Plan to add mountain biking trails at Kaiser Woods pleases bikers, concerns neighbors

Proposed west Olympia park has mountain bike supporters revved up, but some neighbors concerned.

Olympia associate parks director Jonathon Turlove outlines Kaiser Woods, a proposed park that will feature dedicated mountain bike trails in west Olympia. Some neighbors have voiced concern about traffic and other issues.
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Olympia associate parks director Jonathon Turlove outlines Kaiser Woods, a proposed park that will feature dedicated mountain bike trails in west Olympia. Some neighbors have voiced concern about traffic and other issues.

A development proposal called Kaiser Woods has captured the attention of west Olympia residents and mountain bikers, inspiring nearly 600 to participate in an online survey and motivating 200 to attend a recent public meeting.

It’s the kind of attention a massive subdivision might generate, but in this case it’s a park.

Kaiser Woods has been pitched as the city’s first park to have dedicated trails for those who ride mountain bikes, as well as trails for pedestrian use.

“We’re trying to get the best balance,” said Jonathon Turlove, Olympia’s associate parks director. “We have an unmet, growing need (for mountain bike trails ) while recognizing there are other folks who want to take a hike.”

The online survey comments show some welcome the proposal, while others have raised concerns about potential environmental damage, parking and traffic. Some, too, feel that they have been left out of the process and haven’t been treated as stakeholders, even though they live nearby.

One of the most outspoken is Evonne Hedgepeth, who lives in a nearby neighborhood. She first learned about the proposal in March after she received a postcard in the mail from the city.

“I felt like I had been punched in the gut,” she said. “It blindsided us.”

The park

Kaiser Woods is essentially a forest that is situated above and west of two Olympia neighborhoods off Black Lake Boulevard: Westbrook and Ken Lake. It currently is an undeveloped community park.

The city paid $1.1 million for the 68-acre parcel in September 2015 and has a $300,000 budget to develop it. A feasibility study showed it was the preferred location for mountain bike trails because of its terrain, topography and access, Turlove said.

This past spring the public process ramped up with the online survey and a public meeting in May, which provided feedback on three concepts for the park — concepts that offer a combination of biking and hiking trails.

The city is not done, Turlove said. It plans to work with an environmental consultant on yet another concept for the site.

“While it’s premature to say exactly what the final plan will look like, we can say it will likely look a bit different from any of the initial three concepts,” he said in an email to The Olympian.

Once the city comes up with a revised plan, more public input will be solicited, Turlove said.

Neighborhood concerns

Hedgepeth has lived in the Westbrook neighborhood for 35 years and says that most of her neighbors feel the way she does about the proposal. She is concerned about biking’s impact on the environment as well as parking and trail safety.

However, she also acknowledges that “life is about compromise,” so she suggests a park plan that would divide it into an area for mountain bikes, an area for hikers and open space. Special care must be taken in its development, she said.

“It should be reasonably developed in a way that is responsible to the environment of the park and the neighbors and citizens who are affected by it,” she said.

Longtime Ken Lake resident Bruce Treichler has similar concerns. He doesn’t want to see stormwater runoff exacerbated — it already produces minor residential flooding in the winter, he said. Wetlands need to be protected and parking needs to be somewhere other than the Park Drive trail head, he contends. Park Drive cuts through the Westbrook neighborhood and ends at Kaiser Woods.

“The issue is what kind of development is going to be done to accommodate them,” said Treichler about the mountain bikers.

Turlove said a 10-stall parking area has been proposed at the Park Drive trail head, although the city also is exploring other options.

Perhaps more than anything, Hedgepeth and Treichler say they feel left out of the process and that mountain bike groups have had too much say in shaping the proposal.

Hedgepeth said the mountain bike groups have been treated like stakeholders, but neighbors have not.

“We want to positively and creatively come up with a feasible plan to develop Kaiser Woods,” Hedgepeth said. “But we can’t do that if (city of Olympia) staff won’t talk to us or treat us like a key stakeholder in the process.”

Friends of Capitol Forest

Kelly Wood is the president of Friends of Capitol Forest, a mountain bike advocacy group that has close to 500 members and is best known for trail construction and maintenance at Capitol Forest. He’s also a Ken Lake resident.

He welcomes the Kaiser Wood proposal and says it’s long overdue.

“There’s not a place in the city of Olympia where you can ride your bike in the dirt,” he said, adding it’s a “big gap in our community.”

Capitol Forest has trails used by hikers and bikers and that model works well, he said. If trails are well-designed, you can avoid user conflict, he contends.

Wood said he’s aware of the criticism and said there are valid concerns about increased traffic through the neighborhood. While some people will drive their cars to the site, he said, many mountain bikers will ride to it.

Wood, an environmental attorney, disputes the claims about stormwater runoff in the area and thinks the rock found throughout Kaiser Woods is “ideal from a trail builders perspective.”

He said if people want to hike without seeing bikes, there are plenty of options at the city’s other parks.

Turlove said work on the park could begin as early as next year, but he also said the city doesn’t have a set timeline.

“We want to make sure we do it right rather than fast,” he said.

Rolf has worked at The Olympian since August 2005. He covers breaking news, the city of Lacey and business for the paper. Rolf graduated from The Evergreen State College in 1990.