BELLINGHAM - Mountain bikers, hikers and runners will be able to continue using the trails on Galbraith Mountain as negotiations for the purchase of 3,015 acres continue between the landowner, the city of Bellingham, Whatcom County government and the Whatcom Land Trust.
The announcement Thursday, April 21, puts to rest, for now, fears from mountain bikers and other trail users that access to Galbraith would be cut off April 25.
That was the date landowner Polygon Financial of Bow had said it would end its recreational use agreement with the WHIMPs Mountain Bike Coalition. The agreement allowed WHIMPs and its volunteers to build and maintain mountain bike trails and features under approval from Polygon.
Polygon hadn't said until Thursday whether that agreement's end also would mean that people would be barred from the trails, which have become increasingly popular with runners and hikers as well.
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Mark Peterson, president of the WHIMPs, said the organization was "guardedly optimistic" about the latest developments.
"It seems like there's some legitimate progress toward moving forward on an agreement that would benefit everyone," he said. "We will accept the offer from Polygon to continue our stewardship agreement."
Keeping the mountain open allows time for those involved in the negotiations to reach an agreement, according to Blair Murray, of Tin Rock Management, which is managing the land for Polygon.
Non-motorized public access to Galbraith will continue until further notice, he added.
"Everybody's committed to making a good-faith effort to see if we can work something out," Murray said. "Based on the good interaction that I've had with the parties, I expect that this will move ahead quickly to see if we can come to a solution that meets everybody's goals."
A public forum organized by the WHIMPs on Monday that was attended by hundreds of trail users seems to have galvanized the mountain biking community - and kicked stalled negotiations back into gear.
Still, officials cautioned that a possible acquisition was not a done deal. But they were hopeful.
"I do think we are on a track that will get us to a resolution," said Bellingham Mayor Dan Pike. "We've made substantial progress in the last couple of days."
Pete Kremen, Whatcom County executive, echoed that cautionary tone.
"I am committed to making Galbraith Mountain accessible to mountain bikers - as well as for other recreational opportunities for the entire community - in perpetuity," Kremen said. "I'm working on a proposal that will enable Galbraith Mountain to be able to be the community asset that it has been in the past."
There are 44 miles of mountain-biking trails on Galbraith, the informal name for Lookout Mountain. It is east of Bellingham, outside the city limits.
In addition to preserving recreational use, officials are interested in a possible purchase because 1,400 acres are in the Lake Whatcom watershed. The lake is the drinking water source for half of Whatcom County residents, including all of Bellingham.
The current asking price for Polygon's 3,015 acres has not been made public, with Kremen saying it was "substantially" less than the $20 million and $18 million that have been discussed publicly.
What's being considered is not a "straight-up purchase of the land," Kremen added.
Kremen said that the county's share would not come from the general fund, which pays for daily operations of government, but its Conservation Futures fund, created in 1996 when residents voted to tax themselves.
Pike said that the financial challenges that the city and county face need to be considered.
"It has to work within our own financial structures over the long haul," he said. "We can't do a deal that doesn't make sense."
Pike said he also needed to talk to the City Council about possible funding sources for Galbraith.
Discussions over the Galbraith purchase come at as the city has expressed interest in buying the Fairhaven Highlands development site, also known as Chuckanut Ridge, in Bellingham.
Pike said a Galbraith purchase would not affect Chuckanut Ridge.
Meanwhile, the WHIMPs' Peterson said a pledge fund is being set up for Galbraith.
"We are going to be asking people that have said they would be willing to contribute to this to step up and put some money in," he said.
What: Galbraith Solidarity Ride. Runners and hikers also are welcome.
When: 1 p.m. Saturday, April 23.
Where: Meet at the clearing/viewpoint on the Ridge Trail near a kiosk. To lessen congestion, people are being encouraged to ride their bikes from home, carpool, or park in Whatcom Falls or Lake Padden parks.