Trails in Big Finn Hill Park

Trails in Big Finn Hill Park

Big Finn Hill Trails Committee: December Update

Big Finn Hill Park is a 220 acre King County Regional Park on Finn Hill lying entirely within the Kirkland city limits. The park is bisected by Juanita Drive with 85 acres on the east side and 135 acres on the west side. The north end of the park connects with St. Edward’s State Park, and the south end joins with O.O. Denny Park.

East of Juanita Dr. the park has substantial development with four baseball fields, a seasonal maintained restroom facility, a lacrosse/soccer field, children’s playground, a picnic shelter and 200+ parking spaces. About half the area east of Juanita is natural with walking and biking trails. Also on the east side is an active and growing sixteen acre beaver pond.

The west side of Juanita Dr. has no formal development, and no specific park parking. The park land west of Juanita Dr. is crisscrossed with a maze of trails. The trails in the southwest portion connect with O.O. Denny Park, but do not connect to the main trail system farther up the ravine on the top of the hill.

King County Parks has been seeking input and recommendations from the public on ways to enhance and improve the trails and trail uses at Big Finn Hill Park. King County staff gathered public input at two general meetings in June and August 2012.

In September, the Big Finn Hill Trail Committee started meeting on a weekly basis. The committee, comprised of Finn Hill residents and park users, is acting as a key advisory group to King County. Highlights were presented at the November FHNA community meeting, and are summarized below.

Major Items Identified from the Public Meetings

Trail Mapping and Inventory: In order to produce an accurate map of existing trails, volunteers have been GPS mapping and marking the trails. Temporary trail markers with intersection numbers have been deployed to provide tools for communication between committee members, community members and park employees. (Unfortunately, these signs are being removed at a very rapid pace by unknown parties.)

Trail Maintenance: Identifying an ongoing long-term trail maintenance program is a high priority.

Trails and Trees in the Park

Trail Uses, Layout, and Design: This is a very important planning item that the committee has just started to discuss. In addition to preservation of use for the current user groups, some of the ideas include a perimeter trail on each side, a bike skills development area, an ADA and interpretive trail on the north side of the beaver pond, and other trail uses.

Access to the Park West of Juanita: A safe crossing across Juanita Dr. and parking possibilities are being discussed. A Juanita crossing location has been identified, and if pursued, the committee will be seeking a letter of support of the FHNA in the near future. The committee will be researching the necessary steps required for this proposal and working with the City of Kirkland on its safety and feasibility.

Dogs on Trails: Dog walkers constitute the majority of users on the trails. There is interest in creating voice and sight control areas as well as a dog off leash area. The committee will be doing further investigation to how this could be applied safely within the park.

Trail Connection to O.O. Denny Park: Mapping and site visits have started to identify possibilities for connection of the upper park to the lower park and O.O. Denny park. The ravine to the southern trails is very steep, and all new trail construction would have to comply with a 65 foot horizontal distance critical area buffer requirement from the creek.

Kiosks and Signage: A new kiosk for trail maps and notices will be installed this winter on the west side of the park with the potential for additional kiosks on the east side in the near future. In addition, volunteers have placed temporary trail identification signs to help with mapping and inventory.

Beavers: The beaver wetland south of Thoreau Elementary on 84th is an important part of the Denny Creek drainage, but the wet area is expanding and swamping trails. Options for maintaining the health of this critical ecosystem while still supporting park accessibility are being explored.

The committee will continue to meet through the winter with the goal of finalizing a list of short term and long term recommendations. At such time, presentations will be made to both FHNA as well as meetings for the general public.

For more details on the planning process or to provide input on trail uses, please contact David Kimmett of  King County Parks (david.kimmett@kingcounty.gov) and Mike Crandell (mike.crandell@kingcounty.gov)
Jeanette@finnhillalliance.org

7 Responses to “Trails in Big Finn Hill Park”

  1. Chuck M says:

    In the mid 1990s, the bike club fought hard with the DCNA to have access to Big Finn Hill Park trails. There were many in the DCNA strongly opposed to any bicycle use of the trails, but the bike club prevailed. As part of the agreement for trail use by bicycles, the bike club agreed to monitor the park and remediate all rogue trails and stop and remediate jumps or holes dug for other uses.

    Time has passed; the trail numbers have almost doubled since that privilege was granted to the mountain bicyclists. The bulk of this increase is from rogue mountain bike trails. There are several places where jumps and banking have been created, digging large holes in the forest floor. All of these are in violation of the agreements from the privilege granted back in the late 1990s.

