Q: “What, if anything, needs to be done to provide better mountain biking opportunities in NCW”?
What the experts are saying …
Greatness can be had
By Matt Rose
The most obvious item in addressing mountain biking activities in any location is the existence of trails. Most of the land in Chelan County is managed by government entities, most of which have experienced severe budget cutbacks over the last few years. This means the ability of these agencies to maintain and build trails has been greatly reduced or eliminated completely. The Forest Service, State Parks and others rely on volunteers to help maintain trails. The building of strong volunteer groups is one key to providing improved mountain biking trail opportunities.
Another key is the development of bike-specific facilities. Regionally, the Stevens Pass Ski Area is close to building a lift-accessed mountain bike park. Leavenworth advocates are working with the Forest Service to maintain the Freund Canyon trail and to eventually build bike-specific trails at the Ski Hill. The Chelan-Douglas Land Trust will soon dedicate a new trailhead at the top of Horse Lake Road.
Beyond these efforts, an easily accessible mountain bike skills park would help riders of all ages develop confidence and ability in their bike handling skills. Confident, capable riders are safe riders and experience fewer injuries. Most mountain bikers appreciate longer rides that take most of a day; more could be done to create rides of this type.
NCW is already established as a destination recreation area. Rolling mountain biking into that is a simple matter of working with established tourism groups to promote the area as a mountain biking destination. Maps and brochures placed in hotels also would promote the sport locally. Many studies have been done on the impact of mountain biking on local economies; there is a large amount of money to be made. Multi-day rides with a hut-to-hut trail system would be a great move to develop bicycle tourism. You could link, for example, Wenatchee, Leavenworth and Cle Elum in this manner.
It is my firm belief that NCW is poised to become one of the great destination mountain biking locations in the country. We already are established as a tourist destination, and we certainly have the terrain and scenery to rival any competitor. What we need to beat an established destination, like Bend Ore., is to develop a community culture that embraces the sport of mountain biking. When the community is behind the idea, then the facilities and infrastructure follow. One needs only look to the Methow Valley to see what can be done.
Matt Rose of Wenatchee is a longtime mountain bike rider — “far longer than I can remember,” he says — and an Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance board member. He has volunteered on numerous trail projects in the region.
We’ll achieve much more if we work together
By Mary Bean
Three words come immediately to mind: Cooperation, compassion and community.
The Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest is only one — albeit a big one — of the providers of mountain biking opportunities in North Central Washington. Other players include state, county and city entities, as well as private landowners and organizations such as the Chelan-Douglas Land Trust. Although the national forest has more than 2,000 miles of trails open to mountain bikes, the majority were constructed before mountain biking emerged as a sport. The existing system provides a range of settings and difficulty, but was not specifically designed for the variety of interests and skills of current mountain biking enthusiasts.
That’s where the cooperation comes in. Relationships with individuals and partnerships with organizations such as the the International Mountain Bicycling Association have enabled the Forest Service to better understand what types of opportunities mountain bikers value, as well as providing technical advice, expertise, and volunteer labor.
Other groups also play key roles. The state Recreation and Conservation Office, the Washington Trails Association, and the Backcountry Horsemen of Washington, to name a few, have provided funding or in-kind contributions that have enabled us to more than double the amount of trail maintenance we could accomplish without them.
Given the diverse interests of residents, compassion — or the ability to share another’s view — is essential if we are to provide opportunities people want. Few trails on national forest land are open to only one type of use, so the more that different types of trail users recognize their common interests, the more they are able to find areas of agreement and increase their ability to “share the trail.”
When these elements of cooperation and compassion merge, the result is a sense of community: What was once a gathering of individuals becomes a group with common interests, working together to achieve more. Our trails cross boundaries and extend beyond our neighborhood, city, county and state. Many people who recreate in North Central Washington may not be aware of whether they are in a national forest or a state or county open space. What they care about is being able to be outside, in a beautiful setting, enjoying one of their favorite recreational activities.
Isn’t that why we call this place home?
Mary Bean is the recreation program manager for the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest.
Needed: Frontcountry riding in the Upper Valley
By Patrick Walker
Mountain biking in NCW is great, but it could be better. The sport over the last 20 years has evolved tremendously and the type and difficulty of trails that mountain bikers crave have changed as well. It used to be that the steeper, rockier, and gnarlier the trail was, the better. Now, mountain bikers are looking for flow — smooth trails and progressive challenges. Luckily for us here in NCW, we have some trails that would fit this new normal for mountain biking.
However, we lack a few key things:
• First, we lack sufficient, mountain-bike designated, frontcountry riding that doesn’t require driving somewhere. We have a few trails, and it’s good in Wenatchee, but the Upper Wenatchee Valley isn’t so lucky. The trails we do have only serve a limited group of riders, mostly on the upper-intermediate to advanced level.
• Second, we need trails that offer a progression of challenge for all riders — from the 6-year-olds out with dad to the wanna-be pros looking to train for a competition or event. We need this, and possibly even in an urban setting where riders can safely build skills to take out onto the longer more remote trails in our area.
• Third, we need everyone to get along. Horses and bikes can live together; the Forest Service and mountain bikers should be able to work together and so on. We all need to understand that other people use the trails and that our actions, lack of action, respect or disrespect has a serious impact on the trails and people’s perception about the users.
Mountain bikers have long been the red-headed stepchild of the trail world, always blamed for excessive erosion, poor manners and wearing funny clothes. But the fact is mountain bikers are more active in maintaining and building new trail than any other user. They truly want the trails to be better for everyone.
