing and intimidating hikers and equestrians.

The root cause of the conflict between the general public and Parks Department officials is that while the public seeks to preserve Lord Hill as a multi-use attraction for future generations, County officials see its popularity as an opportunity to “monetize” the park; to turn it into a national bike attraction and help the Parks Department finance park maintenance.

Since 2016, the Parks Department has met with stakeholders and held two public meetings about the future of Lord Hill to create the illusion that “public input” is genuinely being sought. But Parks officials already knew they wanted to change park from a “slow” multi-use park to one accommodating fast, competitive bikers from around the country.

Taken aback by strong public opposition to the changes proposed for the park, officials backed off and became less transparent about their coordinated campaign with biking organizations. Behind the scenes, however, bikers have been allowed to develop several new “fast trails.”

A very important public meeting on the future of Lord Hill Regional Park is expected to happen sometime in November, probably by Zoom. If we aren’t assertive, those who care more about money than about preserving the park will try to make it appear their plans have public support.

If you appreciate the importance of a local treasure such as Lord Hill, attend the meeting or email your comments to the Parks Department. Express what you want the park to look like when you take your children or grandchildren there. Here is a list of concerns many stakeholders share:

• Maintain safe trails for all users, recognizing that nearly 80 percent of the park users are hikers.

• Roll back some of the changes that created high-speed bike trails, allow hikers on all trails, and restore some bike trails to multi-use.

• There are no horse-only trails in the park and there should be no bike-only trails. The recent one-way bike trails that were designed to allow for fast bike traffic should be restored for two-way traffic and open to hikers.

• Enhance protections for the environment and wildlife.

• Honor promises made in the 1996 Master Plan, including a bike impact study! Mountain biking has driven out other users at multi-use trail systems such as Duthie Park in Issaquah.

• Schedule regular ranger patrols in the park because of the increase in unsafe bike encounters and incidents of bikers harassing other users.

• Enforce parking violations that have created traffic bottlenecks and safety problems.

• Eliminate elements of the new Preferred Plan process limiting the public’s ability to influence their council members concerning the future of Lord Hill Regional Park.

Please attend the public meeting! And remember: Lord Hill Regional Park belongs to the public now and in the future. It is we the people — not public “officials” — who have the right to determine the future of our park. We need to remind these officials that they are public servants. We pay their salaries. They work for us.

It is going to become increasingly difficult to find safe, quiet places for family outdoor activities. We want Lord Hill Park preserved as a peaceful, multi-use wilderness getaway for our children and their children.

Rick Reed was born in 1947 to Liz and Bill Reed and hiked with his dad in the forest today known as Lord Hill Park. He graduated from Snohomish High School in 1965, played football at WSU, and served as a Hawaii state senator before returning home to Snohomish. He is an avid hiker committed to helping preserve public, multi-use access to our parks and wilderness areas.

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