    Yet, now the bikes want more access and are proposing a skills area and several other features. This will bring more bikes to what is a wonderful walking park. The bike groups have already proven that they aren’t responsible stewards of the area. Don’t they realize that the access granted in the 1990s was a privilege and they had to follow their agreement to keep this privilege? Therefore, I propose that trails be reduced to the number that were available in the mid 1990s (trail map is still on the kiosk on 138th), all jumps be removed and bikes be limited to the rules and areas established in the 1990s. If they show over the next five years that they can honor their commitments, then and only then consider additional access.

  2. Speaking only for myself, not Evergreen. I have been unable to locate any documentation of the agreement with our predecessor organization, the Backcountry Bicycle Trails Club. Evergreen helped initiate the current trail planning process in part to respond to rogue trail and jump building. I have personally encountered the rogue builders once. Based on their ages (i.e. too young to drive) it is reasonable to conclude that much, if not most, of the rogue activity is perpetrated by kids who live in the neighborhoods (Holmes Pt. and Finn Hill). I doubt the kids will abide by your proposal, even if Evergreen et al agreed to it. We think the approach currently being formulated will be more constructive. In terms of event frequency, a much bigger illegal activity issue is littering.

  3. Dan O'Connell says:

    I’ve been mountain biking the trails of Big Finn Hill Park since 1989 and live in the neighborhood. My kids now share the trails with me, mountain biking and hiking. A fantastic resource to be shared among different user groups.

    The rogue trail building and jumps have been an issue, on and off, over the years. You will find in most cases, local kids are usually responsible for the construction of such stunts, not adult mountain bikers. These kids usually are not part of any organization – such as Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance, or Finn Hill Neighborhood Alliance. They’re just kids, being kids, looking for an outlet. Additional rules will not stop the activity, the jumps will continue to pop up and disappear over the years.

    A skills or jump park can in fact, possibly stop the illegal jumps from being built, since it a provides a sanctioned area for that type of riding. It also allows the local kids to get involved with the project, construction, and maintenance of such an area. A better experience for all involved.

    Also keep in mind, as a general biking population, the folks illegally building trails and jumps is miniscule compared the numbers legally and carefully riding the trails. Reducing the number of trails to mountain bike, due to the actions of few, is not the solution.

    I attended meetings during the ’90s concerning mountain bike access to Big Finn Hill Park. Fifteen years later, I don’t recall exact agreements made, but the mountain bike community has been involved with maintaining legal trails at Big Finn Hill. Let’s work together to ensure all user groups can share this wonderful resource in a progressive manner.

  4. Jeanette Leach says:

    Thanks Chuck, Tom and Dan for your input. Big Finn Hill Park is a hot topic and a conversation around controversial issues is a good thing.

    It appears that there is agreement that rogue trails and jumps have appeared (and continue to appear) although the proposed solutions are different. I interpret this as highlighting the importance of identified trails with a long-term maintenance plan as mentioned in the original article. This will ensure that the trails and the forest health are sustainable, preserving and protecting the open space. It is clear that maintenance is going to have to extend beyond what can be provided by King County Parks, so contributions of the broad user community will be important.

    St. Edward’s has done an excellent job of blocking rogue trails and jumps, what can Big Finn Hill can learn from their site management approach?

    How do we best engage those who create trails as well as dig holes and create jumps to use their energy for a sustainable system? As the issue is never likely to drop to zero, how do we as a broad user community stay on top of the developing issues so rogue trails and features can be stopped before they appear permanent?

    • A significant difference between BFH and St Ed’s is that even with the state budget cuts, St Ed’s has 2 (or maybe 1.5 annualized) staff living on-site, not to mention they are both sworn law officers. They respond very rapidly to rogue trail-building, downed trees blocking trails (even the “social” trails if they’re heavily used). Even so, there are still unblocked rogue trails in St Ed’s not far from the Seminary Building. It’s a constant battle which will not be won by volunteer efforts alone.

  5. Lou Berner says:

    Hi, Jeanette:

    Regarding your statement:

    Access to the Park West of Juanita: A safe crossing across Juanita Dr. and parking possibilities are being discussed. A Juanita crossing location has been identified, and if pursued, the committee will be seeking a letter of support of the FHNA in the near future. The committee will be researching the necessary steps required for this proposal and working with the City of Kirkland on its safety and feasibility.

    How can I learn more about this proposal? When and where are your weekly meetings? Thanks.

    • Jeanette Leach says:

      Hi Lou: Identifying a good location for a crossing from the Big Finn on the east to Big Finn on the west is not easy because of a combination of curves on Juanita Dr as well as steep slopes in the park along the road. The best option identified to date has been to take advantage of the trail that comes out from the east side onto Juanita at the south edge of the traffic barrier (south of the lacrosse field) connecting to a trail on the west side that is about 20 yards north. I’ll send you a map by E-mail as I don’t know how to post it in here. Jeanette