Forum: Critic worried about bike trails in an suburban forest?

Rather than criticize Japanese Gulch’s mountain bikers, view them as a promoters of forest enjoyment.

Matthew Leger

Matthew Leger

By Matthew Leger / Herald Forum

Let me paint a picture: early spring, the sun is setting late again, school is going well, and in Japanese Gulch, a park in Mukilteo, a mountain bike project has finally broken ground, first approved nearly five years ago.

I am ecstatic: These additions will allow my favorite trail system to introduce more to the joys of biking and the outdoors. Plus, there will be some great new trails for me to ride. So, when I see someone on the Japanese Gulch Mountain Bikers Facebook page trying to say that the bike trails I love are responsible for the gulch’s lack of wildlife and that this project was simply another example of deforestation, I am thoroughly annoyed.

However, getting angry on Facebook is not a great path to quality mental health, so I try to forget about it. Riding the new trails after the grand opening, I realized I had not. I can no longer let that post go unaddressed. So, here are my gripes and all of my frustration; here, I explain what has kept me thinking about this comment.

Unless that commenter lives in a yurt, dresses with sustainably farmed leaves, and lives off the grid growing his own food, he has more important issues to worry about than a single-acre bike trail park. But here is what I suspect about this person: He lives with his environmentally unconscious kids in his environmentally unconscious house, eating his environmentally unconscious steaks, driving his environmentally unconscious car.

So, instead of ridiculing a local parks and rec project, let’s aim our “acts of public service” at something more meaningful. Maybe, let’s fire at the Gulch’s neighbor, Boeing, which last summer caused a small landslide due to its expansion into the Gulch; the same Boeing that produces machines that emit carbon at an unfathomable pace, operated high in the sky to ensure optimal ozone layer destruction. Instead of making accusatory comments in a passionate Facebook group that loves biking through breathtaking nature, let’s focus on the bigger things in the environmental crisis.

Sadly, I have not nearly exhausted my frustrations because here is one more thing: What would happen to the Gulch if the city decided to let it be? Would the birds live in peace and harmony, singing every morning to express their appreciation for the land they live on? No. The Gulch lies on productive land; and the revenue per square foot of a forest is zero. That is why long before anyone else thought about protecting the trees in the Gulch, it was the stomping grounds of the Mukilteo Lumber Co. Do you know what is much more profitable than a couple hundred acres of flora? That same flora chopped down.

Without any upside to the Japanese Gulch, nothing stops it from becoming a new high-income housing project or filling a lumber yard.

So here is a great middle ground; a lovely trail system that brings joy to those with the privilege of using it. I would bet something so lovely would make people love nature and try to conserve it more.

The idea that someone attacks a bike trail to address climate change is beyond ridiculous.

This post is the least of my concerns. I am angry that attempts to solve a legitimate global crisis have fallen so incredibly short. We need to have authentic, productive conversations about the climate crisis, and all this does is pull away from the matter at hand. The path to a true solution cannot come from the attack of a bike trail, just as it cannot come from preaching to the choir that planes are bad, oil is bad, and plastic straws are bad.

Our climate and our forests are on the brink of destruction, so instead of looking to vent our frustrations on seemingly insolvable issues, let’s take steps toward solutions. Maybe that comes from picking up trash, maybe from lobbying for climate-focused lawmakers, and maybe a solution comes from spreading the joy of nature through bike trails.

But I guarantee that positive change will not come from misguided attacks on the greatest middle ground society has found for ensuring forest protection; forest enjoyment.

Matthew Leger is a junior at Kamiak High School in Mukilteo.

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