Scenic 13-mile loop completed in early October
A local mountain biking group completed the Thompson Ridge Trail last month—“the gem” of the Sun Mountain multi-use trail system, according to the group’s president.
“There hasn’t been a continuous single-loop track in the Methow before,” said Josh Gewirtz, president of the Methow chapter of the Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance (EMBA). “You don’t really get a trail experience like this so close to town.”
The 12.5-mile Thompson Ridge Trail is off the Chickadee trailhead, a 15-minute drive from Winthrop. Bikers can access the ridge trail via two other new trails, Lower and Upper Climb It Change. The 20-mile loop includes almost 3,500 feet of climbing and tops off at 4,939 feet above sea level. Riders are afforded dramatic views of the Methow Valley, the Twisp River drainage and the Sawtooths.
The trail system is light on constructed features. The most visible of these on a recent tour of the trails were the berms of earth formed along sharp turns to reduce erosion.
“We were trying to create a backcountry user experience,” Gewirtz said — one that brings riders to “the heart of nature.”
The organization raised about $200,000 to complete 22 miles of new trails over the past two years.
“The entire ridge trail was funded by mountain bikers,” Gewirtz said. “We were a user group that wanted to see something happen. … We couldn’t have done it without the mountain bike community.”
The Sun Mountain trail system is on national forest land and has the blessing of the U.S. Forest Service. EMBA was awarded a $49,050 grant through the Forest Service to pay for additional trail construction scheduled for next year.
Sharing the trail
The 22 new miles expand a Sun Mountain trail system that caters to all levels of biking skill. While the trails are designed by mountain bikers, they are designated as multi-use trails appropriate for hikers, trail runners and horses. Electric bikes, or eBikes, are not permitted.
“The main goal is to create a variety of experiences for a variety of trail users,” Gewirtz said. The project was endorsed by the Methow Valley Trails Collaborative, whose members include mountain bikers, equestrians, cross-country skiers and snowmobilers.
Kathy Upper, president of the Methow Valley Backcountry Horsemen, said cooperation among various users is in everyone’s best interests.
“We need to share … to have these trails available for all of us,” Upper said. “We’re spread out. There are plenty of trails.”
Rosemary Seifried, recreation program manager for the Methow Valley Ranger District, said that while Sun Mountain trails are designated for all users, they aren’t one size fits all.
“There are more switchbacks than horse people might prefer,” said Seifried, who recently rode the trail herself on horseback. The trails are built to be sustainable, and switchbacks are good for slowing bikers down and reducing erosion, she said.
“It will be a good experiment, to see what happens on Thompson Ridge, to see how well each user likes it,” Seifried said.
Some give-and-take happens in the evolution of trail systems, Seifried added. For example, Pete’s Dragon, part of the Sun Mountain system, is being improved for bikers so that the nearby Inside Passage Trail can be freed up for horses.
Seifried emphasized trail etiquette. Mountain bikers must yield to horses and hikers.
Mountain-biking destinations see a significant boost to their economies from visiting riders.
“I think it will be an attraction to people all over the country. This will be an economic driver for Twisp and Winthrop,” Gewirtz said last year.
According to a study by the Western Canada Mountain Bike Tourism Association, more than $900,000 was spent by visiting mountain bikers in Pemberton, British Columbia, in 2016. Bicycle tourism also supported 6.5 jobs in Pemberton, which has a population of about 2,600.
One measure of mountain biking’s popularity may be the growth of the Methow chapter of EMBA. Membership is “just shy of 200” and has doubled in the past two years, Gewirtz said. The chapter has four full-time people on its staff.
“It’s definitely a sport that’s here to stay,” Gewirtz said.
Methow Valley News intern Cheyenne Fonda contributed to this story.