Issaquah Alps Trails Club aims to get edgier, hipper — and younger

April 17, 2012

By Tan Vinh

Despite its adventurous name, the Issaquah Alps Trails Club looks more like your local Lions Club.

“Most of the club members are getting pretty long in the tooth,” said board member George Potter, 63. “The average age of our board is almost 70.”

The graying of this grass roots hiking-and-environmental advocacy group has spawned a new goal: to get younger, edgier and hipper, if only for its very survival.

“We think the purpose of the club is pretty valuable,” Potter said. “We don’t want the club to die because the members are getting too old. We’re trying to get some new blood into the club.”

Every week, the hiking club offers up to three free guided and open-to-the-public hikes, some short, some up to 6 miles, many easy-to-moderate hikes that aren’t stressful on cranky knees.

If you go

The Issaquah Alps Trails Club offers up to three group hikes every week during spring and summer. New to the mix: some strenuous hikes, up to 15 miles, aimed at younger hikers. Free to the public. The meet-up location varies. Check www.issaquahalps.org for a schedule.

For information about how to volunteer or become active in the club, call David Kappler at 652-2753.

The club will organize a major trail cleanup April 22 at Tiger Mountain. Volunteers are needed; check the website for details.

But this isn’t the Issaquah Alps Trails Club for the Ben-Gay generation, at least not anymore, club members said.

Tougher treks

This month, the club rolls out a series of “long, strenuous” day hikes during spring and summer to draw people who’ve grown up during the Facebook age and like to spend weekends camping or mountain biking.

On April 29, the club offers a 15-mile hike, with 2,550 feet elevation gain, starting from Newcastle Beach Park and climbing to Cougar Mountain and the north side of Squak Mountain.

The club also offers geocache or GPS treasure hunts tailored to families with young children.

Started in 1979 by the late Harvey Manning and William Longwell, the club formed to preserve the area encompassing Tiger, Squak, Cougar, Rattlesnake and Taylor mountains and to promote trails along the Interstate 90 corridor from Issaquah to North Bend.

Manning anointed this area “the Issaquah Alps,” a misleading moniker. There’s little resemblance to the grand, snowcapped European range. But the name stuck and the club has stuck around.

Free hikes weekly

To convince the public that the “Alps” are worth preserving, club members lead free hikes to showcase the natural wonder in Issaquah’s backyard. On a recent Sunday, club president David Kappler, 63, led a small group on a network of trails the club carved out decades ago on the northwest side of Tiger Mountain.

This 5-mile hike, on the Wetland Trail, traversed an evergreen forest where lush firs muffle the roar from Interstate 90. A downpour made this dense area look like the Hoh River rain forest, a bit primordial and surreal.

Club members are trail caretakers as well as guides. Kappler had hiked these trails a month earlier, trudging in the snow after a storm, with a handsaw and branch trimmer, sawing off a skinny cedar that had collapsed on the path. He also spotted a giant Douglas fir that had crashed down at the trailhead and reported it to the state Department of Natural Resources so it could send in a crew to clear it.

That’s the nitty-gritty of this club’s work. In late January, after an ice and snowstorm made it difficult for hikers to find trails under the blanket of fallen branches, club members cleared portions of the Wilderness Creek Trail, the Preston-Snoqualmie Trail and the popular 16-mile Tiger Mountain Trail.

Looking ahead

The Alps club has a mailing list of 700 members who donate. But the core group, those who lead hikes and clear the trails, number about 50, the majority being retirees. And their numbers are shrinking.

Due to arthritis, bad backs or bum knees, some can’t lead hikes or clear trails anymore. Club officials worry they don’t have a younger generation to carry on.

“We need to get younger people,” Kappler said, as he pulled up invasive weeds along the trail. “We need to work more with youths and offer hikes that appeal to families and youths” to get them more interested and to join the cause.

The small hiking group looped around the northwest side of Tiger Mountain, going from an evergreen area to a deciduous forest, the transition dramatic and impressive. But Kappler looked annoyed, pointing to the Himalayan blackberries, Scotch Broom and other invasive species overtaking a fir and covering a trail entrance.

Before you can clear a trail, you have “to take a half-day to hike in, especially up in Tiger or Squak,” Kappler said. “People who can hike in faster and get to the work site faster — that’s what we need.”

Tan Vinh: 206-515-5656 or tvinh@seattletimes.com. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.

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