[Tweeters] A Letter to the Urban Forestry Commission regarding Cheasty Greenspace

Mark Ahlness mahlness at gmail.com
Thu Jan 15 16:04:05 PST 2015

There is a lot of talk in Seattle right now about the "use" of natural
areas, greenspaces, and undeveloped land in Seattle's parks. One of the
issues bringing this conversation forward is Parks' proposed pilot mountain
bike trail in Cheasty Greenspace on Beacon Hill. The reason I am writing to
Tweeters about this is of course because of the concern over loss or
marginalization of habitat for our birds and other wildlife. There is
widespread unease that this pilot may set a bad precedent for protecting
the dwindling natural areas within our city.

On January 7, 2015, Seattle's Urban Forestry Commission heard a
presentation from proponents of the mountain bike pilot. Afterwards, the
Commission heard public testimony, almost unanimous in opposition to the
mountain bike park. They also received several written statements in
opposition, one of which I am forwarding below, with the permission of the

If you are interested in getting involved in the public discussion, there
is a meeting of the Cheasty Project Advisory Team (PAT) on 1/29/15 at the
Rainier Community Center from 6:00 – 9:00 p.m. I hope you will consider
attending, or staying up to date on the progress of this proposal, as it's
an important issue.

Thanks - Mark Ahlness, West Seattle - please read on:

Dear Urban Forestry Commission,

Please do not allow The Cheasty Bike Park pilot to become the future of
Seattle Urban Forests. This project is not fair, sustainable, or wise. It
does not protect nature equally for all people, it has pitted neighbor
against neighbor, and it will lead to overuse and degradation of our
forested natural areas.

*Sharing Nature Equally*

Every person deserves an equal right to enjoy the remnant wild nature we
have left. When trails are kept as passive-use, it means we all share
nature on an equal footing. No special user-group gets special rights to
any part of the forest. It is the most fair to the most people.

Less than 1% of our city is left as Park Natural Area (City Park Facts,
2014). By eliminating the passive-use policy in urban forests, these
precious fragments of peace, quiet, abundant plants and wildlife will be
become over-used by competing specialized-user groups. Instead of sharing
on equal footing, every user-group will demand their own piece of the
Nature Pie. What will be left for ordinary people? Where will the old, the
very young, the less-abled, the low-income, or the solitary and quiet
people go to enjoy nature? Will our fast-growing city lose the nature that
makes Seattle special?


Once the Nature Pie is sliced up into smaller and smaller pieces, it will
no longer be healthy, beautiful and ecologically rich. When urban forests
are managed for heavy recreation they quickly become less natural. People
need to park, use the restroom, they want a snack bar, they want to feel
safe. Soon, structures are built, ground is asphalted, lighting added,
bushes trimmed. Nature becomes just another development. Without
protection—without passive-use—this is inevitable.

Our forests should be managed for long-term sustainability, not
recreational desires.

Urban forests are a rare resource, and their use should be secondary to
their ecological function. In 2003, a city study described Cheasty
Greenspace as a rare place of “notable value” as wildlife habitat (Cheasty
Greenspace Vegetation Management Plan). The study is full of descriptions
of the forest’s rich habitat. Yet, the bike park promoters describe Cheasty
as if it were a dying wasteland of crime and disease. Even the Parks
Department has begun to describe Cheasty as a degraded forest, full of
“problems” (Parks public meeting, March 2014).

Yes, Cheasty has invasive plants. What forest does not? Are we giving up on
all our forests, or just this one?

On a recent trip to Portland, I visited Forest Park, a famous 5000-acre
urban forest. The park is beloved, and its nature trails are well-used by
foot traffic. It is also heavily affected by invasive plants. In many
places, the forest is so invaded with ivy that the understory is completely
obscured for as far as you can see. The Park also has a bit of crime and
garbage and homeless people, like pretty much everywhere else in American
cities. And yet, it is not described as a dying wasteland. Portland has not
thrown up its hands and said, sorry, we just can’t deal with this. On the
contrary, people are enjoying it, and they are rallying to restore it, and
forming conservancies and partnerships and making long term plans and
conducting in-depth wildlife and biodiversity studies. They have committed
for the long haul.

They have also committed to passive-use in the forest natural area.
Mountain bikers—despite heavy lobbying—have not been given free use of the
hiking trails. As a result, the forest is shared by everyone, equally, and
is protected from overuse.

*Service and Community*

In describing Cheasty as “gross”, the implication by Parks and the bike
park promoters is that the only way to save the forest is to trade
special-use privileges for eco-restoration services. To the vast majority
of citizens who do not use mountain bike skills courses, this means a piece
of nature has been taken away from the majority and given to a minority—for
the price of free labor. Is this considered volunteering? It sounds more
like a sale or a lease.

Seattle citizens and the Green Seattle Partnership are doing amazing work
in restoring our forests, and many people have made forest stewardship a
major focus of their life. And, most of them have asked for nothing in
return. But, at Cheasty, by granting special-use privileges to a
special-use group in return for restoration services, the city has turned
volunteerism into a quid-pro-quo arrangement. What will this do to
volunteerism in the future?

This project has caused considerable discord in the community. It has
pitted neighbor against neighbor in an ugly, unproductive way. People have
spent countless hours either fighting for or against this park. At one City
Council meeting, I listened to a young Native American woman speak
passionately—tearfully—of this wild remnant of land being special to
her—about how wild things were important culturally as a reminder of her
ancient tribal connections, and how the thought of it being used-up made
her feel unbearably sad. A few minutes later, a pro-bike-park person
angrily scolded the opponents about how it was “just a bike park” and how
people needed to “educate themselves”. Another said in effect that if
people really cared about the forest they should prove it by helping to
restore it. But what about people who don’t —or can’t—do that kind of work?
Does the older person with a bad back, or the single working parent with no
free time get less of a voice in their community forest than those with the
strength to pull ivy and the resources to spare the time? Does any one
group have the right to lay claim to a forest because they volunteer in it?

The bike park promoters make a strange case when they use their own earlier
project as a reason we need a bike park. In the nearby
Cheasty-at-Mountain-View, the forest was restored and trails were built.
Awards were won, glossy brochures were posted, and everyone benefitted. But
now, they are telling us that Cheasty-North—the greenspace across the
street—will die unless it is turned into a bike park. What happened to the
overwhelming success of the non-bike park they are so proud of?

Why not continue with the restoration, the passive use trails, and let
everyone benefit?

One last thought: the bike park promoters are continually referring to the
opponents as a “few people.” In the most recent Urban Forestry Meeting they
gave a Powerpoint Presentation showing an impressive number of volunteers
and said in effect that this was proof that the community did in fact, want
this park, and that it was being opposed by “a few people.”

But, the online petition against this bike park has registered over 400
signatures—many of them from long-time Beacon Hill neighbors. That may not
be as impressive as the kind of wide-ranging support a well-organized
special-interest group can muster, but it’s still 400 neighbors who care a
lot about this forest. How can that, in anyone’s good conscience, be


Denise Dahn

Co-founder, The Seattle Nature Alliance


(note: Denise added the final two paragraphs after the meeting)
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