In the summer of 2007, developers Paul Thomas and Gary Strode of MXGP, posted a notice for a proposed motocross park on forestland east of Granite Falls, WA. They previously ran a track in Monroe, WA that was constructed without permits on a site not zoned for motocross tracks. When that illegal track closed in November of 2006, they unsuccessfully tried to open a track near Maltby, WA. In December of 2006, the Motocross Racetracks Ordinance (06-137), allowing motocross parks in specific locations in Snohomish County, was approved. Granite Falls Mayor Lyle Romack, County Councilmen Jeff Sax and John Koster, and Tom Rowe from Snohomish County Planning and Development Services (PDS) helped MXGP find the location near Granite Falls at that time.
The following narrative outlines some of the features of the site and the impacts such a development would have on the area. The Mountain Loop Conservancy believes the applicants should be required to do a full Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) to address some of these issues.
Due to repeated mistakes in the developer’s plans and their problems meeting deadlines, taxpayers have been paying for review of this project by the county for approximately six and a half years (as of January 2014).
Location and Mineral Resources
The proposed Granite Falls Motocross Park site is located 4.2 miles northeast of the city limits of Granite Falls by road. About eighty acres of the 437-acre site will be clear-cut for construction of the track area. The tracks will take up over 50 acres of this site and a berm, built around the tracks, will take up the rest of the acreage. The Mountain Loop Highway forms the southern boundary of the site. The Stillaguamish River and Bowers Pond are located nearby to the south. To the north of the site, lies Canyon Creek. Washington State owns land to the east (Department of Natural Resources and Department of Parks and Recreation). Masonic Park is west of the site. There are residences to the west, east, and southeast of the site.
Since this area is part of a Mineral Resource Overlay (MRO), development is limited. The motocross developers removed some of the permanent structures from their plans since such buildings would illegally impede access to minerals. Gravel mining is one of the main businesses in the greater Granite Falls area and there are two mines nearby. Though mining affects the immediate area of mineral extraction, it does not have the same kind of long-term impacts on noise levels, air quality, aquifer condition, emergency services, and traffic that a development such as a motocross track would have.
Historically, logging and mining played a major role in the local economy. In 1915, the Hartford Eastern rail line was created to help move timber harvested in the Mountain Loop region back to the Lake Stevens area. The train route proved popular with tourists who enjoyed the mountain scenery and recreational opportunities. The upscale Big Four Inn was built in 1921 to serve the many visitors to the area. Unfortunately, a fire destroyed the inn in 1949 (Oldham 2008).
Today, outdoor recreation is the biggest business in the area. The Verlot Ranger Station, located in the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, estimates that 250,000 people currently use the area annually (USFS pers. comm. 2009). More recent estimates, based on traffic counts, increase that estimate up to 400,000 annually. Many people travel to the Mountain Loop Highway from Seattle and other large metropolitan areas. Visitors enjoy hiking, camping, fishing & hunting, sledding, skiing, kayaking, bird watching and a wide variety of other activities. In recognition of the Loop’s popularity with visitors, the slogan of Granite Falls is “Gateway to the Mountain Loop” (City of Granite Falls 2014). The Mountain Loop Highway is designated as a National Forest Scenic Byway. Roads with this designation have certain intrinsic qualities such as natural features, historic elements, and recreational and scenic quality (U.S. Forest Service 2014).
Several businesses and destinations close to the proposed motocross site serve people seeking out peaceful and beautiful environments. The Old Robe Trail, within a mile of the proposed track property, is one of the most popular destinations in the area (Dean 1997, Sykes 1998, Johnston 2002, McDonald 2007, and Richardson 2010). Visitors staying in yurts at Paca Pride Guest Ranch, enjoy the quiet and scenic setting. Masonic Park is a campground used by the Masons and rented out to groups such as the Society for Creative Anachronisms. Healing Hearts in Hope Veterans Retreat is a place veterans suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) go to get away from noise and stress in their lives. A motocross park is completely incompatible with historic and current land usage.
The developers have provided estimates of expected attendance at the proposed Granite Falls Motocross Park to the Snohomish County PDS (Traffic Mitigation and Concurrency 2009). The highest attendance at their facility in Monroe was 12,671 in 2003. MXGP initially told PDS that attendance at the Granite Falls site would be 81% higher. They ended up removing an indoor track from their plans and, by decreasing expected attendance; the project could proceed without costly improvements such as additional traffic lanes. In 2012, MXGP said the facility will only be open half of the year and attendance will be lower but they added 67% more parking places for a total of 1,006 spaces (Granite Falls Motocross Park Revised Project Description and Operations Plan 2012). MXGP is reporting to PDS that 16,307 people will attend annually with 28% being children. They are telling Granite Falls' residents that there will be 60,000 per year and that most will be children (Gary Strode at Granite Falls Chamber of Commerce 2009). In fact, at MXGP’s illegal track in Monroe, there were 600 riders and 5,000 spectators at races (Switzer 2006).These high attendance levels were not used by the county when evaluating this project for problems with traffic, emergency services, noise, water usage, greenhouse gas emissions, and drainage. It will also negatively affect local wildlife.
