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Updated:  Ski to Sea Tries to Bully Bellingham

Update Wed, May 13 at 5 pm

That was easy. The above map shows the final 7 mile mountain bike leg of the Ski to Sea race. The race organization was easily able to not cut through the Chuckanut Community Forest park by simply routing the race up the Interurban trail. The bikers get nice gnarly trails on the yellow loop end of the leg. The organizers even said the course is the best.

Now lets have a great race. And hope we get a good number of teams registered. And enjoy the best street party in Bellingham at the Fairhaven Festival on Sunday, May 24, where the race ends in Fairhaven.

Original article below posted Thu, May 7 at 4:30 pm

It was quite the “press release” the Ski to Sea corporation selectively sent out on Wednesday. Pete Coy bought the Ski to Sea Race from the Bellingham Chamber of Commerce a few years ago and says the city has “reneged” on its agreement to allow a new mountain bike leg of the race to traverse the new Chuckanut Community Forest Park.

Coy’s press release had no contact person listed so it was more of a plant with the Herald than a press release. The Herald ran with it, along with a headline suggesting Mayor Kelli Linville was responsible for damaging the Ski to Sea race.

This proposed seventh leg of the race is about nine miles long, with about a mile of it through the park. The route can be easily adjusted to not traverse the park.

In truth, Coy didn't get a “special use permit” from the city for use of the trail through the park - and he is experienced enough to know there is no agreement unless you have the written permit. I think he is trying to bully the city into granting the permit.

Coy has been pushing the city to allow the bikes through the most sensitive part of the park because it is the most rugged and muddy - just the sort of trail that mountain bikers like. Riding on established trails - like the Interurban - are not challenging for mountain bikers. They want a sort of hybrid bike leg here with a combination of roads and rugged, woodsy, muddy hills.

I’ve talked today with quite a number of participants in this process. The city was, and is, open to helping establish a second mountain bike leg to help make up for the loss of the two skiing legs at Mount Baker due to the lack of snow this year. But the city is not going to allow the very environmentally sensitive 100 acre wood, as the park is called, to be trashed by hundreds of mountain bike racers.

Coy did not send the press release to NWCitizen - and as of this writing it has been hours since I phoned asking for a copy. No call back. I got a copy from someone else and it is appended at the bottom of this article for you to read. It is a pretty trashy document. Judge for yourself.

Bottom line: The city did not renege. At one point, the city indicated it “was possible” the race might go through the park - but then realized the legal conservation easement with the new metropolitan park district prohibited this sort of use. And the people at the park district wrote the city of their concerns. The final decision rested with the city - that is, the parks department and mayor - and they decided not to let the bikes through that very sensitive natural area. It was a good decision both legally and environmentally.

After no return-call from the race folks, I drove to their office. There I met Curtis Anson, the director of the race, and while he answered some questions, he said “no comment” to key questions. I did learn the so-called press release was “tailored” for the Herald. He would not comment on the use of the word “reneged” in the release. He indicated no second thoughts about the wisdom their actions.

Some further opinion.

There seems no reason for this one-time leg of the race other than to maintain seven legs or achieve the arbitrary length of 100 miles. There is already a mountain bike leg from Hovander Park to Squalicum Harbor. The kayaks race across the bay to Maritime Park to the normal finish line. The race can end there. Everyone knows there is no snow and the Ski to Sea corporation cannot be blamed for that. No one - well, very few - want to trash an environmental jewel like the Chuckanut Community Forest Park. And race participants would probably be embarrassed to realize they are damaging a sensitive natural area. That leg of the race has eight miles that are not in the community park and can easily be routed to avoid it.

It was a sad and idiotic decision by the Chamber of Commerce to sell the race to Pete Coy and his special corporation. The chamber president who made that decision came here from California, decided he did not like the race and sold it. A few years later he quit and went back to California. We lost our signature community event to a private corporation. I was on the Ski to Sea committee for many years and ran the finish line committee for several years, overseeing the move of the finish line to Marine Park in Fairhaven back in about 1983. I later worked at the snow plow sheds with the state patrol enabling the road bikers entry onto the highway. I love that race and all it represents about our community.

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About John Servais

Writer • Fairhaven, Washington USA • Member since Feb 26, 2008

John started Northwest Citizen in 1995 to inform fellow citizens of serious local political issues that the Bellingham Herald was ignoring. With the help of donors from the beginning, he has [...]

