Guest Commentaries

Commissioner: Conservation easement is sound reason to continue Chuckanut Park levy

'Let's work together for conservation'
January 11, 2023 at 4:45 a.m.
Bicyclists ride through Hundred Acre Wood Park in March. Recreational use in the park has been a sticking point for some park board members who prefer to prioritize preservation.
Bicyclists ride through Hundred Acre Wood Park in March. Recreational use in the park has been a sticking point for some park board members who prefer to prioritize preservation. (Andy Bronson/Cascadia Daily News)

By Ed Grumbine, Guest Writer

As the newest Chuckanut Community Forest Park District Commissioner, I appreciate your recent coverage of our work (CDN, Dec. 14-15, 2022). I understand that conservation of the Hundred Acre Wood is complex and that people have strong emotions around it.

I also appreciate clear journalism that gets facts straight while capturing multiple sides of issues. Here are key items that need clarification:  

• Along with paying off the loan, assisting with completing a master plan, and meeting a mandate to dissolve within one year of city notification, we are responsible for stewardship/oversight of a conservation easement (CE). Since 2013, when the parks district and the city together negotiated this legal document, the CE has provided the rules of the road for management of the woods. Any future city planning must adhere to it.

• The CE includes a legal requirement for us to select a nonprofit group willing to take over our role as steward of the CE before we sunset. Two critical points here: 1) The group we identify must accept the specific terms of the CE, and 2) a given selected group will likely require stewardship funds (possibly as much as $200,000) to fulfill their oversight responsibilities under the CE. This is the major reason why we need to have at least this amount in our budget when we sunset; the city has made it clear that it will not provide funds.

• The city and the commissioners (and the nonprofit groups we have talked with about taking over the CE) all agree that the 9-year-old document is out of date given what we now know about the ecology and use of the woods. Recent discussions with the city over revising the CE have resolved most issues, but a few sticking points remain. I expect consensus soon.

• There are several reasons why the parks district just voted to extend a very small levy. First, our 2022-2023 operating expenses (commissioners do not get paid) will likely cut into the amount needed for stewardship mentioned above. Second, despite progress in revising the CE, it has become clear that the city may be attempting to weaken the legal mandates of the current CE by replacing sections with administrative language linked to future master plans. But master plans are political documents that can and will change over the years. This does not look to us as management that “assures that the natural features, functions and values of the Property are protected in perpetuity …” (language in the current CE). Otherwise, why did southside citizens tax themselves for 10 years if we commissioners don’t attempt to maintain the conservation platform that people voted and paid for?

To summarize, it’s not just about paying off the loan. And, contrary to your news coverage, the parks district has not “stepped outside of its role,” is not attempting to “renegotiate” the CE alone (the city has also requested revisions); is not demanding rules that would result in making “a lot of the park off-limits”; and is not considering “funding enforcement teams and private security.” As a commissioner volunteering my time on behalf of my neighbors, I have no interest in any of these actions.

I do have an interest in working with the city to finalize the CE. And instead of funding “enforcement teams,” the commissioners, in the months we have left, are brainstorming plans to engage volunteers, docents and other groups to get out in the woods to encourage fellow citizens to follow the city’s own rules around dogs on leash, bike speeds and other issues. I walk in the woods most days and the majority of folks don’t need to be reminded of how to care for the Hundred Acre Wood.

Let’s work together to get the best conservation, recreation and education benefits from this lovely place that makes Bellingham such a wonderful place to call home.

Ed Grumbine of Fairhaven is a commissioner for the Chuckanut Community Forest Park District.

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