Story by Andy Basabe
“D’ya remember when…?”
That’s the silly question that delineates generational differences in communities. “D’ya remember when Mt. Baker Ski Area built jumps on Chair 8? D’ya remember when the Sehome Village REI used to be a giant toy store? D’ya remember when Blanchard Mountain had trees and trails instead of clear-cuts and slash piles?”
Wait, Blanchard still has trees and trails. We were just there on Sunday, April 17 for the I Love Blanchard Ride and Run. The event raised awareness about potential logging on Blanchard Mountain, which could begin June 2017, and offered an opportunity to explore the trails a little farther than most would in a normal day.
Eighteen mountain bikers and five trail runners met at the Lily and Lizard Lakes trailhead. We rode and ran up and over Blanchard Mountain, breezing into the Oyster Creek Valley below, eventually hoisting our tired bodies up to the top of the Chuckanut Mountain for a little fiesta at the top of Cleator Road.
In 2008, a diverse group interested in the future of Blanchard Mountain drafted the Blanchard Forest Strategy. The plan recommended preserving a 1,600-acre core, including Oyster Dome and the top of Blanchard, for recreation and habitat. But the Blanchard State Forest is operated by the Washington State Department of Natural Resources as state trust land, which means the DNR manages it to provide revenue for Skagit County schools and other beneficiaries. Preserving land would mean less timber-generated revenue for schools.
To offset lost revenue, the Blanchard Forest Strategy required the state to come up with $14.2 million dollars to buy more land for DNR adjacent to Blanchard State Forest. This was preferable to conservationists, recreationists and timber interests, as the land to be purchased would otherwise be eventually developed into residences. Instead of one large forest being intermittently logged with homes on its border, there would be a protected forest, a buffer zone that is intermittently logged, and homes farther down the mountain.
In 2008, funding became scarce. Since then, the state legislature has provided the DNR $6.5 million, leaving a $7.7 million gap. Now, with the deadline for funding having passed in February, the whole forest will reopen to timber contracts beginning next spring, unless legislators come up with more money before then.
The way the area is now, the Blanchard State Forest connects to Larrabee State Park, making a sizable forest close to population centers in Skagit and Whatcom counties. I thought it would be a shame if I lost access to some of my favorite trails, and so I invited friends along to explore the forest from one end to the other for a day of advocacy.
Not everyone thinks five hours of mountain biking and running, mostly uphill, is fun, but I gathered a group of riders and runners, including Patagonia trail running ambassador Krissy Moehl, local trail mystics Jodee Adams-Moore and Amelia Bethke, and a ragtag mix of novice to expert bike enthusiasts. We met at the Lily and Lizard Lake trailhead, sharing introductions, asking who was there for the Blanchard Ride and Run, and who would actually eat the margarita pizza flavored energy goo that Krissy brought.
One woman had hopped on a mountain bike for the first time the day before and wasn’t quite sure what would happen. As the ride was two-thirds uphill, all were certain that the runners would arrive hours before the bikers. Thankfully, the promise of salmon, bacon, quesadillas and beer kept everyone moving through the sweaty day.
After a brief description of the route, everyone joined around for a send-off hosted by Elli the Wizard, a science teacher bringing the best of the chemistry classroom into the great outdoors. We shared some water turned to wine, witnessed flash-bangs and hustled off. Bikers dodged dogs chased by runners up the road until everyone moved into their own pace.
The bikers pedaled uphill over Max’s Connector Trail, through terrain that could be logged, and then regrouped at the North Butte overlook to snack and take in the afternoon. The afternoon sun warmed our bodies and dried our shirts. We rode down the British Army trail, hooting and whooping, entering the maze of logging roads that bisect the two mountains. Crossing roads and trails we wound towards the east side of Lost Lake, slowly spreading out. This section of the traverse can be tricky, with an array of forks and misleading arrows spray painted onto trees by past user groups. Settling into the final hills, the 3,000 feet of elevation gain and heat began to sap the energy from our bodies. A text saying the runners had been at the finish enjoying beer and salmon for a while wasn’t much help.
I caught up with Krissy Moehl after the race to hear how it went for her and the other runners. “I honestly kept thinking I was going to turn around. I knew the route up until the British Army trail, and I could get myself back and be OK. I think I told everybody that,” Moehl said. “But the farther we got into it, the prettier it got, the more excited [Amelia] got about sharing how this all came together, I was like, ‘Ah, whatever, I’m just gonna go for it! I’ll figure out how to get back to my car later.’ And I’m really glad I did.”
The ride was long, especially for the woman who had sat down on a mountain bike for the first time the morning prior. As the last rider rolled in, loud cheering rang across the Cleator Road lookout. Aslan Brewing and Home Port Seafoods had donated enough salmon and beer for us to have our fill to refresh and refuel for the ride home. We spent the evening together eating and drinking the Northwest’s finest, having surveyed the land from mountain to sound. The I Love Blanchard Ride and Run was a toast to our home, a reaffirmation of the importance of local trees and trails for mammals and fish alike.
The day before, I had flagged the route on my bike, and ridden back to my truck at the trailhead, fully circumnavigating most of the Chuckanuts. Now I was happy enough pedaling back to Fairhaven, finding a soft couch for a sore bum and saying goodbye to the weekend.
In those two days, I rode my mountain bike about 60 miles, with 6,000 feet of elevation gain, sharing the trails with friends and meeting new people. I hope that our state’s elected officials can follow through with the Blanchard Forest Strategy so that instead of remembering back when, I will be able to take my children on a bike ride from Blanchard Mountain to Chuckanut and Fairhaven, connecting different mountains and different communities.
If access to healthy forests and trails on Blanchard Mountain is important to you, contact your representatives.
Andy Basabe is an educator in Whatcom County. Some of his days are best for words, others for walking. Everyday for eating