What could the sale of 2,240 acres on Galbraith mean for mountain biking there?

Ride Galbraith Mountain, one of Washington's best mountain bike areas

Ride along with mountain bikers on Galbraith Mountain. Minutes from downtown Bellingham, Galbraith is rated as one of Washington State's best mountain biking areas.
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Ride along with mountain bikers on Galbraith Mountain. Minutes from downtown Bellingham, Galbraith is rated as one of Washington State's best mountain biking areas.

Polygon Financial 05 has sold 2,240-acres on Galbraith Mountain to a company called Galbraith Tree Farm, and the deal has the support of the mountain biking community that has played and maintained miles of trails there for decades.

The sale price was $8 million for the tree farm on the mountain located east of Bellingham.

Galbraith Tree Farm was founded by Rob Janicki, of Janicki Logging and Construction.

“Galbraith Mountain is an integral part of the Bellingham community,” Janicki said. “We are proud to assume responsibility as its steward for the residents of, and visitors to, northwest Washington.”

The sale leaves Skagit County-based Polygon with about 500 acres on the mountain. Polygon declined to comment further.

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Galbraith Tree Farm said it will sustainably harvest an average of about 50 acres of trees a year on the mountain, depending on market conditions.

Timber management will continue under Janicki Logging and Construction, which has managed operations there since 2010.

Galbraith is the common name for North Lookout Mountain, and is a renowned mountain biking playground that has become increasingly popular with hikers and runners. It is east of Bellingham.

Recreational access will remain, the new owner said.

“One of the motivating factors behind the purchase of the tree farm at Galbraith Mountain was our desire to provide continued access to the 45-plus miles of trails that are used year-round by tens of thousands of bikers, hikers and runners,” said Kiersten Sahlberg of The RJ Group, the Bellingham-based firm representing Galbraith Tree Farm.

The nonprofit Whatcom Mountain Bike Coalition, a trail advocacy group, supported the sale.

“The new ownership group purchased Galbraith fully aware of the long history of recreation on the mountain,” said Eric Brown, trail director for the WMBC, which maintains and manages about 45 miles of trails in the acres now owned by Galbraith Tree Farm.

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Riders work on maintaining mountain bike trails on Galbraith Mountain during a mountain bike camp in Bellingham, Wash., Aug. 10, 2016. RUTH FREMSON NYT

“The relationship between Janicki Logging and the WMBC has shown that timber harvest activity and trails aren’t mutually exclusive and can thrive with a more collaborative approach to management,” Brown added. “Based on these solid relationships, we envision the recent purchase leading to bigger and better things on the mountain.”

Logging has occurred on Galbraith for decades and in recent years mountain bikers have rebuilt sections of affected trails once the work was completed.

WMBC and its volunteers have built trails on the mountain under agreements with Polygon and previous Galbraith landowner, Bellingham-based Trillium Corp.

Polygon became the owner of the Galbraith tract after Trillium ceded the property to Polygon “in lieu of foreclosure” in October 2009.

In all, WMBC manages 60-plus miles on the mountain, including adjoining properties, in an effort that stretches back 31 years.

The trails on Galbraith are important to residents and play a role in the region’s economic health, according to a 2016 survey.

Mountain bikers had used Galbraith as a playground for years before Trillium assumed ownership from Bloedel Timberlands in 2001.

Trillium’s agreement with the WMBC’s predecessor, known as the WHIMPs, marked the first time bike use was officially recognized on the mountain since the sport came to Bellingham in the 1980s.

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Bill Hawk flies over a jump he made with friends on the Evolution trail on Galbraith Mountain. Staff The Bellingham Herald file

There have been some concerns about maintaining access to the trails, which are on private property, for the public’s recreational use. The City of Bellingham, private groups and Whatcom County government have entered into negotiations on and off over the years to protect that access – at one point Polygon said it might restrict it – and the Lake Whatcom watershed.

The lake is the source of drinking water for about 100,000 residents in Whatcom County, including Bellingham.

Galbraith Tree Farm said it looked forward to working with WMBC and government agencies to preserve and enhance public access to the mountain.

Kie Relyea: 360-715-2234, @kierelyea