Opinion

Cedar Creek Park between Covington and Maple Valley needs to be protected

Thirteen years ago as an outdoor enthusiast and local paramedic, I discovered a quiet oasis of towering 60-100 year old cedar trees, towering maples, and ferns the size of Volkswagen Beetles and a quiet solitude between to growing cities of Maple Valley and Covington. Also as a paramedic I saw potential for a regional trail connection that would safely take families from Kent and Covington to Lake Wilderness and the Cedar to Green trails via an old road through what is now called Cedar Creek Park by locals. The property bordered by Cedar Downs on to the southeast and Lakeside Industries and Tall Timbers development to the southwest would link the two of Covington and Maple Valley via a trail and make it possible to avoid the dangerous Kent Kangley Road.

Realizing the inevitable growth that was coming to the then sleepy communities of Covington and Maple Valley I acted quickly. I worked with the newly incorporating cities and galvanized the very unhappy local communities that felt helpless to change the course of growth in their communities. We needed a success. We needed a way of making King County listen to our concerns about their growth plans for our communities. The land, owned by Washington Department of Natural Resources, was slated for sale for urban development at the end of a rural road. At that time people were angry they had no say in how their communities would grow and angry that their rural lifestyle was being sold down the road for urban growth. A sentiment still felt today as traffic gets worse and available open space shrinks.

Through public meetings with King County and support from Suzette Cooke, now the mayor of Kent, and other elected officials, we were able to strike a deal with the landowner, Natural Resources and King County for a land swap that would save the 84 acres of forgotten forest and turn it into a center piece natural area for two communities. Then I worked with the city of Covington to purchase land owned by two local landowners on the north side of the park to add to the park. Each landowner waited five years until we had the money to purchase the property. The city of Covington purchased the property through grants. They worked out a life estate with the owners, in their 80s, who wanted to remain on the property as long as possible but wanted the property to become a park.

On June 13, when I finished my shift as a paramedic at the fire station just west of state Route 18, I decided to take the old route home by bicycle. Something I hadn't done in a three years. The first thing I realized was there is no safe way to get through Covington as a cyclist. A friend and board member was recently hit by a car while riding his bike home from Fred Meyer toward his home on Southeast 240th. I quickly understood why. There are no pedestrian or bike trails and no bike lanes. I had to weave through parking lots and side streets. I thought there still isn't a safe way to get from through Covington let alone get from Covington to Maple Valley by bicycle or by foot. As I rode out to Lakeside Industries and entered the park area I was stunned and deeply saddened to see that my vision for a safe bike/pedestrian trail through beautiful forest was now, instead of a passive use park and trail corridor, a mess of off-road vehicle trails. It had been discovered not by nature lovers and families riding bikes to Lake Wilderness, but by off-road vehicle riders. The sheer number of trails and the damage to the forest was overwhelming. They have cut two wheeled trails up and down the steep hillside eroding the sidehills and riding through wetlands. What was once a beautiful walk or bike ride is now a muddy bog of rutted road and eroding hillsides. It's just amazing the damage these off-road vehicles can do and the lack of any kind of restraint on the part of the riders to act responsibly.

So with the same tenacity that helped to save this park from development, I am again asking the local community, King County and the local cities to step up and save this area before it is too late. The cost to tax payers for resource damage from illegal all-terrain vehicles is incredible. The amount of resource damage has caused private timber owners and public land managers to increasing close areas to ATVs. I will be working with various interests to establish a park steward program, and create an emphasis on enforcement. In other places agencies and private landowners are citing illegal off-road riders and can confiscate their ATVs. We need that same level of enforcement and stewardship in this area. Without it we are going to be paying to clean up their mess and there will be no way to detour them from continuing to use this area illegally.

Additionally it's time that we created that trail connection between Covington and Maple Valley. We need a safe route for our communities to link together. It's a project the two communities need to get behind. If anything, the next step in thirteen years of growth is for local communities to take stock of the wonderful areas we still have left and be their stewards. If you would like to get involved please contact mgrc@mgrc.org.

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