Just a few dozen yards up an old Tiger Mountain State Forest trail, Sam Jarrett suddenly veered off route, stepped over a mossy log and ducked into the woods.
There, stashed away until it’s ready for public use, was a new 4-mile trail. A future chapter in an unfolding story that’s making the Western Washington mountain biking community giddy.
Jarrett, natural areas and recreation manager for the state Department of Natural Resources, says the new trail should open in springtime. It’s a climbing trail, designated for mountain bikers to ascend Tiger Mountain from the parking area off state Route 18 without having to use the service road.
Whether riders will be allowed to descend the trail has yet to be determined, Jarrett said. But there are other ways down the mountain, including another new trail.
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Nearby, work was finishing up on an expert-only descent trail called Predator. The DNR planned to open the trail Saturday so riders could spend a week practicing on it before the Sept. 19 Cascadia Dirt Cup season finale, the Tiger Mountain Enduro race.
Tiger Mountain and surrounding public lands are a growing mountain biking destination thanks to the department, Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance, Washington Conservation Corps and other groups.
Grant writing to expand mountain biking trails in the Snoqualmie corridor started in 2010 when 60,000 visitors per year were sharing 7 miles of trails at Tiger Mountain.
Issaquah’s Duthie Hill Mountain Bike Park took off some of the pressure when it opened in May 2010. But, Jarrett said, it offered more of a park atmosphere than a primitive outdoor experience.
Since 2012, the trail system at Tiger Mountain has more than doubled. Now with 15 miles of trails, about 100,000 mountain bikers visit per year.
“That’s not all because of the new trails,” Jarrett said. “Some of it is just that sport is getting more and more popular.”
The agency and its partners are planning accordingly. They broke ground this year on new trails at Olallie State Park. There are also plans to link the trails at Tiger Mountain to Raging River State Forest, then the Rattlesnake Ridge area.
There also hopes of making the trails accessible by bike from nearby towns like North Bend and Preston.
The work isn’t limited to just mountain biking. “It just seems to be getting all the buzz,” Jarrett said.
A new trail on Mailbox Peak opened last fall, offering a safer, easier route for the 4,000-foot climb. New hiking trail projects are in the works, including a trail on Dirty Harry’s Peak that will provide access for rock climbers.
“This (work) is a positive thing because we are within 30 miles of 3.5 million people,” Jarrett said.
The mountain biking, in particular, gives riders opportunities that can otherwise be challenging to find.
“It’s nice to be near an urban area, but still feel like you’re in a primitive area,” Jarrett said.
A small army of volunteers has helped with the trails.
The soon-to-be-christened climbing trail had no problem getting volunteers. “It’s a project that’s easy to get people excited about,” Jarrett said. Alliance crews have built a steep, one-way trail that Jarrett calls the “first legal descent trail in the Snoqualmie corridor.”
Why is this important if it will only be used by a small portion of riders? Jarrett says it will help disperse users, making the trails safer. And it’s expected to keep some advanced riders from seeking steep downhill rides on trails not designed for mountain biking.
To improve safety and reduce trail congestion, Jarrett says a trail rating system (similar to a ski resort), clear yielding rules and possible designated directional travel are in the works.
The new trails won’t be closed to hikers, but they will be clearly marked as mountain bike trails.
Rain makes building trails on Tiger Mountain challenging, Jarrett said, but as he reached the top of a climb on the under construction trail and paused to enjoy the view through the trees, it was clear he believes it’s worth the effort.
“This is something a lot of people can use,” he said of the trail. “I think people are going to really enjoy this.”