Island residents express concern and support for the city’s Bike Skills Area

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Conversations about using and renovating the Bike Skills Area (BSA) at Mercer Island’s Upper Luther Burbank Park don’t always bring participants together. As the project moves forward, city and park conservationists are eager to see how the area will be transformed and hope it will have a positive impact on the community.

Depending on the city.

The city hired consultant Mike McIntyre of Action Sports Design (ASD) of Austin, Texas to fully assess the site and provide the city with recommendations on improving the area. Its initial report presented at a virtual community meeting on November 15, 2021, focused on impacts to soils and vegetation and consideration of potential site alterations – also known as the BMX course or Snake Hill – which exists. for decades.

“We’ve worked very hard to try to meet the needs of friends (of Luther Burbank Park) and the cycling community,” said Alaine Sommargren, the city’s assistant director of public works. “We’re really committed to making this work for the open space and for recreation. We have no interest in sacrificing each other.

Sue Stewart, president of Friends, said the city has shown sensitivity to the park for many years, but “we are really surprised that during COVID – we know it was a difficult time for everyone – they have about left the 20 kids, they pretty much had it all to themselves.The longtime neighborhood resident said she saw 10 kids digging and 10 youngsters riding on the BSA during that time.

Stewart – who believes that only low-impact activities should take place in the park – said the friends believed the consultant would determine that the upper part of the park was not a suitable location for the BSA because, for example, the sandy loamy soil was not a suitable match for the area and because the area has steep hillsides. Stewart said Friends had amassed 342 signatures on a petition to protect the BSA area of ​​the park.

Sommargren noted that the city received the consultant’s draft report the week of March 7 and hopes to get a final version in the coming weeks. The report, which contains some concepts and layouts, was delayed for several months for health reasons, and the project is moving forward again.

Here are some highlights from the report: designing a lesson plan that respects the current footprint; including professionally constructed jumps that meet safety standards and are suitable for the site; and no construction of unsupervised jumps. But they want input from energetic runners. On the ground side, they will need to provide more suitable ground to create durable stable jumps.

Since the BSA closed, Sommargren said park maintenance crews have redistributed soil used for jumps to surrounding hills and replanted much of it.

“We are really interested in stabilizing the hillsides, re-vegetating them to minimize any erosion in the area,” she said.

Stewart said she was concerned that bikers would continue to blaze new illegal trails on the course.

“The issue of containment is the big problem. If you spend $215,000 to build a mountain bike course in Upper Luther, if you bring them here, I don’t think you’ll stop them from creating new trails,” she said. “It just wasn’t thought of as a designed park. If that’s what it becomes, people from all over the county are going to come here – park, ride. It’s going to be an advertised ATV park, which doesn’t was never a mountain bike park.It was closed as a vandalized BMX park.

Friends aren’t against kids having their hobbies, but Stewart suggests the city council allocate funds to transport cyclists to the larger Duthie Hill mountain bike park on the Sammamish Plateau.

Members of the Mercer Island High School and Middle School ATV teams are avid users of the BSA and eagerly await its return.

At the March 15 city council meeting, Cavalier Quintin Shiers gave a heartfelt speech about the need for BSA in the community.

“I think it’s important to have a cycling skill area in the first place. I like that I can just go to Snake Hill and come back whenever I want on my own schedule and not have to deal with any time restrictions. Please prioritize this. I miss this park every day,” he said.

Team member Ronan Halloway-Lamb added: “The Mercer Island (Bike Skills Area) is a vital part of the community and an asset that so many teenagers need.”

Mountain bike team coach Brian Shiers says a petition to reopen the BSA has garnered nearly 500 signatures.

Currently, Sommargren said the city does not have a dedicated BSA budget, adding that the $215,000 amount was a high-level early estimate to make the area a sustainable facility while addressing safety and security issues. environment. The city currently does not have a planned appropriation request for the city council, and Sommargren noted that the plan will likely go to parks and recreation for an initial review.

While Stewart calls the area a mountain bike park, Sommargren noted that while the primary users are now mountain bikers, the city’s Bike Skills Area moniker is more inclusive for all cyclists.

Sommargren added that thanks to the city’s “broad” BSA survey, almost everyone who responded lives on the island and most of them cycle to the area. She added that the parking issues might not be valid now since the BSA is much smaller than places like Duthie Hill, which has much more regional appeal. It’s hard to say what will happen over time, she said.

“It’s much more neighborhood-focused in its size. It doesn’t have the kind of sprawling trail network that mountain bikers typically seek,” said Sommargren, who noted that the BSA is referenced on three pages of the recently adopted Parks, Recreation and Open Spaces (PROS) plan. by the city.

For more information, visit https://letstalk.mercergov.org/bike-skills-area-at-upper-luther-burbank-park.

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