Dear Mayor Fleetwood and City of Bellingham Council Members,
I am writing to you to support the approval of the Chuckanut Community Forest Master Plan.
Please allow me to introduce myself. My name is Todd Elsworth, I live at 1404 J Street with my 14 year old daughter, Violet. Professionally, I founded and have led Recreation Northwest as executive director for the past nine years. Our organization has been the stewards of Fairhaven Park since 2014 and completed our Trail and Wetland Boardwalk project in 2017 to provide public access into the network of trails in the woods. I have served on the City Tourism Commission since 2009 and am often looked to as the voice for recreation. I am also a member of the Chuckanut Community Forest Master Plan Advisory Committee that started the master planning process on June 14, 2021.
Now that the plan is on your desk for approval, I hope that you respect the process that we went through and don’t get swayed by the handful of people continuing to be vocal and against people having recreational access to the woods. Conservation is a priority but not the only element to consider in this plan. Please follow the lead of our competent Parks staff, the volunteers on both the Advisory Committee and the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board to approve the Master Plan. I wrote the following missive to Bellingham Parks staff in a last minute response on April 1st for the Open House for Chuckanut Community Forest Master Plan that was hosted on March 16th. Please also refer to the WMBC & Recreation Northwest Chuckanut Community Forest Input (PDF) attached.
Nicole and Laine,
As the representative for the organization, Recreation Northwest, I have already signed a letter with WMBC, submitted for the record. WMBC & Recreation Northwest Chuckanut Community Forest Input (PDF) also attached.
I am writing here more specifically about my personal opinions- while it relates to the work I’ve been engaged in professionally- since it kept me up last night!! I apologize for my scattered verbosity*…I just have to get this out. aka=rant.
Please allow for bikes to be considered as part of the trail planning process in some dedicated and designated areas. Listen to the input the community gave in the first survey- that shows how many people use the forest for recreation on bikes. I look forward to hearing how the community has responded since the Open House and anticipate positive comments from our cycling community.
If bikes were banned, according to the plan presented at the Open House, I believe that this would lead to more user-conflicts and increased trail degradation. Asking people to “walk their bikes” is also off the mark of a reasonable request in light of the reality of how people would actually behave. This approach doesn’t set us up for positive outcomes of interactions with people in the forest. Without plans for enforcement, it sets us up for failure. Yes, all of us. I imagine that it will be Parks staff that will bear the brunt of squawking park goers!
As a volunteer member of the Advisory Committee, I feel that many of my fellow members didn’t understand their role as advisors and were more intent on furthering their own agendas of banning bikes and dogs- or even people for that matter. I took the time throughout the process to read through the comments and community input on who uses the trails and how they are used. My perception is that not all members did this but deferred to their personal preferences when they commented in the meetings, instead of listening to the public’s input and comments. I recognize that there were also negative perceptions of bikes (and dogs) but this was a minority as opposed to the majority of those in favor of bikes.
I also think that the “citizen survey” that was conducted holds little value as it was not done by a qualified group. While I appreciate Vincutes efforts, I think this data should be left out of the documents for decision making. Given the magnifying glass that other elements of this process has been scrutinized for its detail and completeness (ie- public engagement, tree counts, and other minutiae that took up most of the time in many meetings)
As a regular in the park, I see the people riding bikes being multi-generational, meaning older people on their bikes and younger kids learning new skills in their neighborhood park with their active parents on bikes or running alongside. I advocate for more understanding (real data) of the demographics of the bikers that are using the trails as I briefly referred to in the preceding sentence.
What I hope we can do as a community, is use this opportunity to create a trail plan that can accommodate a variety of users, creating single track trails that both walkers/hikers, dog walkers, AND bikers can use together. I’m also an advocate for other trails that don’t allow bikes (or even dogs) to help protect the natural habitat. Let’s use this as a leading example of how we can plan to use our parks to represent the interests of our community as a whole.
To address the issues and concerns of individuals and groups with regards to #1 mountain biking’s impacts and #2 bad behaviors. This is a larger issue that requires public education.
#1 There is a modern myth that continues to float that “bikes do all the damage”. There is data out there that refutes this notion. I’m relying on the data that Bill Hasenjager sent earlier regarding scientific reporting on this body of work. This is important to consider and share with the community as an educational tool.
#2 I’ve heard from others that they don’t want bikes because they have had negative encounters in the past with people on bikes. My impression is that it was some testosterone filled boys, being jerks and not showing respect or good trail etiquette. The solution to this is not to ban bikes, but rather to educate the public on proper trail etiquette and messages of “all get alongness” as a community. Recognize that this situation is not unique to this park and that addressing it needs to be done on a larger scale. With our community partners, we can help share this consistent message and create an outdoor culture that we all can be proud of in Bellingham- The Recreation Capital of the Northwest (as I have referred to it for many years).
