LEAVENWORTH — It’s been a long wait — five years to be exact — but outdoor recreationists are optimistic they’ll soon be riding the chairlifts at Stevens Pass with their mountain bikes rather than just their skis.
The final comment period on a plan to allow the Stevens Pass Ski Area to build the state’s first lift-access mountain bike park ended in mid-January. Renee Bodine, public affairs officer for the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, said Monday that a decision will be made in about two weeks on whether to allow Stevens Pass to go ahead with construction of the facility.
If the Forest Service approves the project, the ski area has indicated it will start construction this spring on the mountain bike park as well as a water system for the entire resort. A couple trails could open as early as July.
The nearest lift-serviced mountain bike park to North Central Washington now is the one located at Whistler, B.C.
“Personally, I’m really excited having a bike park in Washington state, let alone one so close,” said James Munley, owner of the Das Rad Haus bike shop in Leavenworth.
Munley, an avid mountain biker, has been involved with the project from the start. “It’s neat to see it coming through,” he said.
“I know all my customers are super excited,” Munley added. “All my employees are freaking out to get up there and use it.”
Dwayne McMahon, owner of Der Sportsmann in Leavenworth, said he’s heard “a ton of talk and lots of hype” about the project in his business as well.
“It will be a great asset,” McMahon said. “(Stevens Pass’) model is based on what Whistler has done. Locally, the trails available aren’t of that nature.”
The project’s environmental assessment went up for public comment twice, including the period that ended in January. Most of the concerns voiced in the last go-around were broached in the previous one last summer, Forest Service officials said.
“A lot of those complaints were reiterated and what was presented in the (EA) was our attempt to address those original comments,” said Sean Wetterberg, Forest Service team leader on the plan, adding comments on the last assessment were generally in favor of the project.
The proposed mountain bike park will consist of approximately seven miles of downhill mountain bike trails, accessed by a chairlift and geared for beginning through advanced riders. On the lifts, bicycles will use one seat and riders will sit on another seat. The trails will include natural berms and jumps. Plans also include three parks that will be used to develop skill and safe-riding techniques. Riders will only be allowed on designated trails or areas. Stevens Pass will use the Granite Peaks lodge restaurant and facilities to serve the mountain bikers.
“I think it would be a fun tourist attraction,” said Scott Pita, a Wenatchee mountain biker who has traveled to destination spots to participate in the sport. “It can’t hurt to have more people using the lodges (at Stevens Pass). The lodges sit there empty half the year, so why not utilize these structures that have already been constructed, (and) give people jobs.”
Gretchen Daiber of Leavenworth doesn’t mountain bike but spends a lot of time near Stevens Pass throughout the year.
“I’ve hiked there numerous times and if it doesn’t interfere with wildlife, I think it would be fine,” Daiber said.
Kelsay Stanton is a freelance writer who lives in Leavenworth. She and her husband, Ben, are professional geologists and avid climbers, hikers and skiers.