By Laurelle Walsh
Methow Trails, the organization responsible for turning the Methow Valley into a cross country skiing destination, doesn’t stop working when the snow melts. Trail crew and volunteers are keeping busy this summer maintaining trails, improving year-round access, upgrading trailheads and planning for new ones.
At the same time, the nearly 40-year-old nonprofit must ensure that summer work projects align with its strategic priorities, which include planning for inevitable “low-snow winters” and changing climate conditions, according to Executive Director James DeSalvo.
“We’re thinking ahead about climate change,” DeSalvo said, which may mean changes in the Methow’s snowfall patterns and to the ski season we’ve come to expect. To help maximize snow retention on the ski trails next season and in the years ahead, the trails association is re-positioning trails, tweaking angles and fine-tuning grades. Planning farther ahead, the organization is looking into expanding trails into higher elevations.
The trail crew is out filling in “micro dips” and creating smoother trail surfaces for grooming next winter. “The goal is to open trails earlier and keep them open later,” DeSalvo said. “Better trail design makes it possible to groom with fewer inches of snow.”
Year-round use is another strategic priority. “Our vision is to get recreational users [walkers, runners, bicyclists] off the roads in the summer and improve the summer connections of all trail networks,” DeSalvo said. Spring, summer and fall access to the Community Trail between Mazama and Winthrop is the present focus. “And we’re starting broader conversations with landowners about improving access in other areas in the next few years,” De Salvo said.
Work continues on 1.5 miles of trail that starts at the Winthrop Fish Hatchery and connects to Twin Lakes Road and Wolf Creek Road. The route is familiar to anyone who skis that section in the winter; soon, thanks to partnerships with land owners, a 42-inch-wide packed gravel path will accommodate summer users as well. A small information kiosk at the fish hatchery and trail signs will be going in this week, according to DeSalvo.
And along that same section of trail, Trails Manager Jon Albright and his work crew recently finished reconstruction of a bridge that crosses the fish hatchery creek. Funding for these projects comes from hotel/motel taxes, trail pass sales, and a $5,000 grant from REI.
Mazama and beyond
Piggybacking on a private construction project at the Mazama junction, Methow Trails will begin work this fall on expanding the Corral Trailhead. The first phase will add parking access from both ends of the lot and triple capacity, according to DeSalvo. Later additions will include restrooms, terrain and sledding hills and a picnic shelter.
A public “walk-through” of the project will be held on June 4 at 7 p.m., starting at the Corral Trailhead kiosk.
Okanogan County has committed $69,000 to the Corral Trailhead project. In addition, Methow Trails hopes to receive a $150,000 grant from the state Recreation and Conservation Office in June, which will be matched by trails association funds.
Up the highway at Early Winters, permission to park at the Department of Transportation (WSDOT) salt shed will end after next winter. Through a partnership between Methow Trails, Okanogan County and the U.S. Forest Service, construction will begin next summer on a new year-round parking area one-half mile past the entrance to Cassal Ranch, just beyond where WSDOT currently stops snow plowing, according to DeSalvo.
Parking at the new area will be free, and start in winter of 2016-2017, DeSalvo said.
Funding for this project comes from a $430,000 Federal Highways Administration-Federal Lands Access Program grant, which will be matched by $67,000 from supporting organizations.
Monthly trail work parties will begin in June, starting with a project at the Tawlks-Foster Suspension Bridge near Mazama on June 13 from 9 a.m. – noon.. All abilities are welcome. Community members interested in lending a hand can find out more at www.methowtrails.org or “Methow Trails” on Facebook.