WENATCHEE — There has been a common theme among trails across the Wenatchee Valley since last year: Growing popularity.
The surge in trail use could mean even larger crowds at popular spots, such as Saddlerock or Colchuck Lake trailheads, according to local outdoor organizations.
“I think everyone’s looking for something to do,” said Wenatchee resident Stacey Hill, who was taking her first hike of the season on Sage Hills this week.
Hill was one of a few hikers out Thursday morning, soaking in the sun while catching first glimpses of wildflowers.
A lot of people have been hiking in the foothills, she said. The parking lots have been full at Saddlerock, “I don’t remember them always being that full.”
Anne Gibbons had just finished mountain biking nearby and agreed with Hill. Saddlerock has just been packed since the COVID-19 pandemic, she said.
“It’s good that people have somewhere to go,” she said. Hopefully everyone can spread out, she said.
Trails across the Wenatchee foothills area started opening April 1.
Accessible and open trails include Balsamroot, Sage Hills, Saddle Rock, Castle Rock, Horse Lake Reserve and the Jacobson area. Trail conditions and which ones are open can be checked at cdlandtrust.org.
More people than usual started using local trails around this time last year, said Hanne Beener, Chelan-Douglas Land Trust trails program manager.
People were wanting to get outside, close to home, without traveling far to do something safely, she said. That trend seems to have continued over to this year, though it is too early to tell.
The increase in popularity could be due to a number of reasons, she said. Possibly new trail users last year discovered something they really like.
Beener said she is seeing “more users than ever before, and new and different users.”
Typically this time of the year, Saddlerock is popular with people from across the Wenatchee Valley, she said. The same diverse group has been dispersed to all the other foothills trails in the past year.
More people on the trails, especially those new to hiking, often means more management issues for landowners or anyone managing recreation, she said.
New folks might be unfamiliar with recreation etiquette or stewardship — taking care of the area one is in, she said. This can lead to people walking off of the main trail, potentially hurting neighboring wildlife. More popular areas like Saddle Rock are seeing extra litter as well as people not picking up after their dogs.
Branching out of the Wenatchee foothills, trails across the Wenatchee Valley have also seen more use.
Mat Lyons, director of the Wenatchee-based TREAD Map app, is trying to solve potential overcrowding issues by helping people find “where else could you go.”
His answer? Check out the dozens of other great places that people new to town might not know about. Lyons is working on an in-app pop up window that will show people alternatives to crowded trails. The update will act as a “hey just so you know” window, he said.
A lot of garbage, resource damage and human waste, “which is gross,” has followed the trend of extreme trail use, he said.
The TREAD Map app was released last July and has seen 1,600 downloads since then. Most of the app’s users are from North Central Washington, but he also is seeing users from the west side.
His goal with TREAD — which stands for trails, recreation, education, advocacy and development — has been to teach people how to recreate responsibly while sharing a variety of local trails.
The app gives users a virtual map, listing trails, photos and reports from trails. Those interested in using the app can download it from their phone’s respective app store or by visiting tread-cw.com.
Everybody is scrambling to do the same thing, he said. Visitors to the area often only know about the popular hikes, like Colchuck Lake.
Lyons said he is hoping people will look for other places to go. That way “we don’t love one place to death,” he said.
Mountain bike traffic throughout the valley is expected to grow in and near the Wenatchee Valley as soon as more snow melts off and extra trails open.
Central Washington’s Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance president Tony Hickok said trails in the valley have probably never seen more use than they did last summer.
Maintenance will be the main focus, right out of the gate, when trails open up again, he said.
“Trails are kind of like a living thing” and change over time. The more use there is to a trail, the more damage there can be.
The biggest thing that needs to be communicated is not to hurt trails, he said. If a user can see their footprint or tire track, then it is too wet. A lot of harm can be done if people ride on trails that are not ready.
Hickok said he wants to see mountain bikers out riding. “People really just need to be cognizant of the impact they’re leaving on the trails.”
He said hopes the high level of trail use continues this summer and people will keep being active and getting out.
“That’s why they’re there and (why) this area is so amazing,” he said.