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Banner Forest plan proposed

Area residents tired of the misuse of Banner Forest by hunters and off-roaders have put together a draft master plan outlining their vision for the 635-acre park.

The 17-page proposal calls for preserving the forest’s natural state, educating the public on the forest and its history and improving the trails and signs indicating permitted uses. The first and last requests stemmed from what has become a hot-button controversy — the effect of motorized vehicles on the park and the alleged presence of poachers.

“The park has really deteriorated,” said resident Patricia Cobb, who lives across the street from the park. “We need more enforcement.”

Neighbors of the park have complained of the noise from motor bikes and the hazard posed by hot-dogging teenagers. Motorized vehicles are prohibited in all county parks, but residents say that hasn’t stopped off-road enthusiasts from tearing up the trails and stinking up the pine-scented air.

“There are some conscientious riders, but there are a lot that aren’t,” Cobb said. “There’s enough of them that it’s of grave concern to us.”

Part of the problem may lie in the lack of visible signage. Cobb said motorized vehicles used to be permitted in certain parks but were banned after they “destroyed” the properties. Many park users appear unaware that off-road vehicles are prohibited on park trails.

“We put signs up there and they tear them down,” said Kitsap County Commissioner Jan Angel, who represents the South Kitsap area. “It’s cost us a lot of money already.”

The master plan proposes posting large signs at the Banner Road and Olalla Valley Road entrances — signs that would clearly state the prohibition on motorized vehicles, hunting, campfires, brush picking and other activities. The committee that drafted the plan also plans to address the issue of unauthorized trail-blazing, which users say often occurs when maintained paths get swampy with collected rainwater.

However, some forest advocates are concerned there is no reliable way to regulate activity in the park. The sheer size of the area is one such hurdle — many of those whose properties abut the park have complained of park users cutting through their yards and accessing the park via dead-end streets and cul-de-sacs.

“It appears that most of those that are coming in are not coming in (at established entrances),” said Parks Commissioner Charlotte Garrido. “They’re coming through the neighborhoods.”

Cobb agreed. She said residents have even started resorting to their own measures in an attempt to control cut-throughs, but to no avail.

“(Residents) have put up fences and (off-roaders) have torn them down,” Cobb said. “When (residents) have confronted them, they’ve just laughed and gone on in anyway.”

Despite all the concern over enforcement, at least one frequent park user questions the need for the prohibitions at all. Erin Brinkerhoff, who lives close by Banner Forest said she and her family use the park “a minimum of three times a week” in good weather. Brinkerhoff, who is Angel’s daughter, said motor bikes and hunters aren’t the big problems everyone is making them out to be.

“I’ve definitely seen motorcycle riders back there — mostly dads and young kids,” she said. “It’s a positive, family-oriented thing.”

Brinkerhoff agreed motorcycles can be noisy, but said all the riders she has ever encountered jogging or walking have been very courteous and have done most of their riding in the far reaches of the forest, beyond the normal scope of pedestrians. Once back in the lesser-used areas, she said the noise of the engines becomes inaudible.

“I’ve had a very positive experience with people yielding and being courteous,” Brinkerhoff said. “I’ve never been surprised by one coming up (behind me) super fast.”

In fact, she said she feels safer having the motorbikes around. As Brinkerhoff pointed out, the forest is very big and, should she get lost or twist her ankle while jogging, a motorcycle could transport her to safety much more easily than a bicycle or even a horse.

She does not agree with those who claim motorcycles are the ones digging up the trails. The fault of that, Brinkerhoff said, lies with the horses that are legally permitted to be ridden there.

She said a horse hoof can cause far more damage to soft soil, particularly in the sensitive areas between tree roots.

“From my experience, the horses’ hooves will come down on the soft turf and hollow it out,” Brinkerhoff said.

As for hunters: “I have never had any encounter with a hunter,” she said. “I hear more gunfire in the city limits than I have in the country.”

Brinkerhoff said she sympathized with neighboring residents plagued with hoodlums on bikes and unwanted trespassers. However, she encouraged those concerned to deal with the “bad eggs” individually and not make sweeping regulations that eliminate healthy family activities.

“I would just like to see people tolerant of each other,” Brinkerhoff said. “Everybody’s doing something different and there’s so much space out there. Even on a busy day, its surprising how many people you can avoid.”

“Everybody’s got to give,” she went on. “When you’re out there you’re happy.”

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