Tacoma Wheelmen give Eatonville trail project $10,000 boost

Spandex isn’t standard attire at Eatonville Town Council meetings, but when you’re delivering a $10,000 surfboard-size check, you can wear whatever you like.

Decked out in cycling clothes Monday, about an hour after a 13-mile bike ride around Eatonville, Tacoma Wheelmen’s Bicycle Club president Darrell Eslinger stepped to the lectern to make one of the biggest donations in the club’s 42-year history.

The donation is intended to support Eatonville’s construction of the Bud Blancher Trail, a nearly 2.5-mile crushed gravel path that will connect the town with nearby Pack Experimental Forest and its network of more than 50 miles of trails and dirt roads. The trail will also travel near the site of a planned future state park.

Construction is underway on a 1.37-mile stretch, including a pair of bridges that will span the Mashell and Little Mashell rivers, said Doug Beagle, Eatonville’s town administrator. The project will cost $710,000 and could be dedicated by October.

The trail starts along Lynch Creek Road on the north end of town and will travel south toward Pack Forest. The trail has been shortened because of funding but will end on a lightly-traveled gravel road that leads to the forest. The town does not currently have the funding to pave the travel, but cyclists aren’t likely to mind if they’re using the trail to access the forest. Pack Forests trails and roads aren’t paved.

While the trail could assist locals commuting by foot and bike, Beagle is hopeful it will boost tourism.

“Tourism is key for our community,” Beagle said. “... This is where my job begins, to promote what we just accomplished.”

Bob Myrick, a club member who led the club tour of Eatonville Monday, said the trail coupled with the forest and the state park land might just make the town the “Gravel Grinding Capital” of the South Sound. Gravel grinders are cyclists who ride and even race on gravel back roads. Eatonville hosts a bike race on gravel and paved roads each August. This year’s Mashel Nisqually Kermesse is scheduled for Aug. 2.

“That’s the first time I heard that (Gravel Grinder Capital), but if it gets people to come out here I’m all for it,” Beagle said. “It’s not a bad thing.”

Eslinger and Myrick say the bicycle club committed several years ago to supporting the trail project.

“It is going to be a connecting point (on future network of trails) ... from Tacoma to the Nisqually entrance of Mount Rainier (National Park),” Eslinger said, referring to the vision of a number of trail and cycling advocacy groups.”

Most of the trail cost is covered by donations, including the estate of the trail’s namesake. Blancher was a mechanic at the Eatonville airport and was a passionate cyclist. In the 1950s he biked around the perimeter of the United States, Myrick said. He was involved in the non-motorized plan for Eatonville.

Craig Hill: 253-597-8497