March 7, 2017
Keep Our Wheels Turning
By Dutch Franz
Photo at right: Members of multiple COTA work parties perform trail maintenance, construction and removal in Central Oregon. Photos courtesy of Central Oregon Trail Alliance
Northwest mountain biking groups work tirelessly to advocate for biking, promote conservation and maintain the trails we enjoy all year-round. These clubs and organizations go beyond just providing fun events for mountain bikers, they keep the wheels turning for trail conservation, sustainable ecology and environmental and access litigation.
While we can’t mention all of these organizations and the fine work they do, we can highlight a few of the associations that have made significant contributions to mountain biking in the Northwest.
Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance
The Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance, also known simply as Evergreen, is the largest single-state mountain bike organization in the nation.
Evergreen represents thousands of mountain bikers through seven regional chapters across the state. According to Bryan Rivard, senior marketing manager, the organization was founded in 1989 and operates on the principle of healthy outdoor recreation and ongoing stewardship of mountain biking areas.
“It is important for people to realize that trails don’t just exist—it takes careful design, environmental study, erosion control and ongoing maintenance to keep them riding well and sustainably,” said Rivard.
A big part of Evergreen’s success has been the mobilization of a dedicated volunteer community. In 2016, it produced over 15,000 work hours and raised nearly $390,000 for future trail projects and advocacy. Another key to the organization’s success has been the development of strategic partnerships with public and private organizations and land managers to plan and build sustainable multiuse recreational areas.
Currently, Evergreen is working on new trail projects along the Raging River and on Tiger Mountain in Issaquah.They are also working at Mount Spokane State Park, Wenatchee’s Canyon trails, and Green Mountain on the Kitsap Peninsula. Evergreen also keeps tabs on state legislative issues and represents member issues to the Washington State Legislature.
Methow Trails is spending more resources on conservation and sustainable mountain bike trails than ever before, according to executive director, Kristen Smith. The group helped lead the “save-a-trail” program with a number of local and national partners.
The program raised more than $5,000 to reopen the Burch Trail, a high-alpine mountain bike trail that has not been accessible for years due to Forest Service budget shortfalls. Methow Trails is also working with the Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance and land managers to develop sustainable mountain bike trails on Sun Mountain.
Smith said that the Burch Trail project is a good example of how mountain bike associations can help foster collaboration in both recreation and conservation.
The Methow Valley has been impacted by wildfires in recent years; Smith believes that rebuilding trails must be done in a thoughtful way with an eye to conservation and sustaining the natural beauty and ecology of the area.
Central Oregon Trail Alliance (COTA)
Active since 1992, Central Oregon Trail Alliance (COTA) was an early advocate for mountain biking and conservation. Working with the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) and Bureau of Land Management, COTA has successfully developed public lands for responsible use by the biking community.
“Building sustainable trails allows for people to visit natural landscapes in a low-impact way and the net result is people fall in love with those landscapes and want to protect them,” said Bruce Schroeder, COTA’s board chairman. The Alliance teaches riders sustainable trail development through formal crew leader and trail-worker training.
An early success for COTA was the sustainable development of mountain biking trails in the Deschutes National Forest. In the 1990s, this area was overused and COTA became concerned about the long-term conservation of the area.
Working with the USFS, COTA helped develop the Wanoga Complex, a challenging trail system located within a national forest to address the needs of both recreation and conservation.
“All proposed new trails and rerouting of existing trails must undergo an environmental impact study to ensure trails are built with minimal or no impact on key habitat, cultural or other environmentally important sites,” said Schroeder.
This summer, look for new trails developed in partnership with the USFS at the Welcome Center on Oregon’s Cascades Lakes Highway.
Northwest Trail Alliance (NWTA)
Northwest Trail Alliance was created in 1988 as a grassroots club for local riders in Portland. Now NWTA has grown to include regional advocacy and sustainable development of mountain biking throughout northern Oregon and southern Washington.
In addition to advocacy and more than 8,000 hours of volunteer trail work, NWTA also supports a bike patrol program that works with land managers. The volunteer bike patrol rides local trails and helps educate riders on safety, etiquette and conservation.
A goal of NWTA in recent years has been the development of the Gateway Green Bike Park, a 25-acre strip of land in eastern Portland commonly known as the Dirt Lab. The project highlights the importance of organizations like NWTA in both public and private partnerships.
The concept is to take unused open space and develop the land into a dynamic and sustainable recreation area while helping restore the natural habitat through green park technology.
According to NWTA, the first phase of development will include singletrack built specifically for off-road biking, a hiking trail network, a small play area, a bike skills area and a pump track: a continuous loop of smooth dirt mounds ridden without pedaling. Trail development began in October 2016 with volunteers from NWTA and Friends of Gateway Green.
Dutch Franz is a Seattle-based journalist and avid cyclist. When not writing for OutdoorsNW, he can be found exploring the hidden gems of the Pacific Northwest on a mountain or fat bike.