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Local, regional trail plans moving forward

POULSBO — Trails raise property values, offer a place to appreciate nature, create sustainable economic development and tourism, and promote healthy lifestyles.

Lucky for residents of North Kitsap, a cluster of trail enthusiasts and environmental organizations are organizing regional pedestrian and bicycle trails, and partnering with individual communities to link them.

The value of trails were shared by Russ Persiho, a Poulsbo lawyer and board member of the North Kitsap Trails Association. This week, both the Urban Paths of Poulsbo and the North Kitsap String of Pearls trail plans moved ahead.

After a “culmination” of 25 months, the Parks and Recreation Department presented the Urban Paths of Poulsbo plan to the Parks and Recreation Committee on Monday, where it was recommended the plan be adopted as part of the city’s comprehensive plan.

Parks and Recreation Director Mary McCluskey said her department has until Nov. 15 to present it to the City Council for adoption. If the plan is approved, the department will be able to apply for grants. Other revenue sources include the city’s general fund and park reserves, impact fees, partnerships, and, given the volunteer dedication of the plan so far, a common source would be in-kind donations of materials and labor.

This plan was created by eight to 15 core volunteers on the trails committee, according to McCluskey. The 20-year plan jump-started with a Rivers, Trails and Conservation Assistance Program grant in 2008 from the National Park Service. The plan will be a “hybrid trail system,” including 3.75 miles of existing trails and infrastructure, like sidewalks, as well as adding connections between those trails and implementing a water trail. A survey by in 2008-09 said 80 percent Poulsbo residents use land trails or walking paths weekly.

One partnership is with the North Kitsap Trails Association. John Willett, the association’s president, said they asked local communities to share their trail plans “so we know where we can connect to you.” If a community didn’t have a trail plan, trail volunteers would help facilitate with local leaders to develop a plan.

The plan was presented to Poulsbo residents at a meeting on Wednesday evening. Willett said this is the second round of community meetings, asking “did we get this right?” The plan is making the rounds at the county level, which if approved, will add the trail plan into their comprehensive plan.

The Kitsap County Planning Commission approved the plan last week, and county commissioners will hold a public hearing on the plan Nov. 14. Willett stressed this is a policy to be adopted, not a permit, and individual trails need to go through environmental and public review.

The “String of Pearls” is a part of a larger effort to connect more communities across the state with bicycle and pedestrian paths — eventually connecting to interstate trails. Right now, there are extensive trails on the Seattle side and popular trails such as the Discovery Trail on the Olympic Peninsula. North Kitsap is “the missing link,” Willett said.

“All these communities are pearls, and we want to connect these pearls,” he added.

The plan also includes a water trail — 35 miles of paddling routes with 31 sites to rest and regroup. John Kuntz, owner of Olympic Outdoor Center in Port Gamble, said the average person can paddle as fast as they can walk. Paddling offers a different perspective to view surrounding nature as well.

Many residents are excited about both efforts. Local real estate agents Cindy and Dave McKay said they’ve had some clients buy homes on the Olympic Peninsula because of wide access to trails. Personally, they also said they would like to go for a walk near their house, by Highway 3, and feel safe.“Driving to bike or hike doesn’t make sense,” Dave said.

Willett said they have received strong support for funding the trails and connections — they are one of the partners with Cascade Land Conservancy to option 7,000 acres of forest land, currently used as trails, owned by Olympic Property Group near Port Gamble. They have also received some Appendix X grant funding from Suquamish and Port Gamble S’Klallam tribes, and received some funds from the Poulsbo Marathon. The association has also accomplished its first goal — forging a trail between Indianola and Kingston, with the North Kitsap Heritage Park in the middle.

A persisting point of contention for both trails is the location of some of the trails — in some instances, the plan calls for trails across private property which have open space. Both Willett and McCluskey said offering private property for use is entirely up to the owner, and can offer incentives such as easements to increase property value or tax breaks, but no one will have a trail forced on them. Persiho also referred to several studies which showed crime actually decreased around areas with trails.

The String of Pearls has a longer way to go than Urban Paths of Poulsbo. The trails association’s next goal is to obtain the open spaces, such as the OPG land in Port Gamble, and for the county to adopt its forest management plan, Willett said. But completion of the plan will take decades.

In September, the state found the plan does not pose an adverse affect on the environment through the State Environmental Policy Act. Dennis Oost, senior planner with Kitsap County’s Department of Community Development, said when the individual trails are constructed, they will require their own SEPA study and where applicable, comply with local Critical Area Ordinances.

County officials said they want this plan to become a template for Central and South Kitsap to create their own regional trails in 2012, eventually linking the whole county together.

“It’s impressive,” said Jane Dower of Silverdale, who came to the String of Pearls meeting and wants to see the trail connect with Clear Creek Trail. “I’m inspired to get involved.”

- View the Urban Paths of Poulsbo at www.cityofpoulsbo.com/parks/parks_trails_committee.htm

- View the String of Pearls plan at www.northkitsaptrails.org/files/NKTA_TrailPlan_110831.pdf

 

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