Methow Trails: ‘slow but steady’ progress on proposed connector
In the Methow Valley, trails have become essential to the recreation-based community and economy. The renowned trail system operated by Methow Trails attracts visitors and new residents, along with their money.
The network of trails has grown over the years to meet demand for skiing, snowshoeing and fat biking in winter, and biking, hiking and horseback riding in summer. A centerpiece of the trail system, the 32-kilometer Community Trail, provides a trail corridor through the valley, connecting Mazama with Winthrop and Sun Mountain Lodge.
But there is an important piece of the trail system that is missing — at least according to input from the community. That missing piece is the link between trails in the upper valley and Twisp.
Five years ago, Methow Trails surveyed community members to learn what kinds of trails they wanted to see in the valley. Of the 1,500 people who responded, nearly every person (95%) said a trail connecting Winthrop and Twisp should be a top priority.
In the years since the survey, Methow Trails has been working toward that goal, said Erika Kercher Halm, outreach and access manager for Methow Trails.
“We’re working on a slow and steady course of action,” said Halm, who is leading the effort to develop the Twisp-to-Winthrop trail, which Methow Trails calls the “Twin Trail.”
As with development of the Community Trail years ago, making the Twin Trail a reality requires extensive outreach to landowners whose property might provide an easement for the trail. Landowner responses will ultimately dictate where the trail will be.
“We’ve got about 85 different property owners that are excited about the trail. We are starting with those and trying to cluster them,” said Halm.
Based on community input, the Twin Trail would connect to the school campus on Twin Lakes Road between the two towns. It will be designed to serve dual purposes as a recreational trail and as a non-motorized transportation corridor along the west side of the Methow River between Twisp and Winthrop and the school campus.
“There are so many recreation options in the valley. We are really seeing the need for non-motorized transportation options, giving people the ability to connect to the trail system and to amenities in the towns,” Halm said.
The town of Winthrop offers easy access to the trail system via the Spring Creek Ranch Trailhead (also known as the Town Trailhead) at the Winthrop Ice Rink. Numerous other trailheads are located around Winthrop and in the northern part of the valley. The Twin Trail could finally offer access to the trail system from Twisp and the lower valley.
Mayor Soo Ing-Moody “has been a strong supporter of the project,” Halm said. In a video about the proposed trail on the Methow Trails website, Ing-Moody said the Twin Trail “would connect the economic centers of both of our towns.”
Ing-Moody said the trail’s dual purposes “enables people to get in the great outdoors, increasing mobility and general well-being, while at the same time enabling us to have alternatives for commuting.”
“It would give people who don’t have easy access to trails more access,” Halm said.
To be viable as a commuting route for traveling between towns or to the schools, the trail will need to be as direct as possible and easy or moderate difficulty, without a lot of hills, Halm said.
Methow Trails would likely mange the trail as a free community trail year-round, with no passes required, “as long as we can sustain its maintenance through other revenue sources,” Halm said. The trail would be similar to the Community Trail in the upper valley — about 12 feet wide with room for vegetation management on either side, and a natural or crushed rock surface, Halm said.
To open the trail to as many user groups as possible and for commuting purposes, Methow Trails proposes that it be open to e-bikes, she said. Ultimately, landowner permissions will guide what user groups are allowed.
While there are potential routes that could reach Twisp via state and federal lands, those would likely entail too much elevation gain and distance to be practical for commuting, Halm said. Methow Trails has considered trying to run the trail along the Highway 20 right-of-way, but that route “has significant practical roadblocks as well as aesthetic drawbacks,” she said.
Some potential alignments for the trail could have less than 10 landowners, while other alignments that might pass through more densely populated areas would require many more easements. “There is no route that precludes private land,” Halm said.
Halm and Methow Trails Executive Director James DeSalvo are working to connect with landowners to piece together a route. “There’s a lot of individual outreach,” Halm said. “The mileage of ‘yes’ landowners would equal about 4.5 to 5 miles right now,” she said. But those miles aren’t all connected.
“We will probably have to build in phases — as soon as we have a section that makes sense, with access points,” Halm said.
“A lot of landowners have reached out to us, and we have had neighborhood groups come to us. And there are some landowners in areas where we’d like to see the trail go who aren’t interested,” Halm said. The whole process, she said, “is two steps forward and one step back.”
Landowners who provide access for trails are protected from liability, under state law, if a trail user gets injured on their property, according to Methow Trails. Landowners are also protected by Methow Trails’ insurance and are held harmless for any injuries that may arise on the trail, Halm said.
Property owners who allow trail easements receive annual passes for the trail system. “Properties adjacent to trails typically see an increase in their resale value and easy access to the trails is often a tremendous asset to the landowners who live nearby,” Halm said.
Methow Trails is encouraging community engagement to energize the initiative, Halm said. “Anybody who wants to help this trail move forward, reach out to us,” she said.
On its website, Methow Trails lists about 300 people who endorse the trail project, and about 70 businesses and organizations.
“We are looking for everyone who supports the idea to become a public supporter of it on our website and advocate for it to the community,” Halm said.
Methow Trails is currently creating a new trailhead at its headquarters on Horizon Flats, just south of the town of Winthrop. “The new trailhead will be an anchor point for the northern end of the Twisp to Winthrop trail,” Halm said.
Methow Trails received grants from State Recreation and Conservation Office and from the Winthrop Lodging Tax Advisory Committee for the trailhead development. Halm said when construction finally gets underway on the Twin Trail, “there are some great grants that would support building a trail like this.”
For more information about the Twin Trail project, go to methowtrails.org/initiatives.