Noise and Sound Attenuation
The developer’s consultant, Environ, recommended construction of an earthen berm to attenuate the noise (ENVIRON Noise Assessment 2009). The Environmental Checklist states that a “25-foot high sound berm will be constructed 360 degrees around the track to control noise” (Revised SEPA 2010). However, the plans indicate that the berm will be constructed in sections and that the construction will not begin until Phase 3. They do not think a berm is necessary. Their consultant used an incorrect method of noise measurement and actual sound levels will be significantly higher than reported (HMMH 2009). The berm is expected to take 15 years or longer to construct - depending on the availability of fill material. Trees will be harvested during berm construction and in the buffer zone after the berm is completed. Any additional sound buffering provided by those trees will be lost.
The proposed track will be built on a rural two-lane highway that comes to a dead end for part of the year due to road conditions. Snow generally makes the road impassable to Darrington between late fall through early spring. Visitors entering and exiting the proposed site will be doing so on a road where people routinely drive well over the 45 mph speed limit. According to the developer’s studies, vehicles drive at speeds of 55.6 mph eastbound and 59 mph westbound (Traffic Mitigation and Concurrency 2008). Westbound, the entrance is on a blind curve and eastbound it is at the top of a steep hill. Should a serious accident occur, access for residents and visitors could be blocked. The alternate route, if open, would take 3 hours.
Fire, Medical and Law Enforcement Services
Large-scale developments are usually required to have a water source to suppress fires on site. This 437-acre site will rely on fire extinguishers for fire suppression. The heavily forested area could quickly turn into a major conflagration. The developers hope to get the site annexed into the very small, all-volunteer Robe Valley Fire District several miles east of the site. It is not equipped to deal with large-scale emergencies.
The developers state that a medic and EMT’s will only be available on race days (Granite Falls Motocross Park Revised Project Description and Operations Plan 2012). They propose being open up to seven days a week and accidents may happen during practice runs. Traumatic injuries associated with motocross will require immediate attention by medical personnel with specialized training. In a nationwide study that looked at off-road motorcycle injuries in young people, children in the 12-15 year old age range received the most serious injuries (CDC 2006). The developers are saying that the majority of riders will be under the age of 18. There will not be adequate medical care for the types of trauma typically related to motocross. The nearest hospital is a 45-minute drive away.
The number of local law enforcement officers in this area is extremely limited and it will take quite a while to get to the site. Due to problems with target practice, illegal dumping, underage drinking, trespassing, and illegal ORV usage, some of the nearby U.S. Forest Service roads are closed to the public. People looking for places to camp often drive up private driveways in the area. Though the developer proposes fencing the 75-acre track area, visitors cannot be forced to stay on site.
Local taxpayers will be forced to pay higher taxes to cover costs associated with increased demands in fire, medical, and law enforcement services due to this proposed project.
Wildlife and the Environment
Many wildlife species use this large area. As the developers noted, Marbled Murrelet birds are using an area 0.6 miles from the proposed site (Talasaea 2007). Only 29 murrelet nests have been located in the state of the many that formerly existed (Hamer 2010). Canyon Creek, located close to the project site, contains populations of federally threatened species including Coho salmon, Chinook salmon, bull trout, cutthroat trout, and steelhead (Revised SEPA 2010). Residents and visitors to the area have observed other wildlife on or near the proposed site including bald eagles, spotted owls, pileated woodpeckers, Vaux’s swift, deer, black bear, cougar, and a wide variety of amphibians and reptiles. There needs to be a more comprehensive analysis of the environment at the site. The consultant responsible for the wildlife survey was in the field for a very limited amount of time on two days (Talasaea 2007).
Logging occurred on the site in the recent past. It contains stands of 5-28 year old mixed species coniferous forest (Talasaea 2009). These forests provide the requirements for a wide variety of wildlife and plant species. The developer plans to harvest the forest surrounding the site when the berm is completed (MXGP Timber Management Plan 2010).
This is an area with higher than average annual precipitation. Though precipitation in Granite Falls is 48” per year, at Verlot Ranger Station, east of the proposed site, precipitation is 131” per year. In fact, the area receives more rainfall than any area between Mt. Rainier and Mt. Baker (Haner 2007). This high level of precipitation could affect how quickly contaminants enter the soil and underlying aquifer.
