By Rick Reed
For The Herald
Lord Hill Regional Park is considered by many the “crown jewel” of the Snohomish County park system.
It’s 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 could change.
Since 2016, the Snohomish County Parks, Recreation and Tourism Department has been meeting with stakeholders of various user groups in an effort to update the park’s master plan. The proposals presented to the study group include rebuilding the bike trails to turn them into fast “flow” trails to attract a large increase in mountain bikers.
By far the largest user group at Lord Hill are hikers, many of whom are families with children. The winding trails, many of them shared trails, do not lend themselves to fast and heavy bike traffic. Hikers are now being pushed out because the bikers are starting to take over. Safety is becoming an increasing problem.
Lord Hill Park Hikers is a group that wants to preserve what is truly a unique sanctuary: a wilderness environment in an urban setting that has been enjoyed by all user groups. We are not alone.
Pilchuck Audubon Society, one of several organizations represented in the study group, has repeatedly expressed concerns about the park’s bike usage and its effects on bird habitat, wetlands, and water quality along the shoreline.
The bottom line is that current proposed changes have been designed to attract more bikers. Our concern is that this high impact use will degrade the landscape, disturb important breeding and refuge areas for birds and wildlife, and create an environment less welcoming for passive hiking and horseback riding.
It would be difficult to overstate the importance of having a natural setting nearby that is slowed down, soothing, quiet and peaceful. As our world becomes more and more chaotic, hectic and even hostile, it is vital that Snohomish County residents have some place close to home where we can get away from it all and even enjoy some rare solitude.
Currently, there are two options being presented, but we need a final plan that best protects the environment and retains a balance between all user groups that emphasizes safety.
Unfortunately, while a moratorium on new trails has been in effect since 2016 when the master plan review began, County Parks has allowed some bike trails to be rebuilt with berms and jumps to create fast “flow” trails can considered it “maintenance.” As a result, bike traffic is increasing along with more reports of hazardous encounters between hikers and horses. Bikers illegally built 8 miles of trails about 10 years ago. Parks later allowed equestrians and hikers to build only 2.5 miles of trails. Meanwhile, equestrians and hiker trails are on hold pending permits.
It is difficult to properly plan if changes keep occurring that affect the plan.
Parks officials have said they want to enhance bike trails to accommodate the projected increase in county population. Estimates show an increase of 250,000 new residents in Snohomish County by 2035. We believe, however, if large numbers of bikers are attracted to Lord Hill now, many from outside Snohomish County, the park will be crowded before the general population expands. This rate of growth within the county also underscores the need for preserved areas where people can take refuge from the pressures of urban life.
Some park users have said they’re not concerned about plans to increase bike traffic because they rarely see bikes in the park. It’s likely that these folks are not in the park frequently. We hope they’ll remain open minded to the many credible accounts of unsafe bike encounters in the park to get a better picture of what’s happening at Lord Hill.
A second public meeting on the park’s master plan will be held at 6 p.m. Thursday, July 25 in the First Floor Meeting Room of the County Administration Building, 3000 Rockefeller Avenue in Everett. I urge you and your friends to attend. For those who are unable to attend, there will be online survey from July 25 through Aug. 9 on the Parks website at www.snohomishcountywa.gov/5168/Park-Recreation-Tourism.
If you share our concerns and want to help preserve the natural beauty and health of Lord Hill for wildlife and people, please voice your opinion at the meeting on July 25.
Rick Reed is the founder of Lord Hill Park Hikers. Reed, who hiked Lord Hill Park as a child with his father Bill Reed, lives in Snohomish.