by Bennett Hanson
Galbraith Mountain, the answer to all mountain-bikers and outdoor lovers in Bellingham, was recently threatened to be closed to the public. Ever since the land-owner struck an agreement in May 2010, the Whimps Mountain Biking Coalition have created, maintained and used the 44 miles of trails without conflict. However, now that the property has changed hands and is planned for major logging, things aren’t looking so bright for the outdoorsy folk.
Galbraith Mountain has served the community as a recreational hotspot, tourism money-magnet, successful preservation of natural forest, and protection of the local watershed. A loss to any of those areas would prove devastating to all in the community.
A survey done by the Whimps shows the vast majority of non-locals who visit and use Galbraith also spend up to $60 during their time in town. Grocery stores, restaurants, hotels and gas stations all benefit from Galbraith’s appeal to mountain bikers.
Trillium originally owned the land until October 2009 when they sold it to Polygon Financial with a $10 million debt attached. Polygon has already logged enough to get $4 million back and would likely want to continue logging. Since January, 215 acres have been logged. After this year, Polygon plans to log an average of 60 acres per year.
“They’re not acknowledging that the mountain biking there is more valuable than the logging,” said Pat Tolton, 19, an avid mountain biker. Tolton said other mountains in the country and Whistler are turning to charging admission fees for mountain biking as a large source of income. On top of that, over 44 miles of recreational trails created by WMBC boost the land’s price value up $3 to 4 million more than before.
Tolton showed up at Bellingham High School on April 18 along with hundreds of other concerned bikers, hikers and townspeople. The auditorium where it was held was packed, certainly a prime example of what the mountain means to locals, said Tolton. Others made themselves present, including Mayor Pike and Blair Murray.
“A lot of good people showed up and said good things,” said Tolton after watching the discussions. “The ball is basically in the city’s court…the city needs to buy the land and extend it into city limits, or work a deal to log away from the trails.” Tolton suggested that as a last resort he would be willing to pay admission fees in order to save the recreational uses of the land even though he would rather not.
A further interest in purchasing the land comes from the 1,400 acres in the Lake Whatcom watershed. Half of Whatcom County, including all of Bellingham, gets their drinking water from this lake.
Polygon Financial, the property owner, has recently proposed selling the 3,015 acres of forested land for $20 million, preferably to the City of Bellingham. “The $20 million price tag the current owners originally placed on the property… remain[s] out of reach for local governments,” Mayor Dan Pike said on the City of Bellingham website. “Frankly, it is a price inconsistent with today’s property values,” so it appears the owners are drawing attention to the property with threats of closure only to inflate the price.
Pete Kremen, Whatcom County executive, told The Bellingham Herald the current asking price for the 3,015 acres is “substantially” less than the initial $20 million proposed. Kremen also explained that the funding, if provided, would come from the Conservation Futures fund which was created in 1996 when residents voted to tax themselves and others.
Polygon still hopes that the city will go through with the sale proposal, but we do not have all the time in the world to wait for an answer, said Blair Murray, the owner of Tin Rock management, in his letter seen on preservegalbraith.org. “In fairness to Polygon, it has… given the city an eight month head start on other prospective buyers.”
It is currently up for grabs whether Galbraith will be closed to the public, remain open, be bought by the city or hacked down for wood. If you feel that Galbraith should stay open to the public for recreational use, or should be used for something else, go to preservegalbraith.org and voice your opinions. After all, “it’s awesome mountain biking,” Tolton explained, “and right on our doorstep.”
Share this article: