Mountain bikers build a thrilling new Eastside bike park
King County partnered with Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance to create a rocking new bike park at Duthie Hill, between Sammamish and Fall City.
Special to The Seattle Times
A new kind of partnership
Public parks agencies used to do it all: own the park, construct paths, maintain improvements, and so on.
But stretched resources spawn innovation, such as the partnership program that has created the Duthie Hill Mountain Bike Park.
Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance wanted more Eastside bike trails. King County Parks, through its Community Partnerships and Grants Program, handed over basic construction money and signed up the mountain bike group and its scores of volunteers to build the bike park on county land.
Through the program, user groups, sports associations and recreation clubs of all kinds help develop public recreation facilities in a manner that doesn't result in new publicly funded operations and maintenance costs. They build it, they maintain it. And the general public benefits.
New biking parkWhere
Duthie Hill Mountain Bike Park is at 27101 Duthie Hill Road, between Sammamish and Fall City. To get there, take Interstate 90 to Exit 17 in Issaquah and go north on Front Street North. Curve left as the road becomes East Lake Sammamish Parkway and turn right onto Issaquah-Fall City Road. Follow for four miles (the road becomes Duthie Hill Road) to the Duthie Hill Mountain Bike Park parking lot, on the right. Note: On busy weekends, the Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance recommends parking about a mile away, at Endeavour Elementary School's parking lot (26205 Issaquah-Fall City Road), and riding to Duthie Hill Park.
Grand opening plans
The Duthie Hill Mountain Bike Park grand opening is slated for May 22. Tentative plans are for a ribbon-cutting ceremony, poker ride, bike vendor tents, skills demonstrations, demo bikes, raffles and more. The Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance's Web site (www.evergreenmtb.org) will provide details as they emerge.
EMBA holds Duthie Hill work parties four times weekly: 2 p.m. on Wednesdays and Thursdays, and 10 a.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. Call 425-241-7806 or 206-335-8361 for more information, or check the club Web site under "Recreation."
For information on the Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance, including a schedule of mountain-bike skills classes to help you ride places such as Duthie Hill Mountain Bike Park, see www.evergreenmtb.org.
We're about halfway through the Boot Camp trail at the new Duthie Hill Mountain Bike Park when our paths diverge. Mike Westra, who's giving me a tour of the place, takes a minor detour to the right — he hops his bike up onto a foot-wide fallen log and, with great skill and concentration, begins to pedal down the length of it. At log's end, he rides right onto a connecting fallen log, and continues meting out his speed and balance to keep from falling the foot or so to the ground where I've got my bike tires firmly planted.
On and on Westra goes, following one connecting downed log after another. Zigging to the left when the logs lead that way and zagging to the right when he has to. On and on for 450 feet — the length of one-and-a-half football fields!
"That's the world's-longest log ride," a slightly out-of-breath Westra says after hopping off the final log and back down to earthen trail.
"We came across a bunch of blowdown all in here and decided to connect them to make one huge log ride."
Westra, of Seattle, is project manager for the Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance (EMBA), a Seattle-based organization with more than 5,000 members that is building and will maintain the Duthie Hill bike park in cooperation with King County Parks, which owns it. Readying the park for its May 22 grand opening is Westra's current main project. The 120-acre park on the Sammamish Plateau, between the towns of Sammamish and Fall City, promises something for just about every stripe of rider given to putting knobby tire to dirt trail.
Miles of buff, mostly flat but still plenty curvy-swervy, cross-country trails; technical free-ride routes with wood structures offering deep drops, table tops and ramps for launching oneself airborne; fast, flowy downhill sections, and lots more. Though the grand opening is still a couple months away, about 90 percent of the park's Phase One trails are open now and being enjoyed by riders.
Hard-core and more
"Usually you go to a bike park and they only have hard-core stuff for riders like him, but nothing for me," says Angela Earle while pointing at her body-armor- wearing husband Randy Earle, a former downhill mountain-bike racing champion. They've come over from Seattle.
"But this place has lots of cool stuff for both of us; I like to challenge myself a little but I don't want to do the crazy stuff he does."
While there's certainly plenty of "crazy stuff" at Duthie Hill — double-black diamond drops and jumps off impressively built wood structures that seem almost like works of art — all of these trails will have options; that is, ways to ride around the really tricky parts without having to leave the ground or even put a foot down. Say your friend wants to try that world's longest log ride but you're more of a terra firma fan; you can basically ride alongside him or her without lifting your wheels off the dirt. Thus, just about all of Duthie Hill can be ridden and experienced by newbies and kids.
"No doubt, getting kids out here is one of our goals," says Westra, of the club's guiding principles in designing the park.
"It's important for kids to get outside and to be doing something different besides this," he says, miming someone texting on a cellphone.
Jampacked thrill ride
It's an understatement to say that EMBA trail builders are experts at maximizing space. See their I-5 Colonnade mountain-bike skills park, created in cooperation with Seattle Parks and Recreation Department, located under Interstate 5 between Eastlake and Capitol Hill: In just two acres, Evergreen managed to fit dozens of dirt jumps and elevated drops, a pump track, a trials area, a half-mile of cross-country trail, a learning area and more.
Though the Duthie Hill park is spread out across 120 mostly forested acres, it has a similar jampacked feel. Four main cross-country trails fan out from a central open practice area in cloverleaf fashion, each one a mile to mile-and-a-half long. Within each clover leaf are more technical downhill and/or free-ride trails with big jumps and drops.
At 2.5 acres, the park's central area offers an open space with skinnies, logs and progressive drops for riders to hone their skills or just warm up. It's also the perfect classroom for the club's instructional mountain-biking classes, which are offered two Saturday mornings each month.
"Eventually, we also want to offer advanced skills classes where we teach people how to safely ride some of the bigger, more technical structures," Westra says.
That open area is conducive also for holding events, such as the May 22 grand-opening celebration, and club-sponsored races, such as the Duthie Hill Dash, tentatively planned for June 19.
Evergreen's trail builders know something about making a good first impression, too. To get to the park's trails from the Duthie Hill Road parking lot, you first ride atop a winding 200-yard-long boardwalk that weaves and wends its way through a stand of alders. The sensation is that of floating through the forest, as if you were an owl or a raven winging it through the woods to an adventure beyond.
Entering the park from the south, while not quite as aesthetically pleasing, has its own advantages. Duthie Hill Park essentially connects to Grand Ridge Park, another King County Parks property, which has its own six-mile-long mountain-bike trail, meaning that it's possible to pedal about seven miles from Interstate 90 to Duthie Hill, just about all of it off-road.
The idea of using Duthie Hill as a mountain-bike park first began showing up on people's radar about five or six years ago. With bikes not allowed in much of the Issaquah Alps — or allowed only in limited areas at certain times of the year — Eastside mountain bikers were struggling to come up with places to ride. Putting their collective heads together, EMBA and King County Parks found a solution.
"Checking our inventory, the park really jumped out as an ideal place for a bike park," says Butch Lovelace, program manager with King County Parks. "Not only because of its proximity to Seattle, but also because of the high density of youth up there on the Plateau."
About two years ago, King County Parks awarded EMBA $200,000 in grants to build the park and work began. Westra says that club members have logged some 6,000 hours in volunteer work hours getting the park ready for the grand opening.
"We're looking forward to a general good-time celebration," Westra says. "And then we'll take a break and then we'll begin work on Phase Two."
EMBA hopes to complete Phase Two, which includes additional cross-country and free-ride trails, as well as more learning and technical features, in April 2011.Mike McQuaide is a Bellingham freelance writer and author of "Day Hike! Central Cascades" and "Day Hike! North Cascades" (Sasquatch Books). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. His bike-centric blog is mcqview.blogspot.com.