Leap of faith

June 29, 2010

By David Hayes

Mountain bikers knew if they built a course, others would come

Dan Veitch, of Klahanie, gets a little closer to heaven as he takes a jump at one of the new BMX trails built at Duthie Hill Mountain Bike Park. By Greg Farrar

Klahanie resident Dan Veitch has a new place to practice his faith. You’ll just have to excuse the fact his altar tends to get a little muddy; for the congregation Veitch belongs to receives its sermon atop a BMX bike. And his chapel is the new mountain bike trails built at Duthie Hill Park.

“It’s like our church,” Veitch said. “On Sundays, you’ll see a bunch of guys getting their religion.”

So, it was only appropriate one of the flock of true believers headed the construction. Project manager Mike Westra, a self-described former tech nerd, said the Duthie Hill trail was built by bikers for bikers, through the help of the Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance.

The park debuted to a grand dedication ceremony May 22, featuring jumping demonstrations and more than 20 vendors offering gear, much of it best suited for the BMX course.

Westra said over the years, no one had built trails designed specifically for mountain biking.

“We’ve actually been kicked off a lot of hiking trails, from Cascade to Tiger mountains,” he admitted.

Then, last year, the Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance debuted the I-5 Colonnade Mountain Bike Park — a BMX trail with advanced technical features built under Interstate 90 in Seattle. Both novice and advanced riders now had a facility to either stretch their legs on a cross-country trail or stretch their talents on the jumps, progressive drops, skinnies and logrides.

Westra, a volunteer on the project, said at two acres, the Colonnade still lacked that expansive, natural feel. He said bikers envisioned a trail system that was more akin to a skiing experience.

“We wanted a more tight, twisty-riding, single track,” Westra said, waving his arms in and out to emphasize the twists and turns lacking at current facilities.

Then, along came an opportunity at Duthie Hill Park last year. At the center of this 120-acre forest on the plateau is a 2.5-acre clearing. King County, the park’s owner, gave the mountain bike alliance permission to build its newest project.

The main entrance, parking lot and the Duthie Hill Lodge is at 27101 S.E. Duthie Hill Road. Bikers follow a dirt trail south as it winds behind the lodge, next to a nursery and to a 600-foot boardwalk built by Evergreen’s volunteers. It leads back into the large meadow.

For the past year, the alliance, through the help of a Community Partnership Grant, a Youth Sports Facilities Grant and private fundraising, cobbled together $220,000 to construct the ultimate BMX trail. The alliance is seeking funding for phase II to build additional parking, Westra said. Overflow parking is at Endeavour Elementary School, 26205 S.E. Issaquah-Fall City Road, and Cascade Ridge Elementary School, 2020 Trossachs Blvd. S.E.

More than 100 volunteers logged more than 10,000 hours building a four-pronged course. Much of the site was used previously by an archery club.

“So, as we were clearing out locations, we’d find the occasional arrow left behind,” Westra said.

To decrease the location’s hazards, Westra said crews ripped down snags that dangled precariously above the trails and removed other dead trees ready for collapse.

Then came time to build the courses.

Keeping skill levels in mind, Westra said each course is clearly marked like ski slopes — all the way from beginner to double-black diamond for the most experienced. The cross-country trails were even tagged with affectionate names:

  • Bootcamp — Green Circle
  • Movin’ On — Blue Square
  • Step it Up — Blue Square
  • Brave Heart — Black Diamond

Surrounding the four courses is one 5- to 6-mile loop of cross-country trail.

Westra said between the 50,000 feet of free-ride trails and 5 miles of cross-country trails, bikers can experience about 100 total technical trail features, or challenges, including stopups and stepdowns, tabletops and hip jumps or even a simple pile of rocks that needs to be navigated around.

Westra is especially proud of the all-natural materials used for the courses.

“It has a mix of natural blowdowns (trees that fell over during wind storms) and a lot of split cedar from mill rejects,” he said.

He said none of the rocky cover along the trails was shipped in; it all was recycled from the Duthie Hill Park site.

Then, to give the park additional flavor, many of the technical trail features were given their own names, including:

  • The Monolith
  • The Legend
  • The Fish Bowl
  • Happy Ending

“Happy Ending is already panning out to be the most popular jump in the park,” Westra said, quickly pointing out it’s also one of the park’s double-black diamond challenges, reserved for only the best riders.

As Westra finished describing the features, Rebecca Jensen rode by, giving the cross-country trail a run. Jensen was one of the regional riders Westra was hoping Duthie Hill Park would attract. Although she lives in Marysville, she works in Bellevue, within easy traveling distance to take her Special Sapphire Women’s Stump Jumper out for spins.

“This is amazing, totally amazing,” she said. “It’s small, but there are so many trails it looks like they used every inch of it. It’s really awesome.”

On the Web

Learn more about the Duthie Hill Mountain Bike Park and future events hosted there by the Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance here.

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