Monday, May 17, 2010

Galbraith Mountain to remain a haven for mountain bikers

BELLINGHAM - Galbraith Mountain will continue to be a playground for mountain bikers under a new agreement between the WHIMPs Mountain Bike Coalition and Polygon Financial of Bow, the new owner of 3,215 forested acres on the mountain.

It is essentially the same agreement WHIMPs had with the previous owner, Bellingham-based Trillium Corp.

The volunteer organization and Polygon entered the recreational use agreement Wednesday, May 5, allowing WHIMPs to continue maintaining and building mountain bike trails and features under approval from Polygon. Trails must be built to safety standards set by the International Mountain Biking Association.

The "revocable license" can be terminated by WHIMPs or Polygon at any time, with at least 10 days of written notice.

"WHIMPs stewardship of the mountain is recognized in this agreement. They are good partners on the mountain," said Blair Murray, owner of Tin Rock Management, which is managing the property for Polygon.

"There's no trash, it's clean, the trails are well-marked. There's information available at the kiosk. That's all their work," Murray said. "This agreement recognizes their role on the mountain."

Polygon will continue to allow the public to play on the mountain for free under the provisions of the state Recreational Use Immunity Act, which limits the liability of landowners who open their property to the public for recreation.

"The public is welcome to use the mountain for non-motorized recreational uses as long as they respect the mountain and know their limitations when it comes to riding or recreating on the mountain," Murray said. "It's important that they respect that it is in private ownership."

Mark Peterson, president of the mountain biking group, said the agreement allowed "Polygon to have confidence that there was a legitimate organization that was professional in how we help manage the trail system on their land."

"It allows us to effectively continue to manage the trail system on Galbraith Mountain," he added.

The WHIMPs had served as the official steward in the area for more than seven years under the previous agreement with Trillium, and its volunteers have built a network of trails totaling 42 miles on Galbraith. Located just east of Bellingham city limits, Galbraith is the common name for Lookout Mountain.

Peterson also praised Polygon for an agreement that "continues this incredible recreational opportunity."

Mountain bikers had used Galbraith as a playground for years before Trillium assumed ownership in 2001. Trillium's agreement with WHIMPs marked the first time bicycle use was officially recognized on the mountain since the sport came to Bellingham in the 1980s.

Over the years, the area also has become increasingly popular with runners and hikers.

Polygon became the owner of the Galbraith tract after 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 acquired the property from Bloedel Timberlands and used it 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.

Murray is in the midst of a 90-day assessment - "an internal review" of the property that he said will not be followed by a public announcement.

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



• Read the new recreational use agreement signed by Polygon Financial of Bow, the new owner of the 3,215-acre Galbraith Mountain, and the WHIMPs Mountain Bike Coalition by going online to

• No fires are allowed on Galbraith Mountain, said Blair Murray, owner of Tin Rock Management, which is managing the property for Polygon.

He issued the warning Wednesday, May 12, after finding two fire pits on the forested tract earlier this week.

Murray said the fires - one in the middle of a road on the mountain and one on a promontory near some old timber slash - probably were lit over the weekend.

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