Monday, April 19, 2010

Stevens Pass bike trail wins approval

Stevens Pass bike trail wins approval

Environmentalists have been fighting the proposal to add mountain biking on a 7-mile stretch.

STEVENS PASS — Mountain bikers and the people who run Stevens Pass ski resort are happy. At least one environmental group is not.

The U.S. Forest Service on Tuesday approved a plan by Stevens Pass to build a mountain bike trail park for use during the summer.

The plan involves building five trails of varying difficulty about 800 feet above the pass. The $925,000 trail system will cover seven miles on existing ski runs in the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest.

Bikers and their bikes would be able to ride chair lifts to the park.

The plan still has to clear a 45-day appeal period.

“It’s an opportunity for us to have lift-served trails within a reasonable distance of Seattle,” said Glenn Glover, interim director of the Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance in Seattle.

The nearest biking area with access to chair lifts is at Whistler in British Columbia, Glover said.

Environmental groups have objected to the bike park as well as a broader, long-term plan by Stevens Pass to expand its ski area. That plan is on hold, but the Sierra Club and other groups have said the bike park and the ski-area plan should have been considered together, not separately. Under the long-term plan, Stevens Pass would grow from its current 588 acres to 938 over 10 to 20 years.

“The Highway 2 corridor is important to both people and wildlife, and this process did not take a holistic approach in providing the public a chance to engage in a discussion of the full plans for the Stevens Pass Resort that are tied to this first phase,” said Jen Watkins of Conservation Northwest in an e-mail Tuesday.

The Forest Service conducted an environmental assessment on the bike park, a step down from the more thorough environmental impact statement. The study, however, included a detailed examination of the park’s effect on the ability of animals to move through the area, said Sean Wetterberg of the Forest Service.

“Yes, there would be change but it wouldn’t be huge,” he said. “There’s wilderness north to south, there are other options. They can go around.”

The Forest Service met with various interested people as it conducted its review for the bike park.

The pass worked with Gravity Logic to create a trail system. The design group won praise for its work on the Whistler Mountain Bike Park in British Columbia.

“We’re about five years in the making to get to this point, so it’s kind of nice to see a big first step,” said Joel Martinez, spokesman for Stevens Pass.

If no one files an appeal during the 45-day period, which ends in late May, work can begin in mid-June, Martinez said.

In that event, Stevens Pass would likely build two trails this summer and the other three next year. If an appeal is filed, that could hold things up, Wetterberg said.

Conservation Northwest is reviewing the Forest Service’s decision, Watkins said.

Glover of the bike group said there are many types of mountain biking, such as long distance and downhill, and the latter is gaining in popularity, he said.

Riders use heavy bikes that are difficult to haul uphill, making the chair lift handy.

“Downhill biking is a very popular version of the sport. It’s been under-served, which has led to a lot of unauthorized trail building,” Glover said.

The Stevens project “provides the legal and legitimate venue for the riders to do their activity.”

Bill Sheets: 425-339-3439;

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