Comments by Readers

Dick Conoboy

May 08, 2015

I just posted this comment over at Whatcom Hawk (Facebook):  “For several years I volunteered to work for Ski to Sea as a senior volunteer for the Bellingham Police. At one point I began to ask myself, what are my efforts for? I never got to see the race. I stood out in the cold/sun/rain (pick which) all day. Today I view these events (like the gazillion marathons run each year) as really tiresome. It’s never new. Run run. Jump jump. Swim swim. Toss toss. Blocked streets. Overtime pay for cops, firemen, etc. Wretched excess…”

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David Camp

May 08, 2015

It’s too bad commercial interests are doing what they do and using our local corporatist mouthpiece to “lobby” for special treatment. I’m sure the Ski to Sea was a more “family” event when run as a community non-profit - it certainly makes volunteering more appealing when you know your free labor is benefiting the community and not profiting an ownership group.

That said I think the bigger issue is staring us in the face - a rapidly changing world climate - and the current fracas a foretaste of the conflicts and problems that it will inevitably cause.

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Ryan M. Ferris

May 08, 2015

I think I will go a bit tangential in my comment, because I think this spat will work itself out and I personally think the Ski to Sea is great for Bellingham, it’s restaurants, commerce, shopping, city image. But let us take a moment to think about who we are and who we are becoming. I am the last one to be xenophobic, but A Mexican national recently a bought almost half of GPT, the American branch of a Chinese investment firm is building student housing in the York, and the Port is happy to sell our soul to Belfast in exchange for waterfront development. We are an international community after all with Sister Cities all over the world. But apparently we do not have enough liquidity or local talent to build our own infrastructure?  This is the way of the world now. Apparently we can expect the global economy to keep dividing up Whatcom County, privatizing our public assets and sending revenue streams overseas.

Some trademark assets are still ours at dear prices: Chuckanut Ridge, Our Parks, The County Fair, and The Ski to Sea? I understand the need to merge with the global economy. I would much rather that it comes from King County than overseas, but so be it. But in the name of economics and local pride, let’s not sell everything off.

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Michael Chiavario

May 08, 2015

Good article, John. You made the key points: Coy was not mislead and mistreated by the city, in fact James King of the Parks Department and Kelli deliberated appropriately, consulting with concerned community members to the point of King taking a tour with commissioners of the Community Forest. Also, dropping the 100 Acre Woods leg makes the race far simpler to manage. The Skit to Sea statement and the Herald article implied that the race committee would have to scramble around to find a new route which is wholly untrue. I spoke withSamantha Wohlfiel, the Herald writer about this and she did not understand that the 100 Acre Woods proposed leg was so inconsequential with the information that she had. I sent a map to her to explain the reality. She said that she plans a follow up piece.
You hit upon a little discussed but important piece of the story when you wrote that mountain bikers like to ride the kind of terrain that exists in the Woods. We should not underestimate the influence that a section of the mountain bike community has on the race and other important areas in our county. Some examples: -Rogue trail building in sensitive areas like the Reconveyance lands around Lake Whatcom with little enforcement by County Parks since the land was acquired with one of the main selling points for approval of the acquisition of those lands being protection of the watershed for our drinking water supply. Improperly built trails are an environmental hazard, not to mention a potential dangerous liability for the county. Parks main trail person was pulled off of the Reconveyance Lands last year after he clashed with rogue trail builders who had then complained to Parks.
-Rogue trail building in the Chuckanuts.
-Rogue trail building it the 100 Acre Woods.
-Advertising these trails on websites complete with video.
-Packing trail planning meetings with Mountain Bike trail supporters.
I am not opposed to mountain biking. I am opposed to irresponsible and illegal trail building. We have a problem of lack of enforcement and a Mountain Biking culture of entitlement in the minds of some bikers.
If a transient digs up a bush in Maritime Heritage Park, he would likely be ticketed or arrested. Rogue trail builders have yet, to my knowledge, been penalized for their actions.

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Sandy Robson

May 08, 2015

I posted this comment early this morning on the same Whatcom Hawk post that Dick Conoboy refers to on this NWCitizen comment thread:

“It saddens me, and angers me that so many people think that our beautiful and vital natural resources exist to be used in any manner they see fit. It’s exploitative and it’s wrong.

I like the phrase Wendy used above, ‘their right to trample and destroy.’ It’s really quite apt.

After the news of the COB’s decision not to let the race go through Chuckanut Community Forest, the attitude of entitlement by some of the race participants and the organizer is pretty disgusting.

I’m wondering where the Ski To Sea racers’ and the organizer’s indignation is toward the fossil fuel industry which has contributed so much to climate change, likely causing there to be such low snow fall in our mountains, which caused there to be no “ski” part of the race?

