Gone now is the ‘Wild West’ | Gulch View
Mukilteo officially purchased 98 acres of land on the west side of Japanese Gulch on Feb. 21.
This historic acquisition means the public has access to the land from Mukilteo Lane past Fifth Street and the dog park and up to 76th Street S.W. by the community gardens.
This patch of forested land is now our very own urban forest. Even though Mukilteo now owns this property, much of the land still is inside the city limits of Everett.
Mayors Jennifer Gregerson and Ray Stephanson are working on a plan to transfer the land to Mukilteo.
Obtaining this land and preserving it as a public forest is a tremendous accomplishment that many people helped make this happen. We all should be proud.
So what happens now? Let’s talk about the land and what is in there.
Japanese Gulch was logged in the early 1900s, and there is evidence throughout the property, in the way of large stumps, some of them with notches in them let by lumberjacks’ springboards.
There are many nice-sized living trees, too. The larger evergreen trees we see now, mostly cedars, firs and hemlock, were probably too small to log at the time but have and will continue to grow.
Others include deciduous trees like maples, alders, cottonwoods and even some madrona. In addition, there are countless other plants like ferns, salmon berries, nettles and many varieties of mushrooms, to name a few.
Many animals are in the gulch, too, including squirrels, raccoons, deer, mountain beaver and even an occasional fox or coyote. Countless birds live in Japanese Gulch, including woodpeckers, ravens and owls.
The fish ladder at the base of the gulch had some good returns of salmon, too. A nice diversity of plant and animal life currently exists in Japanese Gulch, which is great.
There are also some issues on the property that are not so great.
Many people have been trespassing on this land for a long time. This is not a pristine untouched forest, but it is still very nice and we are lucky to have it.
Many trails crisscross the property, some of them very old and some more recent.
Many of these trails may be fine and can be used by the public to access the property. Some of these trails are on steep grades, some cross streams and wetlands, and may need to be improved, rerouted or closed.
Makeshift structures on the property will likely have to be removed. There is also litter, including tires and even the carcass of an old car.
There are no trespassing signs bolted into trees that should be addressed. There are plastic pellets from airsoft rifles littering the ground. There are also places where holes have been dug and where large mounds have been created to make bike jumps.
I have seen zip-lines, forts dug out of the ground and many other strange things that have been built or done throughout the years.
In addition, there are invasive species of plants that may need to be removed.
All this needs to be assessed and dealt with now that the property is publicly owned.
There has been a “Wild West” mentality regarding this land. Since it was illegal to use the property, people did whatever they wanted. There were no rules and many activities went on.
Now that this is part of Mukilteo, the city is going to have to determine what uses are appropriate on this public land.
City staff are working on a master plan for Japanese Gulch, which will take some time to put together. Part of this is assessing the current condition of the land and prioritizing any safety, maintenance, environmental and use issues.
Parking, access, signage, garbage, code enforcement and many other items will ultimately be addressed, as well.
The city is also working on ways for the public to give commentary during this process.
The Japanese Gulch Group will work closely with the city to make sure that your voices are heard and that all parties are given an opportunity to discuss with officials the types of uses they want to see continued in the gulch.
Please let us know what you would like to see happening in Japanese Gulch and we will pass the information on to the appropriate officials or help you gain access to them directly, if you prefer. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Does this mean that you can’t go into the property and use it now? No. The public is welcome there under city ownership.
However, please understand that many of the trails are not authorized or improved at this time so be careful. Also, since this is now public land, we are all expected to abide by the law. While there may not yet be specific rules for Japanese Gulch, state and local laws do apply.
We at Japanese Gulch Group hope that you will have fun using this great urban forest. Please be safe and courteous in the woods and please don’t make any further alterations to the property without permission from the city.
It’s not going to be the Wild West anymore, but we can all work together to safely use and preserve this land under city ownership.
Arnie Hammerman is the president of the Japanese Gulch Group, which supports preservation of the Japanese Gulch for future generations.