By Ann McCreary
The network of mountain bike trails at Sun Mountain will get 22 miles of new single-track trails, including a trail along Thompson Ridge offering sweeping views of the Methow Valley and surrounding mountains.
The trail construction project is expected to get underway as soon as conditions allow and will take a year or two to complete.
The project is spearheaded by the Methow Valley chapter of Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance (EMBA), which has been working for several years with the Methow Valley Ranger District to develop plans for the expansion. The trail system at Sun Mountain is on U.S. Forest Service land, and the trail project needed the agency’s approval to go forward.
Although led by Methow EMBA members, the expanded trail system will serve a variety of users, said Josh Gewirtz, president of the Methow Valley EMBA chapter.
“Even though we are a mountain bike organization, the trails will be for multiple recreational uses — trail runners, hikers, equestrians, all non-motorized users,” Gewirtz said.
To share information about the new trail expansion, the Methow EMBA chapter will host a community meeting May 1 at 6:30 p.m. at the Old Schoolhouse Brewery in Winthrop. The state EMBA has posted information about the project on its website at www.evergreenmtb.org/trails/projects/chickadee.
Gewirtz said the Methow Valley Ranger District was instrumental in making the project possible. Mountain bike enthusiasts have been working with Ranger Mike Liu and district staff for more than five years to plan and obtain approval for the trail expansion.
“This is one of the largest permitting projects in recent history of the Methow as far as summer trails go,” Gewirtz said. “It shows that now that the Methow is a designated recreational area … the ranger district is doing its job in promoting that.”
Liu expressed “big thanks to all those in the mountain biking community who were willing to acknowledge the need for an environmentally responsible and sustainable trail network and believe in the vision that we could work together to create it.”
The ranger district received a grant of $35,000 from the Washington State Recreation and Conservation Office to fund required field studies and environmental evaluation needed for a permit. That work was conducted over the past two years and the district approved the project last month.
Ridge trail centerpiece
The centerpiece of the new trail construction is an 11-mile stretch along Thompson Ridge, Gewirtz said. “The ridge trail will be more of a backcountry experience,” he said. The new trail will connect to existing trails and allow mountain bikers to ride from the ridge top to the Chickadee trailhead on single-track trails.
Another 11 miles of connector trails will be developed to allow bikers and other users to travel on single-track trails and avoid roads. A 4-mile uphill single-track trail will parallel Thompson Road up to the ridge. The overall project aims to develop a cohesive and sustainable trail system, emphasizing single-track trails and mitigating maintenance and erosion issues, Gewirtz said.
The new trail system will provide opportunities for a range of rider proficiency, from beginner to expert. “The bulk of the project, 70 percent, is beginner to intermediate,” he said.
The Chickadee project has received support from Methow Trails and Sun Mountain Lodge, and is endorsed by the Methow Valley Trails Collaborative, Gewirtz said. The Chickadee location was chosen because of the existing network of trails, the proximity to the communities of Twisp and Winthrop, and nearby local accommodations and services.
Work will be done by professional trail construction crews from EMBA, along with lots of volunteers, Gewirtz said. He said work is expected to get underway by May 1 and will be completed as funding is available, he said.
The statewide EMBA organization is helping raise funds for the project, which is expected to cost about $150,000, Gewirtz said. The Chickadee Trail project is the top priority trail project for the state organization, which will seek funding for the project during the Give Big campaign next month, he said. “We’re hopeful that we could have at least a portion of the ridge trail done this season,” he said.