Extreme sports in Japanese Gulch alarm residents
A month after the city purchased 97 acres of Japanese Gulch, some Mukilteo residents fear that bicyclists are expanding jumps and trails that could be “grandfathered in.”
The city purchased 97.7 acres of undeveloped land within the gulch on the border of Mukilteo and Everett for $5.4 million on Feb. 21.
About 5 miles of informal trails, as well as bike jumps, forts and foxholes that trace the land are proof that for years the gulch has been a playground of sorts for hikers, bike riders, runners and kids.
Weeks before it sold to the city, some residents say more “extreme” jumps for BMX bicyclists have popped up in the gulch that are not only destructive but dangerous.
They suggest the jumps were constructed in a hurry to be grandfathered in to the Japanese Gulch Master Plan and that they should be considered vandalism.
“I’m in there so often, I look at the trails and the trees,” resident Jon Boyce said. “This just showed up out of the blue. The BMX jumps got bigger.
“The city has got to do something to stop people from going in there and having a ‘Wild West’ time, doing what they want and digging up what they want.”
Right now, the Parks & Arts Commission is working with an environmental consultant to finish the master plan. A plan is expected to be finalized and approved by the City Council within six months to a year.
“I know there is some passion, and it’s surprising to see those big jumps,” Mayor Jennifer Gregerson said.
“Every trail has been constructed without a permit. I want to be deliberate and careful about how we move forward with what’s in there.”
She said there are plans to hold stakeholder meetings and take walking surveys so that gulch users can voice their opinions.
“We want to do it right and have everybody’s voices heard,” Gregerson said. “We want to get their feedback about what they want to see in the long run.
“It’s going to take some time to find out what that ultimate vision is.”
Boyce argued some “stakeholders” shouldn’t be permitted to participate.
“I don’t think those people have a place at the table,” he said. “They’re vandals engaged in serial vandalism. If they are considered stakeholders, I’ll not sit at the table.”
Although the city won’t be granting permits for trails and other alterations yet, Gregerson said users should and can apply for them now.
“It really isn’t OK to go in there and build trails right now,” Gregerson said.
This city has partnered with the Japanese Gulch Group, which supports preservation of the gulch, to create and maintain trails in the new property and otherwise carry out the master plan.
"The Japanese Gulch Group will continue to support the city of Mukilteo as it pertains to the newly acquired public property,” said Arnie Hammerman, president of the group.
“We share all citizens’ concerns regarding environmental issues and uses of the property, and will continue to cooperate and help the city once a plan of action is established."
Some on the council are pushing to get the master plan finished as soon as possible.
“We need to quickly work with the Parks & Arts Commission and Gulch Group to figure out what our plan is and remind them it is no longer private property, it is public property and there are rules,” Council President Randy Lord said.
“It’s amazing what people do once they believe it is their property.”
Resident Terry Preshaw said the city needs to post signs, remove mounds, fill in pools and remediate the land.
“I was absolutely stunned with what I saw,” Preshaw said. “Total devastation of the natural habitat there. The land was gouged out and turned into these piles, these mounds in a row.”
A lawyer, Preshaw said BMX bicyclists have created an “attractive nuisance” that puts the city at risk of being sued for injuries sustained in the gulch.
"Right now we need action, not talk,” Preshaw said. “In my opinion, the city must protect itself and its taxpayers by immediately taking necessary steps to limit its exposure to liability.
“Otherwise, the taxpayers will end up paying for it.”
Gregerson said she doesn’t share the same concerns, though she agrees that users need to be careful in the gulch.
With the last 97 acres, Mukilteo has acquired more than 140 acres in the gulch to preserve as parkland.
“For 20 years or so, maybe more, the gulch has been under private ownership,” Gregerson said. “People used the gulch in a lot of ways that was trespassing.”
“Now that the city owns it, I’m looking forward to a great process where we can get everybody who uses the gulch, all those stakeholders, together to see what is the best way to make it a fun and safe place.”
The Japanese Gulch Master Plan, of which half was adopted in 2011, is a four-phase plan to turn the city-owned acres of the gulch into parks and open space.