By Lucas Martin
Shelton View Forest is 42 acres of undeveloped ravine and ridge topography nestled between neighborhoods in one of the Northshore’s fastest growing communities. Like most unprotected greenspace adjacent to booming real estate, it is under threat. Luckily for the forest and for Northshore residents who use its five miles of footpath as an escape from their increasingly urban environment, Shelton View has protectors.
Beginning as an unofficial coalition of forest users, the Shelton View Forest Stewardship Association (SVFSA) organized as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit in 2015 and promptly began formal opposition of real estate firm MC Coast LLC’s attempted rezoning of property within the forest.
“They own about 16 and a half acres of the forest and were requesting an up-zone in order to build more dense housing on their property,” said SVFSA President Hillary Sanders. “We started going to meetings in large numbers and opposed the rezone based on concerns about rapid development and disappearing viable green space that could be used to provide parks for Bothell’s growing community.
“A lot is changing really quickly, and if we don’t plan proactively, we’re going to lose places that are some of our only open spaces left.”
The stewards’ eventual hope is for the city of Bothell to acquire the property for preservation as a public park, and they are keeping lines of communication open with any potential investors in the project.
“The larger portion of the property is owned by Washington Department of Natural Resources. We’ve been collaborating with them for several years now on restoration and other projects in the forest; they’ve been a good partner and kept us in the loop as to potential buyers,” Sanders said. “Our goal is to work with anyone who can be a potential ally to preserving forest space, so we can acquire it and have it become Bothell city park space, or possibly county park space.”
Though often rewarding, nonprofit work is seldom easy, and not all city decisions have come down in favor of forest preservation. Convincing councilmembers and city staff that future greenspace is a valuable investment is difficult, especially with the city already staring down a strapped budget. But large shows of public support go a long way toward changing minds.
“There’s pressure to identify other sources of funding and make it clear this isn’t just a handful of people who want this; there are thousands of people who follow our work and are using the forest,” Sanders said. “Every time I’m in there, I meet someone who is using it for the first time.”
Protecting the forest isn’t just about showing up in force and arguing convincingly during city council meetings, and real estate developers aren’t the forest’s only viable enemy. Sometimes the stewards have to get their hands dirty. Often enough, they’ll catch a thorn. Invasive species grow rampant in the Puget Sound’s lush ecology and have long since breached the borders of Shelton View Forest. The stewards persist in fighting back.
“We started doing restoration projects on Earth Day 2016, and we started working with the DNR to see if we could plant trees or remove the Himalayan blackberry that had taken over a trail,” Sanders said. “We really set out to improve access, because once you get into the forest, the trails have been used for generations and are pretty well established.
“We started removing invasive like Himalayan blackberry, creeping buttercup, English ivy, then started planting trees and shrubs and native plants that improve biodiversity and assist pollinators.”
The preservation of public access to Shelton View Forest is well appreciated and broadly supported by Northshore residents and is ever more so since COVID-19 pushed people out of doors toward open air recreation.
“We have seen a dramatic uptick in usage of the forest since the pandemic began as folks looked for options to recreate close to home. And while financial resources at the local and state level are strained, the preservation of green space doesn’t need to take a backseat,” Sanders said. “Protecting urban forests is a public health issue, an education issue, an infrastructure and climate issue, and an equity issue. The health of our forests is connected to the overall wellbeing of our communities.”