Water Usage and Drainage
The developer has proposed using 5,000 gallons of water per day (Revised SEPA 2010). Water will be used for dust control, irrigation, and personal use at the site. Over usage of water from a well on the site could result in dry wells for area residents. The developer will truck in additional water but will be dependent on local availability (Granite Falls Motocross Park Proposed Water Use 2010).
Drainage of water, and contaminants such as gas and oil, will be managed by creating detention ponds and rain gardens (Granite Falls Motocross Park Drainage Addendum 2010). Since most of the site will be a permeable dirt surface, drainage will be difficult to direct towards detention areas The drainage planned for the site will increase the chances of contaminants entering the high sensitivity critical aquifer recharge area beneath the site. There are only two refueling areas. Leakage of oil could occur anywhere vehicles are used on the site.
This motocross site has been designed for racing events. Its six tracks include two main tracks, a beginner track, a kid’s track, a flat track, and a freestyle area. MXGP removed the indoor riding arena. When developer Gary Strode was asked if he ever foresaw a national event at the site, he said he did not have the permit and that he would have to re-apply to get one. He said, “Not to say in 10 years that we won’t” (Gary Strode at Granite Falls Chamber of Commerce Meeting 2009). If there is any possibility of national events in the future at this site, the project needs to be planned and constructed accordingly.
A project of this size and scope needs to be fully studied and effects from the development properly mitigated. An EIS should be required.
CDC, “Nonfatal injuries from off-road motorcycle riding among children and teens – United States, 2001-2004.” MMWR 55(2006): 621-624
City of Granite Falls website. Home page. Web: 5 January 2014
Dean, Steve. “The Old Robe Trail (It isn’t about a trip to Value Village).” The Herald. 13 November 1997.
ENVIRON International Corporation Noise Assessment – MXGP Granite Falls, January 2009
Gary Strode at Granite Falls Chamber of Commerce Meeting, April 14, 2009. Notes by Siobhan Sullivan
Granite Falls Motocross Park Drainage Addendum, by Brant E. Wood, 1 April 2010
Granite Falls Motocross Park Proposed Water Use Technical Memorandum prepared by Brant E. Wood. 19 January 2010
Granite Falls Motocross Park Revised Project Description and Operations Plan, 17 March 2012
Hamer, Thomas, Senior Biologist, Hamer Environmental. May 27, 2010. Personal communication via email
Haner, Andy, Forecaster/Asst. Webmaster, NWS Seattle, NOAA. October 11, 2007. Personal communication via email
Harris Miller Miller & Hanson (HMMH) Review of Granite Falls Motocross Park Noise Evaluation, August 12, 2009
Johnston, Greg. "A ring of beauty: The Mountain Loop Highway leads to treasure." Seattle P-I. 9 August 2002.
Oldham, Kit. “Fire destroys the Big Four Inn (Snohomish County) on September 7, 1949.” HistoryLink.org Essay 8543 24 March 2008: Web 27 May 2010
McDonald, Cathy. “Old Robe Trail.” Seattle Times. 6 December 2007.
MXGP Timber Management Plan received April 12, 2010
Revised State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) Environmental Checklist. Received March 1, 2010 (with revised dates on some items April 21, 2010)
Revised Site Plan set sheets #1-18, 14 March 2012
Richardson, Vince. "Old Robe Trail." GoSkagit.com 4 February 2010: Web. 23 May 2010.
Switzer, Jeff. “County says no to Maltby racetrack”. Everett Herald, 2 July 2006.
Sykes, Karen. “Rail history, nature unite on Old Robe Historic Trail.” Seattle P-I. May 7 1998.
Talasaea Consultants, Inc. Critical Areas Review by William E. Shields, Principal. 5 June 2007
Talasaea Consultants, Inc. Native Vegetation Study, by William E. Shields, Principal. 25 January 2009
Traffic Mitigation and Concurrency Memorandum, by Kamal Mahmoud, PDS Traffic Engineer III. 22 January 2008
Traffic Mitigation and Concurrency Memorandum, by Mark Brown, PDS Traffic Engineer III. 19 November 2009
U.S. Forest Service, Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, Mountain Loop Scenic Byway Web: 5 January 2014
U.S. Forest Service, Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, Verlot Ranger Station. June 4, 2009. Personal communication
Compiled by the Mountain Loop Conservancy January 2014
What can you do? Those opposing the project can email officials involved. Your voice will help keep the Mt. Loop Highway scenic, quiet and safe for future generations. You can download a petition to print and gather signatures for us. Please contact us if you'd like to help, or make a donation.