Report: Jumps are serious damage to Japanese Gulch

By Sara Bruestle | Apr 30, 2014

Unauthorized construction of bike jumps in Japanese Gulch has caused serious damage to the second growth natural forest, according to a recent report.

The creation of dirt jumps and trails for BMX bicyclists is damaging to trees and plants in the gulch and is “extensive and ongoing,” according to a report by Tree Solutions Inc. released April 15.

“The disturbance is quite significant, with excavated areas and manmade jumps,” wrote Scott Baker, a consulting arborist who authored the report. “I was amazed at what has been constructed and how much damage to the forest has occurred.”

Baker was hired by Mukilteo resident Jon Boyce to examine the gulch off of a cul-de-sac on 19th Street and provide a report.

Boyce is one of several concerned residents who suggest the BMX course was constructed recently so it could be grandfathered in to the Japanese Gulch Master Plan.

These residents say the jumps are not only destructive, but dangerous, and that they should be considered vandalism and removed accordingly. They say the jumps showed up weeks before the property sold to the city.

“The facts speak for themselves at this point,” Boyce said. “The science and tools are available to determine whether ‘this has always been here’ is true and, in fact, it’s not.”

According to the report, all of the jumps appear recent and ongoing because there were no weeds on the dirt jumps, roots cut were still fresh, there were freshly dug “borrow pits” and uprooted plants were still green. All of the work appeared to be done by hand.

Baker reported that he found trees with their roots cut on all sides, trees removed, severe soil compaction, removal and destruction of plants and soil, erosion, pooling water and the diversion of a wetland.

“[The] building activity for BMX use is, in my opinion, not a sustainable use of this area,” Baker wrote. “The excavation and construction has degraded the area substantially. Long term impacts from the damage to trees will likely result in dead or declining trees.”

The city has purchased more than 140 acres within the gulch over the years to preserve it as parkland. The last 97 acres was purchased for $5.4 million on Feb. 21.

A master plan establishing a comprehensive vision for the gulch is in the works. The plan is expected to be finalized and approved by the City Council in a year. In the meantime, no one is allowed to make alterations – trails, jumps or otherwise – in the gulch without city approval.

“It’s unfortunate, but it’s not that surprising that there’s work that continues to be done,” Mayor Jennifer Gregerson said. “I continue to remind people that they can’t be building trails, but we’re not out in the gulch every single day, watching everything that goes on.”

Baker added that the city holds a serious liability, as the “bike course in its current form is dangerous, and if kids find it and use it, potential for serious injury is likely.”

Gregerson doesn’t agree. She pointed out that Baker is not an attorney, and that as far as the city’s legal liability, she will continue to turn to the city attorney for advice.

“We’re taking care of those concerns based on her recommendations,” she said, adding that signs have been posted.

Baker recommended the city and repair the land as soon as possible. He wrote that the course should be removed and the location regraded with a mini-excavator, and that other methods will be needed to repair the soils and stabilize erosion.

Arnie Hammerman, president of the Japanese Gulch Group, said the course may have been recently altered but that “the jumps have been there for years.”

"The Japanese Gulch Group welcomes everyone’s opinion regarding matters pertaining to the gulch," he said. "We also encourage all sides to be patient and let the city have a chance to make their own assessment and develop the master plan that is in process. We ask that all activities in the gulch that alter the landscape stop at this time until that plan is set up."

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