Banner Forest bikers angered by removal of trail structures

South Kitsap’s Banner Forest has become a haven for mountain bikers, who have constructed many trails and jumps.   - Berglind Hafsteinsdottir Photo
South Kitsap’s Banner Forest has become a haven for mountain bikers, who have constructed many trails and jumps.
— image credit: Berglind Hafsteinsdottir Photo

Kitsap County Parks and Recreation Department officials have temporarily halted demolition of the elaborate system of jumps, hazards and obstacles that dot Banner Forest’s network of trails.

But the delay figures to be a short and largely symbolic one — much to the chagrin of the mountain bikers who built and use the park.

“This seems like a punishment,” complained one attendee at an occasionally contentious meeting on Monday evening of the Banner Forest Stewardship Committee. “It’s so premature. The county is sitting on a gold mine with that park, but it’s killing it for no good reason.”

“The park is there for everyone,” argued another. “But the mountain bikers seem to make up the majority of those who use the park and maintain it. Whatever we do out there should cater to the people who actually use the park, not a vocal minority.”

Citing both safety concerns and fears the county could be sued if a biker is injured while attempting a dangerous maneuver on one of the countless obstacles erected on the trails, crews began destroying the structures shortly after the June 8 meeting of the Stewardship Committee.

Monday marked the group’s first meeting since, and more than 100 people — mostly frustrated mountain bikers — packed the Long Lake Community Center to confront parks officials and South Kitsap Commissioner Charlotte Garrido.

“I’m going to ask you to give us some time,” Garrido said, announcing that the demolition work would be halted at least until the county’s risk assessment manager returned from vacation on Monday to evaluate the program.

“I’m willing to go back and talk to the commissioners tomorrow,” she said. “But you’ve got to accept that some of those jumps and teeter-totters that have been built in the park just don’t belong there.”

Kitsap County Parks Superintendent Dori Leckner noted on Tuesday that while many of the structures are quite ingenious in their design and required considerable work to construct, none was authorized by the county.

More to the point, “A person can fall off a sturdy, well-designed jump just as easily as any other,” she said. “If the idea is to remove every jump that someone could conceivably be injured on and sue the county, they all have to go.”

Leckner said the demolition work would almost certainly resume once the promised assessment was completed, although, “The bikers rebuild them almost as fast as we can tear them down.”

The county purchased the 635-acre in 2000, at the request of the Olalla Community Council, which opposed a housing development planned for the site.

Because the county lacks the manpower to effectively manage Banner Forest as well as its other 80 parks holdings, the property is overseen by a volunteer stewardship committee, in addition to the Great Peninsula Conservancy, which is responsible for the 139 acres of wetlands within its boundaries.

According to its Master Plan — which is currently being revised — Banner Forest is to be enjoyed equally by bikers, hikers and horseback riders.

The industriousness of the bikers, however, has come under scrutiny lately as ad hoc work parties seemingly clear new trails and construct more jumps every weekend — sometimes even chopping down trees in the process.

“The park was envisioned as a passive forest for quiet use,” Garrido said on Monday. “If you’re going to change it, we need to follow a process. And we need to make sure we address the liability issues.”

“People are passionate about the park,” Leckner said. “It’s a wonderful resource for everyone. But we’ve got to make sure it’s safe, and we’ve got to make sure it’s protected.

“We can’t have people going back there on their own carving unauthorized trails and constructing dangerous obstacles,” she said. “The first step is just to inventory the whole property and map out the trails so we know what we’re dealing with. At this point, we don’t even know what’s back there — and it changes every day.”

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