Mountain bikers flooded into the South Lake Padden Parking Lot May 13 looking around with curious eyes, taking in the pristine asphalt and grandeur of new space surrounding them as they got out of their cars.
Although the ribbon-cutting event is set for May 24, the lot gates were removed May 13 allowing for beta testing.
Almost five years since the concept of the parking lot expansion became a popular idea, the new parking lot adds 184 spaces, compared to the historic equestrian lot’s roughly 20. On busy days previously, over 100 cars would park along Samish Way, stretching nearly a mile, when the old parking lot filled up.
Eric Brown, the director of the Whatcom Mountain Bike Coalition, spearheaded the project with the mountain bike community backing him and said it was rewarding to see the new parking lot in action Wednesday, May 18.
Wednesdays are some of the busiest days for Galbraith with kids bike clubs that see nearly 100 kids participating and the Whatcom World Cups, which bring out more than 200 racers and spectators, Brown said.
“It was packed with racers and bike clubs, we only had three cars on Samish Way,” Brown said. “That's a pretty cool thing to say.”
Brown said that around 2014, it became apparent the southside of Galbraith was experiencing insufficient parking space when youth clubs and after-school bike clubs started becoming popular. He said that keeping the kids safe was difficult and stressful for ride group leaders without a good congregation zone to round up the kids in safe areas off of Samish Way.
“There wasn’t a whole bunch of space [before], and all of the cars were coming and going, dropping off and when we had to park on the side of the road, it wasn’t very safe either,” said Johnny Eggert, a teenager who was attending a Radical Rippers youth group ride session. “It’s just better to have a big open space where we can unload, leave and come and go.”
Eggert’s mom, Tawna Eggert, drops off her girls regularly and recalls dreading the process of dropping them off at the old lot and appreciates the new access the new expansion provides.
“I’m like, ‘Oh my gosh, I can do this. This is fine.’ Because even if there are no spots and you’re driving through, that would [still] be easy then,” Tawna said.
Brown said when he first started coming to the Southside of Galbraith in 2005, there were only about four to five cars that parked on Galbraith Lane in front of some mailboxes and that they didn’t use the Lake Padden lot that was built for and by equestrians a few decades ago.
The Northside of Galbraith was historically the popular side until the Southside gained world-renowned recognition for its trails like Unemployment Line, Atomic Dog, Mullet and Irish Death that Brown and other trail builders built around a decade ago, Brown said.
“You know it's people that come in from Seattle, from Vancouver, from around the world who come to ride their trails,” Brown said. “The trail expansion and the trail network itself has gone through a massive amount of growth.”
The Environmental Impact
The impact of a new parking lot built on previously forested land raises concern about the carbon footprint of the lot expansion and the loss of trees.
“Whenever we are making an informed decision to remove trees on a park property, we always make sure that we are replacing trees at, I think for this project, a three to one replacement ratio,” said Laine Potter, design & development manager for Bellingham Parks and Recreation. “We're replacing each and every tree that was removed with three trees.”
The trees will be planted on Galbraith Mountain and managed through Bellingham’s Planning and Community Development Department which will oversee the maintenance of them until they reach maturity, Potter said.
Potter said an additional concern was making sure stormwater would also be sustainably treated.
“Anytime you're removing vegetation and leaving either pervious surfaces or exposed soils, you have to think about stormwater,” Potter said. “The WMBC had some great partnered engineers design a really nice stormwater conveyance system that disperses the stormwater into the forest and made sure that we're not causing any kind of erosion or runoff problems out there.”
Brown said providing riders with a safe way to access the mountain and trailheads was the primary reason the lot was built.
“We make almost all of our decisions with public health and safety as one of our top considerations and [although] this project was impactful environmentally, the parking situation that was happening along Samish Way was something that we felt was a was a heightened public and safety hazard and needed to be addressed,” Potter said.
Brown and Potter, who are also both mountain bikers, said that they find it neat to see the community partner together with the city, local construction companies, engineers and community groups supporting either monetarily or with equipment and labor to execute the entire project.
The icing on the cake
Potter said that the crosswalk should be constructed later this year or in the first half of 2023. Brown said that stump sculptures from local artists will be installed soon along with the Whatcom Million Trees Project planting trees at the parking lot later this year.
Andrew Ford (he/him) is a reporter for The Front working on local environmental and social justice stories. He likes spending time outdoors, biking, and taking photos.
You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.