On a related note. Dog poop and off-leash needs the same public awareness campaign as well. People don’t understand the impact that they have and need to be told what TO do and be shown exemplary behaviors, instead of just being told what not to do.
Since “Trail Etiquette” was a project that Bellingham Parks was working on in the Summer of 2020 that didn’t get the legs “we’d” hoped for. I am pleased to inform you that Amy Guerra at Bellingham Tourism and myself are reinvigorating the project of a “Bellingham Pledge” that helps address trail etiquette and proper behaviors. We plan to work with Meilssa Bianconi as an initial representative from Parks, BTW FYI. We are using the Bend Pledge and Ashville Pledge for the Wild as examples of successful campaigns.
Let’s work together to educate our citizens, newcomers, and visitors about “how we roll” here in the Ham! Let’s also, while we’re at it, crush the “City of Subdued Excitement “tagline” and become excited, active, engaged citizens who get along and have fun f’n doing it! As one Downtown Bellingham slogan says Be Kind.
Let’s build on this! My mantra for many years has been: Be Safe, Show Respect, and Have Fun. Often followed by, “If I can do it, You can too!”
I want to recognize that the “Hundred Acre Wood**” is a sacred and special place for those who live close (and pay taxes) and also for those of us who live across town (in the Lettered Streets) and look at the forest and trails as a destination for adventure, education, and recreation. This property has a long history of controversy that has seen positive outcomes over the past decades as this public land has now been protected for both conservation and recreation uses. Let’s lay out a positive path that we can replicate around town as we face increased populations and consequent use of our parks by the public. I’m tired of listening to the quibbling.
I take great pride and pleasure in the support that Recreation Northwest has received from our community, our supporters, and from you our main partners at Bellingham Parks. Together, we have demonstrated how we can create positive changes for the environment and increase public access to the outdoors through our Fairhaven Park Trail & Boardwalk stewardship project. Let’s continue to build on that momentum.
We are grateful for the inclusion of our initial Fairhaven Park Outdoor Classroom project concept plans in the Open House presentation. There are many formal groups that use Fairhaven Park and the urban forest trails for their outdoor activities and environmental education programs, including Recreation Northwest. There are also informal groups and individuals who utilize the available spaces to be outside. Having dedicated places for people to connect with one another and with nature is core to an outdoor education program approach. The use of our Recognition Rock Bench & Native Plant Garden area as meeting spaces demonstrate the community need and interest in dedicated space for small groups to gather in our park.
The opportunity for our community to develop a robust Master Plan that creates connections between Fairhaven Park, Interurban Trail, Hoag’s Pond, the “Hundred Acre Wood” with its trail plan for sustainable public access CAN also create opportunities for connectedness to nature and the enhancement of the natural environment. We can all get along. Walkers, Joggers, Dog Walkers following the rules with their dogs on leash, avid Mountain Bikers, Birders, Bike Commuters, Hikers, Natives, Newbees on Bikes, Lovers, Bikepackers, Stewards, Onewheelers, Mushroomers, Nature Lovers, eBikers, Neighbors, Tourists, Tour Guides, Event Directors, little kids on Strider bikes, Dogs off leash, Our Elders, and even Karens! Yes, it’s quite a world out there.
My call to action for Bellingham: Let’s lead with our hearts, put our heads together, and join hands on this project.
Let’s show ’em what we’re made of!!
THANK YOUs! Thank you Nicole and Laine, and Parks staff for the time and consideration throughout this entire project; my fellow Advisory committee members who have treated this project with the attention and care it deserves; Gerry Wilbour for his input on the public survey and id’ing the critical points on the map at the first iteration of the survey and the time that he has spent educating me about the opportunities and approaches that can be taken on this project; David Roberts and his team at Peak Sustainability for the note taking and facilitation; and finally to the public who has Engaged Bellingham and submitted their input as part of this process. This is a crucial next step in the process. This is a great first world problem to solve. I’m confident that we will create something remarkable!
I’m up for it, and I know Parks staff, and our community are as well.
ps- also for the record, Hundred Acre Wood is traditionally listed in the singular as used throughout AA Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh children’s classic.
cc: Nicole and Laine
Todd Elsworth is one of the many “Mossy-haired lunatics roaming the dripping peninsulas”, described in “I’m Here for the Weather” by Tom Robbins. As executive director, he works to fulfill our mission to teach the health benefits of nature, promote outdoor recreation, and steward the places where we play.