Mt Baker Highway, AKA Washington State Highway 542 stretches 58 miles from sea level in Bellingham, Washington to Artist’s Point at an elevation of 5,140 feet – a scenic overlook above tree line that on clear days treats visitors to sublime views of Mt Baker and Mt Shuksan.
Since 1992 Whatcom County has had plans to build a pedestrian pathway from Bellingham to Artist’s Point and dubbed it the Bay to Baker Trail (B2B). However due to a number of factors little has been accomplished. Right of way has been established in some areas, and in those areas some sections of the trail is under water for much of the year, some travel heavily undercut banks 100 feet above the North Fork Nooksack River, and at least one section acts as the local garbage dump.
Due to its beauty the highway attracts heavy traffic during the winter ski and summer hiking seasons. RVs, families coming up to recreate in SUVs, sports cars, sport motorcycles traveling at triple digits due to virtually no speed enforcement, and road cyclists all share this road. To compound the mix there are residential communities on the highway with limited options for residents to safely walk or ride bikes to community destination. At the local middle school if a child shows up to school with their bike they are sent home due to the hazard that riding on the road represents.
The mild winter that the Pacific Northwest experienced this last year was a shock to the small, tourist dependent communities in the shadow of Mt Baker. Businesses closed and residents watched as skiers, snowboarders and snowmobilers, who bring much needed revenue to the area, disappeared. It was a call to action as residents and business owners realized that perhaps some diversification of recreational opportunities was in order.
Inventorying the material that they had to work with, a group of residents and business owners has banded together in an attempt to motivate government to take action on the Bay to Baker Trail. John Adam, owner of Glacier Ski Shop, believes that pedestrian infrastructure will not only make the area more attractive to visitors, but will also provide residents with a safe option to getting in a vehicle and burning fossil fuels when they need a quart of milk. Paul Engel, who owns Wild and Scenic River Tours, added that, “Hundreds of reports show that when pedestrian pathways are created in a community it brings nothing but good – the population is healthier, vehicular traffic is reduced, property values are stable and local businesses see more traffic. Everyone benefits”
It would be easy to see why businesses would want to increase tourist traffic, and a small group of locals have pointed fingers at them and stating that they just want to “cash in”. When in reality it is more a matter of staying in businesses. And while a very small group of locals oppose the trail effort, the vast majority are for it. One of those is Marty Grabijas, a product developer in the outdoor industry. According to Marty, “What we have here is so special. The access to big wilderness and high alpine environments is incredible, and I can see why some want this to remain their private paradise. However no matter how much we want it we can’t turn the clock back. We do however have an opportunity to engineer the Mt Baker Highway corridor for the future. With a pedestrian pathway we can reduce vehicle congestion, and provide residents and visitors with a safe way to get around on foot or on a bike. My motive for being involved is to create safe places to walk and ride for everyone. The Mt Baker area is visually stunning, and with a safe pathway in the highway corridor a bike is the perfect vehicle for visiting services in one of the several small towns, or connecting to Forest Service roads and exploring the area.”
This citizens group is in the due diligence stage of forming a pedestrian and equestrian advocacy group. Part of that process is showing a want and need for pedestrian pathways by gauging interest of residents, visitors and potential visitors. By participating in their survey you will provide them with the data points they need to attempt to secure funding in Whatcom County’s 2017 / 18 budget to see portions of the Bay to Baker Trail become reality.
Regardless if you have been to the Mt Baker area, your feedback is valuable.
Go to the Survey Here: https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/MTBAKERTA
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By Recreation Law Recfirstname.lastname@example.orgJames H. Moss
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