Patrick Walker is trails coordinator for the Chelan-Douglas Land Trust. He also is a member of the IMBA Regional Leadership Advisory Council and the T.R.A.I.L Washington board. He lives in Leavenworth with his family.
Provide more trails between Wenatchee and Leavenworth
By Steve Johnston
First and foremost, more trails need to be established. We have several very nice trail systems in place but with the diversity of our area there is plenty of room for improvement.
Over the past few years, new trails have appeared in the Number Two Canyon area. As word has spread of their existence, they have been put into use.
The Sage Hills trail system has been improved recently as well and usage there has increased. People who never knew the beauty of the area are getting out and gaining a greater appreciation of our valley.
There are opportunities up valley toward the Cashmere and Leavenworth areas where more trails make sense, but they need to be done right, not placed as renegade trails. That way we can ensure the Forest Service is on board and the trails are added in a way as to not damage the environment due to erosion from runoff.
But we also have many areas between Wenatchee and Leavenworth that are completely untapped, and if trails are constructed, they will be used. The benefit of increased trails is tourism. Over the years I’ve met and spoken to many riders who come to our area to enjoy trail systems currently in place. By adding more, we can increase our recreational appeal. And that will benefit many businesses in our area.
Steve Johnston raced mountain bikes competitively from 1992 to 2004 on the WIM (Washington, Idaho, Montana) series and in other races, including four national championship series events. He was president of Wenatchee Valley Velo from 2007-09.
Creating a rolodex of local rides
By Adria Gundersen
North Central Washington has some of the best mountain bike trails in the world. In the Greater Wenatchee Area, we have access to a myriad of these trails.
I don’t think it is so much about providing better mountain bike opportunities than it is about educating oneself to what is already in our backyard.
One way to do that is by contacting and joining your local bike club and adding to your repertoire of mountain bike rides in this valley and others within an hour’s drive.
For me, that education has come through being a member of Wenatchee Valley Velo and riding with people that know the hills like the back of their hand. For instance, I have ridden with well-seasoned veterans of the sport who have taken me on rides that I was not familiar with.
Another way to gain access and knowledge of these trails is by frequenting your local bike shops and getting to know your bike mechanics. They possess a plethora of knowledge about what is rideable and have up-to-date information on trails from other local riders that keep them posted on a daily basis.
A longtime rider, Adria Gundersen received her first mountain bike at the age of 16 after working the cherry season in her father’s Monitor orchard. She is a Wenatchee Valley Velo board member, and director and coach of the club’s Junior Velo program.
From the Methow: Form a coalition for results
By Kristen Smith
The horseshoe ring of rides that stretch from the North Cascades through the Methow Valley around to Chelan and the Entiat Valley and into Wenatchee and back around to Leavenworth are some the best mountain bike riding opportunities in North America. We have rides for all abilities, all types of terrain, incredible weather conditions, relatively easy access and all the amenities of camping, lodging, food and drink.
The attributes of North Central Washington mountain biking are the same of popular mountain biking destinations such as Moab, Fruita and British Columbia. There has been a big rise in mountain bike tourism among these communities, which has been achieved by forming an organized coalition to promote their areas and by enlisting clubs to maintain the mountain bike trails in their regions.
While the riding opportunities between NCW and these destinations are very similar, NCW lacks the organized coalition to promote our cycling opportunities and many of our popular mountain bike trails are in dire need of maintenance and signage.
If we are to enhance the mountain biking opportunities in NCW, public and private organizations need to come together for the promotion and maintenance of our mountain biking trails.
Kristen Smith is event director of the non-profit Methow Valley Sport Trails Association in Winthrop.
Dear Mountain Biking Santa
By Thom Heywood
We can ride literally out our backdoors and connect with trails to the west of Wenatchee. From there, we can ride over Twin Peaks and into the trail systems of Sand Creek, Devil’s Gulch, and Mission Ridge. We can drive up to Leavenworth, Lake Wenatchee, Entiat Valley, Lake Chelan, and up into the Methow Valley — where you can ride trails up to 8,000 feet.
What’s not to like? Who could ask for more?
It could be better. We could be world class.
What if we had a trail system that linked into all the available terrain to the west of Wenatchee? A trail system that allowed riders to ride to Cle Elm, Leavenworth, the Entiat Mountain Range, Lake Wenatchee, Stevens Pass, upper Lake Chelan and Stehekin, the Sawtooth Range?
The truth is there are hundreds of miles of trails already in existence with some of the best trails off limits to bicycles because of rules governing wilderness travel. Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying that people should be allowed to ride wherever they can conceivably pedal. But people can ride horses in these areas and not mountain bikes? How difficult would it be to co-exist with horseback riders and hikers?
So Dear Mountain Biking Santa, here are my personal wishes:
• Create a trail system for beginning riders, cautious riders and younger riders close to Wenatchee. A town mountain bike park benefits citizens and local businesses.
• Second, create a trail system designed for mountain bike racing that could host both cross country races and Enduro racing.
• Third, invite the International Mountain Bicycling Association to Wenatchee to design a trail system to the west of Wenatchee. Finally, turn the project over to Matt the Mountain Bike Mayor of Wenatchee.
With that, we could really become world class or at least one of the best in the West!
Thom Heywood, a mountain biker since 1982, moved to Wenatchee from the Seattle area in 1989 after discovering the region’s outdoor opportunities.