South Whidbey Parks and Recreation District crews constructed a new wooded pathway in Trustland Trails in December, but the district didn’t get the response it expected.
Suffice to say the new trail didn’t go down well with nearby neighbors.
A handful of nearby residents showed up to the monthly commissioners meeting Wednesday evening to voice their discontent with the process taken to build the new trail.
“We thought trails would be built with continual input from the community,” nearby resident John Petersons said. “That all seemed good until I learned from our neighbors that there was a piece of heavy machinery making a new trail 17 feet from our property. That was a pretty rude awakening.”
The problematic trail at hand was constructed in mid-December and measures about 650 feet.
Those living near the trail were visibly frustrated, and claimed the district went against its own Trustland Trails development plan. The plan, devised in 2008, states the district would regularly consult the neighborhood regarding trail development and management.
The district didn’t reach out to the property owners prior to building the new trail. Petersons accused the staff of lying about its lack of knowledge of the plan’s communication rule. Petersons later apologized.
While those in attendance voiced their support for the heavily wooded Trustland Trails at large, they were upset with the new trail’s close proximity to their private properties. At one point, the new trail lies 10 feet from neighboring private property.
“Many years ago when I worked with the citizens group that created this park, the planned trails didn’t run close to the boundaries,” nearby resident Molly Petersons said. “There were concerns about the trail being 100 feet from private property. Now it’s 17 feet, not so good.”
Parks Director Doug Coutts said it was an error on the district’s part, and he apologized for the mistake. The district commissioners echoed his sentiment. Coutts explained the development plan was created prior to his appointment as parks director, which contributed to the mistake. Commissioner Don Wood admitted one of the longstanding district board members should’ve notified Coutts about the plan’s statement on open communication with neighbors.
“The actual trail itself isn’t completed at this time,” Coutts said. “We have backed off now, and we’ve decided not to continue work. Now it’s up to the board to see how they want to proceed.”
After a discussion with the agitated visitors, the district decided to place logs in front of the new trail to block access from curious trailblazers. It’s not an immediate fix to wipe out the new trail, but the district and neighborhood alike estimated nature would reclaim the trail “in a year.” The district also elected to drum up a general trail management plan that would cover all of South Whidbey Parks and Recreation District trails.
“We need to look at our trail management,” Commissioner Don Wood said. “The plan for Trustland Trails doesn’t include our other parks. We should have a process for all of our properties so we’re on top of all our properties.”