CHEASTY Trees covered in ivy.
  • Melanie Coerver
  • Trees at Cheasty covered in ivy.
"I believe that riding my bike around in the woods as a kid," writes Slog tipper Melanie Coerver, "made me the badass person I am today, and I want all the youth of Seattle to have similar opportunities."

That's why, she says, she's a huge fan of the Beacon Bike Park proposal, approved unanimously by Seattle Parks Board Commissioners in January. The pilot project would rely on volunteers to transform the Cheasty Greenspace—a greenbelt sandwiched between South Alaska Street and South Ferdinand Street on Beacon Hill—into a park with mountain bike trails.

Then last Tuesday at a public comment meeting, this happened:

  • Melanie Coerver

"I'm bad at guessing numbers, but I'd say a couple hundred people showed up for the public comment meeting and many of them were of the angry yelling variety," Coerver says. "Most of the opposition had hysterical complaints that the project would cause landslides and kill wildlife and that they hate this project because they don't own a mountain bike and don't like people who do."

But then I called up Ed Newbold, a talented wildlife artist (seriously, I was randomly admiring his artwork without knowing who he was at Pike Place Market the other day) who's an outspoken opponent of the project—he even took out an ad in the Seattle Times last week. And goddammit, he sounds downright reasonable and thoughtful.

"I have a lot of respect for the people who are proposing this. I don’t question their motives at all," says Newbold, who's lived on Beacon Hill for thirty years. "The pro-bike people have a great track record of working on restoration in the southern part of the Cheasty forest. They’re not out to do evil or harm."

But then he rattles off the beautiful little birds—Wilson's warblers, Rufous humming birds—whose habitat might be threatened by the project. He claims the greenbelt is effectively a wetland, citing the presence of skunk cabbage, an indicator for wet terrain, as well as four houses that have slid in the area, including one that's been condemned. "The reason it’s a greenbelt is essentially that the land’s unstable," he says.

And he argues that the Seattle Parks Department's approach is fundamentally flawed. They want more human beings actively using a given a piece of land, instead of preserving it and letting it be, he says. They've partnered with one particular group in order to make that happen to the exclusion of the larger community—a process he says played out with a zipline proposal in West Seattle's Lincoln Park in 2012, until Seattle Parks reversed itself under pressure.

Newbold would rather see the area restored—and the question of restoration decoupled from the bike project—with a minimal degree of foot trails, given their less significant environmental footprint.

The Beacon Bike Park proponents have a thorough set of responses, however, to many of Newbold's concerns here. And Newbold's claim that last week's meeting wasn't a meaningful instance of public consultation doesn't appear to pass muster, judging by this report (PDF) commissioned by the city, which discusses findings from three separate public meetings beginning in 2010.

"Our project integrates the above concerns," the Friends of Cheasty Greenspace write, "with the need to restore the native flora and fauna to this local forest, address the nature deficit of our growing urban families; provide an antidote to poor health outcomes in the Rainier Valley and the need for more healthful recreation within reach of this dense urban community; increase opportunities for connectivity between the neighborhoods surrounding the park; support a customer base for the growing business districts nearby; hinder opportunities for illegal and unsafe activity in the space that threaten our families; and much more."

CORRECTION: The three public meetings I mentioned in the second to last paragraph were for a separate Cheasty Greenspace restoration project called Mountain View, not the Beacon Bike Park—meaning, as Newbold pointed out, that last week's public comment meeting was the first of its kind.