On April 2, 2012, the riding area known as 'The North Fork', on Slide Mountain near Bellingham, WA, was closed due to concerns of liability and environmental sustainability. Despite thousands of hours of volunteer effort on public lands, the trail system was deemed illegal and closure was immediate. The small network of user-built downhill mountain bike trails constructed to the highest of standards was not just a playground for locals. Over the past 5 years, the North Fork trail network exploded in popularity, drawing riders from across the state, and beyond. Bellingham-area locals used to drive north to ride the popular trails across the border, but eventually growing tired of the commute, they created some of the fastest, most sustainable, and challenging trails in the northwest. And, oh, how the tables turned - every weekend would see at least one truck full of Canadian downhillers honing their skills on American soil. Many professional mountain bike riders also used the area as their training ground.
These public trust lands which hosted the trail system alongside the North Fork of the Nooksack River are managed by Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR). Off-road motor vehicles were kicked out of this area in 2005 due to a negative impact on the vast salmon spawning habitat. While there was mountain bike use prior, when the motorized enthusiasts were removed from the area, the mountain bikers began to use the area more heavily. As the mountain bike trail system and its use grew, DNR concerns grew as well. A verbal agreement between local DNR reps. and area mountain bikers went into effect to contain further building pursuits. A local mountain bike alliance, Whatcom Trails Co-op
, was formed to better organize future conversations with land managers. Over the next several years, mountain bikers pushed to open a dialogue with land managers to secure legal access to the land, but the issue remained largely untouched by legislators and the DNR lacked funding for planning.
Suddenly, in March 2012, DNR forewarned Whatcom Trails of the impending doom of the trail system. Mountain bikers organized quickly through the community and were offered assistance from neighboring Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance
. However, the gavel had already ruled for immediate closure. Trail decommission began almost immediately. All trails were closed to mountain bikes, and authorities threatened to issue citations for anyone caught riding in the area.
This film is a candid reaction by various members of the community.
The support from the riding community and local businesses has begun to pay off as our pleas for partnership and proactive solutions to mountain biking access in Whatcom County has been heard by the DNR and our state represenatitives and senators. Whatcom County Council has since passed a resolution 7-0 urging the DNR to work with mountain bikers towards a solution. The Council sees the economic impact to our community with the loss of the trail system, as well as the detriment to local quality of life.
Additionally, negotiations are underway between Whatcom Trails Co-Op, Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance and the DNR to derive a short term plan to restore mountain biking to the landscape and to establish a long-term solution for all recreation in Whatcom County on state trust lands. This involves obtaining funding through grants and working hand-in-hand with the land manager to secure access that is environmentally sustainable, safe, and provides the experience mountain bikers require.
The timeframe for this process is varied, but our goal is to establish authorized recreation in Whatcom County for its residents and visitors for years to come. Whatcom Trails is working proactively to establish biking access in the short term and if all goes well there could be a riding opportunity in as little as one year. Whatcom County has now become one of the top 3 priorities for future planning, but the larger recreation plan will require additional funding and input, with a timeframe of 3 to 5 years.
The key to success in this relationship is our ongoing compliance with the current trail closure and respect towards the DNR and its employees. Whatcom Trails is asking that no new trail construction take place, no riding of closed trails, and that mt. bikers make their voices heard regarding access and funding for planning.
Whatcom Trails Co-op considers this an opportunity; a beginning rather than an end. We are on the verge of a very exciting time for biking here in Whatcom County and Bellingham. Please stay tuned and passionate, you are the cogs turning the wheel!
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For more information, visit: WhatcomTrails.comEvergreenMTB.org