The sad part is, that now, some of the same people who are members of groups in our county that promote property rights and ‘liberty,’ who scoff at the idea of protecting the environment, are jumping on the bandwagon on this Sea to Ski race issue and using the COB’s decision as a way to drum-up animosity against people who are pro-environment. I have already seen that happening in online comments.

This Sea to Ski race issue got me to thinking—Maybe we should take a page out of the coal industry’s public relations playbook (‘War on Coal’ or ‘War on Jobs’) and call the Tea Party/SSA Marine’s district-only voting attack on Bellingham’s environmentally-conscious and liberal voting block a ‘War on Bellingham.’”

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Vince Biciunas

May 08, 2015

As a CCFPD commissioner, I’d like to clarify that only two CCFPD commissioners met with James King to walk the proposed bike route through the forest, since more than two are not allowed to meet except in a publicly noticed meeting. At our April 23rd meeting, we heard about the proposal by the Ski to Sea committee, and voted to send a letter to James King asking that the permission not be granted until after we’ve had the Master Plan for the forest in place, protecting the wetlands and buffers, establishing the recreational parameters, and that our Baseline Study (started in March 2015) be allowed to complete the work and the report. Therefore, we support Mayor Kelli’s decision.

And I’d like to add as a bit of perspective, that the race itself is not in jeopardy. The mountain bike leg still is slated to ride on the Arroyo Park trails with plenty of opportunity for racers to get muddy and ride steep grades, and then run uphill on Chuckanut Drive.

I support the efforts of the race committee and the thousands of volunteers and team members. The month-long ski to sea activities, including those sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce, are fun, and add real dollars to our economy.

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Sandy Robson

May 08, 2015

I called Whatcom Events which owns the Ski to Sea race, and asked to speak to someone about a couple questions I have about Ski to Sea and the press release they sent out.

They had me speak to Curtis (I think that would be Curtis Anson, race director) but I did not hear the last name when I was transferred to him. I told him that I read the Herald story and had read the press release sent out to media by Whatcom Events and that I was surprised at what I read in the press release. I told him I have read many press releases before and this one did not seem like any press release I had seen before. It seemed attacking and negative for a press release.

Curtis then said something like—well things are difficult because there is no snow this year for the ski part of the race—something to that effect.

I then said I noticed there was no name or number as a contact for the press release and I assume they have someone who is the one who usually sends out press releases so I asked who sent this particular one out. He paused for a bit, so I said to him that at the bottom of the press release it reads “Whatcom Events Board of Directors,” but no names are listed. I asked him if perhaps he was the one who sent the press release.

He then said that he did not care to talk in detail anything further about the press release, but said if I had a question about the race then I could ask about that.

I said that I didn’t need more details any further than just a “yes” or “no” answer to the question if he was the one who sent out the press release. I did not get an answer so I said I assume that there would need to be approval of some kind before a press release gets disseminated, especially one like this particular press release, so was it approved by the board or a board member. He finally answered that it was approved by the board.

I think it’s really odd that an organization sends out a press release with no specific contact name and then later when someone from that organization is asked who sent it out they would not answer the question.

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Dick Conoboy

May 09, 2015

MARCELLUS
Something is rotten in the state of Denmark
HORATIO
Heaven will direct it.
MARCELLUS
Nay, let’s follow him.

Exeunt

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Gerry Wilbour

May 13, 2015

Great southside message to Ski to Sea racers and the region: Thanks Bellingham for the new nine million dollar park, now STAY OUT! 

Every time the “legal department” makes trail management decisions, the results aren’t pretty.  The hundred acre wood has had continually increasing recreational use for decades, a key factor in the communities passion for it’s conservation. Some of that use has created undesirable impacts; impacts that are orders of magnitude greater than a one day race during the spring when plant growth is robust, making it nearly undetectable by comparison.  Solutions to issues in key areas are relatively easy and simple, yet somewhere between procrastination and analysis paralysis the powers that be can’t seem to move on them.  We need allies, not enemies.  Conservation of this space was sold to the public on it’s combination of environmental, scenic and recreational values.

This is a huge embarrassment, but not a surprise.

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Barbara Perry

May 15, 2015

I voted for Chuchanut Woods because I believe we should protect the last places in our Whatcom world from human destruction.  We need pristine nature. The reason Kulshan, or Mt Baker, does not have snow is because of human destruction of the world’s environment, so even suggesting that the 100 acre woods be used for Ski to Sea angers me. Ride your bikes down the freeway for all I care BUT DON’T TOUCH NATURE’S CHUCKANUT RIDGE, OR I WILL BE BLOCKING THE TRAIL WITH MY DISABILITY POWER SCOOTER. Make your trail somewhere else.  I used to enjoy Ski to Sea.  Now it seems nothing but a commercial venture.

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