It’s hot. My lungs are burning. And everything I thought I knew about fitness is expiring on the waves of ragged breath.
I’m mountain biking up Mica Peak on a hot July day, desperately following my guide Harley Dobson.
While my future as a mountain biker may be dim, prospects are mostly bright for bikers in Spokane.
New trails on Mica Peak are coming together driven by the sweat equity of volunteers. And Beacon Hill trail maintenance and development, including a long-desired pump track, continues, although access is still a concern as private land is developed.
Mica Peak remains the headliner, said Brian Samuelson, Evergreen East’s project manager and the trail boss for Mount Spokane.
“Well, this year, we’ve put the focus on Mica,” he said. “Because we’re on the hook for 1,000 hours with the county.”
When Spokane County applied for a state grant to help develop the Mica Peak area, Evergreen East pledged to provide 1,000 hours of volunteer time, said county park planner Paul Knowles. The state counts those volunteer hours as matching funds, a requirement of this particular grant.
“Instead of having the county try to scratch up the cash to make that match happen, the pledge of volunteer labor from Evergreen, Washington Trails Association and other groups is extremely helpful,” Knowles said.
Evergreen East volunteers have put in nearly 800 hours toward the roughly 3 miles of trail, which includes section of flow trail. Flow trails have banked turns and use the natural topography of the land to slow riders’ speeds, instead of forcing them to ride the brakes.
The trail work is part of the larger 14-mile network of trails being developed on Mica Peak. The trails will be open to any non-motorized recreation. The Washington Trails Association is nearly done with their section of the work, said trail boss Todd Dunfield. He expects WTA to finish their section of trail this fall.
In July, Dobson, the trail boss for Mica Peak, led me up Mica. . It’s a steep ride (for me, a biking novice) gaining just under 1,500 feet in about 4 miles.
Some of the ride followed old logging and access roads. However, as we got higher on the mountain, we started navigating newly constructed trails that followed the contours of the peak more naturally.
Dobson’s work is intimidating. Standing in a thick tangle of shrubs and trees, he points to where he envisions the next section of trail. To the untrained eye, it looks like an impassable mass of greenery on a steep hillside.
But Dobson sees a trail. Using flagging, he marks the future path. Later he’ll either come through with a machine or a crew of volunteers will clear the trail with hand tools.
At 5,209 feet, Mica Peak is just a few hundred feet shorter than Mount Spokane. It provides expansive and unique views of the Spokane area and the Palouse. Although the top is owned by the Federal Aviation Administration and is off limits to the public the mountain bike and hiking trails take users just a few hundred feet shy of the summit.
Spokane County has owned some of the land since 2013. In December, the county closed on an additional 901 acres, connecting the 3,591-acre Liberty Lake regional park with the Mica Peak Conservation area. Counting some adjacent Washington Department of Natural Resources land, the entire block is about 6,000 acres, making it the fourth largest block of public land in Spokane County.
Roughly 40 percent of the 14 miles of trail will be single-track while the other 60 percent will follow old logging and access roads.
The mountain biking trails will hopefully be done next year, Samuelson said. And while anyone is welcome to explore the trails, remember they are a work in progress.
Beacon Hill trails remain threatened
In other mountain biking news, Samuelson said new signs have been installed at Beacon Hill and the pump track, which was originally supposed to be complete earlier this year, is back on track.
“The pump track was supposed to be in the skills park,” he said. “But as we were planning things this year we brought it closer to the dirt jumps and what we’re calling Central Park.”
Volunteer have also cleared grass and widened sections of trails at the Saltese Uplands Conservation Area and they’ve trimmed trees and cleared some trails at Riverside State Park.
But a larger threat remains. About 90 percent of the Beacon Hill trail system is on private land. And some of that land is starting to be developed.
Evergreen East has started a Make Beacon Public campaign aimed at raising awareness and money. The issue, Samuelson said, is that most people don’t know Beacon Hill is mostly private.
“They thought the city owned everything,” he said. “They thought the county owned everything, which is not the case.”
The west side of Beacon continues to be developed, with developer Pete Rayner “working his way up the hillside,” Samuelson said.
And new housing development is moving forward near John Shields Park. Land owner George Paras, who owns (among other things) 85 acres north of Camp Sekani, could also choose to sell or develop his land, long used by mountain bikers.
Evergreen East and Spokane County could purchase some of the land, whether its through private donations or the Conservation Futures Program. But, it’s unlikely that they could purchase it all.
“Beacon is going to change in the next two years,” Samuelson said. “(We’re) trying to limit that change to the best of our abilities and funds.”