Tuesday, April 6, 2010

New owner of Galbraith Mountain takes over; plans 90-day review of biking mecca

BELLINGHAM - Trillium Corp. has given up its option to buy back Galbraith Mountain from Polygon Financial of Bow, and the new owner has started a 90-day assessment of the 3,215-acre property long known as a mecca for mountain bikers.

"There will be no change in the next 90 days," said Blair Murray, owner of Tin Rock Management, which is managing the property for Polygon. "It will be a time of review and reflection on the property. At the end of those 90 days, we hope to put together a strategy."

The assessment period started April 1, at the end of Trillium's contract to manage the property during the transition, according to Murray.

The baseline review will look at past and current use on the mountain, including timber and recreation.

Bellingham-based Trillium ceded the property to Polygon "in lieu of foreclosure" on Oct. 22, according to property records on file with the Whatcom County auditor.

Trillium had an option that lasted until Oct. 16, 2010, to buy back the property from Polygon. Trillium surrendered the option Jan. 29.

Trillium representatives could not be reached for comment.

Murray also is working on a 90-day interim agreement with the WHIMPs Mountain Bike Coalition, which had a "revocable license" with Bellingham-based Trillium to build and use bicycle trails on the mountain - provided the trails met safety standards that would give Trillium some protection against liability for accidents.

Murray described the mountain biking group as "very good stewards of the mountain."

A representative for the group hopes that reputation will mean good news in the future.

"The WHIMPs Mountain Bike Coalition certainly hope that we can come to a long-term agreement to continue in some way, shape or form our help in managing that area," said Mark Peterson, president of the mountain biking organization.

The agreement with Trillium meant the group has been the official steward of the area for more than seven years, Peterson said, and its volunteers have built a network of trails totaling 42 miles on Galbraith Mountain, the common name for North Lookout Mountain.

"Over that time it has become an incredible community resource and truly a nationwide destination for mountain biking," Peterson said, adding that Galbraith has become increasingly popular with hikers and runners as well.

"On the other hand, we do understand that it's private property and things can change any time," he said.

Mountain bikers had used Galbraith as a playground for years before Trillium assumed ownership. Trillium's agreement with WHIMPs marked the first time bike use was officially recognized on the mountain since the sport came to Bellingham in the 1980s.

Trillium acquired the property in 2001 from Bloedel Timberlands and used the property to help secure a $17 million loan from Idaho-based Old Standard Life Insurance Co. in 2002. Old Standard was an affiliate of Metropolitan Mortgage Co. of Spokane, which collapsed in 2004 and left thousands of investors in the lurch.

In 2005, when Old Standard was under the oversight of Idaho insurance regulators, the company sold its interest in the Galbraith property to Polygon with regulators' approval. That made Polygon the holder of the mortgage on the Trillium property.

Trillium has tried to start the process of getting the forestry-zoned land on Galbraith reclassified for eventual residential development. The Whatcom County Council voted against that request in 2006 and 2007.

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