Pathways being refined for NSTO Trail

Three potential trail alignments between Kingston and Port Gamble Forest Heritage Park for the North Sound to Olympics Trail were presented at an open house Jan. 24 at the Village Green Community Center in Kingston.

Alignments for further study involve an area that encompasses Stottlemeyer, Gunderson, Miller Bay and West Kingston roads, and includes both North Kitsap Heritage Park and PGFHP. There is a west, central and east zone. Within each of the three zones, three alignments are up for consideration. These options will be studied in more detail.

“Over the last 10 to 15 years, the community has been asking us to advance this project, advance the connectivity between the parks,” project manager David Forte said. “No planning document is perfect. It can always be improved as we move forward.”

Tier 1 of the project was recently completed, which included identifying 17 criteria to rate each of the preliminary trail segments (about 60) and organizing those criteria into five categories. The categories are connecting communities, parks and open spaces; environmental; safety, health and function; user experience; and project delivery.

Considerations include habitat connectivity and fragmentation, wetland impacts, stream impacts, and restoration potential such as fish passage barriers and invasive vegetation. All alternatives have impacts and require mitigation, documents say. County, state and federal laws require projects to minimize environmental impacts for practicable and reasonable alternatives.

For user experience, evaluation criteria include low-stress path design, meeting ADA criteria and quality outdoor experience. Project delivery involves design/construction and mitigation/restoration costs, along with rights of way/easements.

Next steps include a detailed analysis and refinement of three selected alignments, applying more detailed evaluation criteria, identifying a preferred alternative, and a third open house this summer.

Working groups include Kitsap County Parks Advisory Board, NKHP Stewardship Committee, Accessibility/Disability group, county parks, Rayonier, Great Peninsula Conservancy, North Kitsap Trails Association, and the county Non-Motorized Committee.

Opposition letter

A group of 17 North Kitsap citizens sent a letter to Megan Duffy, director of the state Recreation and Conservation Office, in opposition to projects at North Kitsap Heritage Park.

The letter refers to the grant used in 2014 to purchase the 366 acres of wildlife habitat, which includes wetlands and fish-bearing tributaries. The land forms the eastern 45% of the park. A portion of the federal grant required the county to use the land for conservation and salmon recovery. The county agreed to take care of the property by “protecting, preserving, restoring and/or enhancing the habitat functions.”

Since the acquisition, the letter says the county has spent significant funds in pursuing two development projects in the park: the Kingston reclaimed water project and the Sound-to-Olympics shared-use path. These projects would cause significant and permanent negative impacts to habitat, the letter says. Public access and recreation is already provided with a “low impact recreation” trail, as required by the deed, that is maintained by citizen-stewards.

The Kingston reclaimed water project would include pipelines, wells and possibly infiltration ponds, along with permanent access roads that would traverse wetlands and streams. The STO path would require a 30-foot-wide clearcut and substantial roadbed. Design speeds may be up to 30 mph range and could require retaining walls, handrails and water control features. In conclusion, the letter states the park is too small and ecologically important to tolerate the adverse effects of $10 million in road construction projects.

“Kitsap Parks is working with RCO on the nature of any potential conditions on a shared-use path within the area of North Kitsap Heritage Park, which was partially acquired by the county utilizing an RCO grant,” a presentation from the NSTO Trail open house states. “RCO conditions vary by specific grant.”