A proposal to build a mountain bike trail in the greenbelt between North Beacon Hill and Columbia City is getting pushback from some neighborhood residents. The proposed trail under consideration by the Seattle parks department would be constructed in a section of restored urban forest inside the 43-acre Cheasty Greenspace, which lies to the east of the Jefferson Park Golf Course.
Friends of Cheasty at Mountain View, a community organization leading the charge to pilot this trail project, have left some community members skeptical about their plans for the green space.
The group of volunteers started working within the 10-acre parcel of the Cheasty Greenspace in 2007 by clearing it of its overgrown blackberry bushes and other invasive species. Pro-trail group member Susan Zeman said this area was also formerly a hub of illicit activity.
“Now that 10-acre parcel that used to be ivy, blackberry, trash, drugs, homeless encampment and prostitution is an emerging way to the Pacific Northwest forest,” she said.
Zeman believes the biking trail will be a way to specifically bring kids into the forest to promote a healthy lifestyle.
“We believe that if we want to have a forest in 50 years, we have to have children that grow up in forests,” Zeman said. “In an urban environment today, it’s less and less likely that kids are going to be spending time in nature. There are so many things that keep us busy in a city that kids are not just spending time in the dirt and climbing trees. The bikes give them a reason to come to the forest for fun.”
Opposition to the bike trail arose when community members expressed concern that the plan for this bike path was put into motion too quickly, and without sufficient community input before Friends of Cheasty at Mountain View moved on the pilot project last year.
“In previous times, notices have been sent out to neighbors talking about the issues they were considering,” said Connie Bowen, a member of the opposing group called Friends of Cheasty who have circulated a petition to protect wildlife and maintain a foot traffic only policy. “For this one, they never did. They invited us to a meeting to tell us what was going to happen, not to ask our input on whether it should happen.”
According to Kathy Colombo, another member of the opposing group, although community meetings were held, they were not proposed to the community in a way that they could acknowledge and understand. She said meetings were posted online — not an effective way to spread the word in her neighborhood. As a result, a lot of the Beacon Hill community members affected by this proposal were unaware of these meetings. In addition, the pro-bike trail group didn’t reach many residents in one of Seattle’s most diverse neighborhoods — those whose first language might not be English.
“They posted meetings on their Facebook page and blog, but that’s not what works in this neighborhood,” Colombo said. “What works is going door to door. They’re not reaching the whole community. You’ve got to have different languages. We have families who are Vietnamese, Chinese, Japanese, etc. Already decisions were made in people’s minds. No one has said, ‘Wait a minute. Let’s work on this as a community space.’”
Bowen feels that a mountain-biking path will not benefit the entire community, but rather a much smaller, more affluent part of the community who have the means to pursue mountain-biking as a hobby.
“Very few people I know in this community mountain-bike, very few of the neighbors mountain-bike, so who is this benefitting?”
According to Mary DeJong, a member of the pro-bike trail group, a lot of investment from her organization has already gone into the 10-acre green space. With regular work parties, restoring the forest area took them nearly eight years.
“To simply do just another pedestrian trail system would likely take us three times as long as it did in [the Mountain View forest area] — and the better half of the rest of our lives,” DeJong explained. “Neighborhood organizations with whom we had relationships, such as Bike Works and the Boys & Girls Club, made bikes a natural choice to bring into the initial ‘imagining’ process. The support we have garnered with the mountain bike complement has been extraordinary, and has confirmed what we originally imagined for the space.”
DeJong’s group hopes to eventually create Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)-friendly access to trails within the park, add more walking trails, create environmental initiatives for species in the area and education initiatives for youth and community members.
DeJong said the original bike trail plan proposed to Seattle’s Park and Green Spaces Levy and Opportunity Fund to finance this project in 2012 was estimated to cost $750,000. However, which aspects of that original plan will be put into motion are still being decided.
Paula Hoff, strategic advisor in the Office of the Superintendent at the Seattle Parks and Recreation Department, stated that her department has not yet approved any plans to start construction of the trail. She said they have made efforts to get public input on the project, which will continue as the process moves forward.
Bowen, from the opposing group, hopes the two parties will continue to discuss what is best for the neighborhood as a whole before plans are made to benefit certain members of the community.
“Most of the people in this community have been there for years. They raised their families there and want to use this space,” Bowen said. “Hopefully we will be able to do something that’s meaningful for everybody who wants to participate.”
The next community meeting regarding the bike trail proposal at Cheasty Greenspace will be held on Feb. 19 at Jefferson Community Center in Beacon Hill from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.
This story has been updated since its original publication.