Duthie Hill Park now a mecca for mountain bikers
By JAKE LYNCH
Issaquah Reporter Staff Writer
December 19, 2011 · Updated 9:21 AM
Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance (EMBA), which was formed in 1989 to advocate for bike trails and mountain bike parks, and to educate riders on how to preserve and maintain the natural resources that are key to the enjoyment of their sport. More than 20 years later and Evergreen has grown into an organization of more than 5,000 members and three full-time staff, which works to build and maintain dozens of mountain bikes trails between Port Angeles in the west to Wenatchee in the east. Tired of being kicked out of nature's playground, in 2006, the Backcountry Bicycle Trails Club, which later became Evergreen, built their own artificial one - two acres of jumps, ramps, berms and boulders, under Interstate 5 in Seattle, known as The Colonnade. But the jewel in Evergreen's mountain biking crown is about to be unveiled - and it's practically in our backyard. In a 120-acre section of King County land known as Duthie Hill Park, just south of the Trossach's neighborhood, Evergreen has spent the last few years building a mountain bike park the likes of which has not been seen in the Northwest. And word is spreading fast. When The Reporter took a wander around the park on a weekday recently, a steady stream of riders cruised along the trails, and hopped over and along the jumps and ramps. They were from all over, Bellevue and Sammamish, but also one lady from West Seattle, a couple of guys from Tacoma. There's nothing like this anywhere else, they say. But as Mike Westra knows, the Duthie Hill Mountain Bike Park didn't just spring up overnight. Westra has been with EMBA since the Collonade days, and is now the project manager for the Duthie Hill park. As he tells it, Duthie Hill came about as the result of a number of parallel developments in the state, a sort of perfect storm. "On the one hand, you had a history of mountain bikers being kept out of parks and off trails, and on the other, you had a growing community of mountain bikers who really needed somewhere to go," Westra said. "King County, they were hearing from these people, and started to feel some pressure that they had to provide a resource for mountain bikers." Duthie Hill Park is a piece of quiet forest land that King County purchased from the state government in 1987. At one time it was home to the Cedar River Bowmen, who set up their targets and archery ranges there. But when houses began to spring up around it, the county thought that perhaps having arrows flying around could pose a threat to public safety, and so the park returned to passive use, known by and used mostly by locals as a good spot for a quiet stroll. The availability of Duthie Hill Park as a public facility coincided with King County's efforts to accommodate a growing mountain bike community. "We understood it was important to find a location for mountain bikers that was legitimate and authorized, and that met their needs," said Butch Lovelace of King County Parks and Recreation. Lovelace has worked closely with Evergreen in securing Duthie Hill for mountain bikers, and administering more than $200,000 in grant money to coordinate volunteers and help with construction and maintenance. Lovelace agreed that mountain bikers had in many areas been shut out of Northwest parks, and that even today their options are limited. Before mountain bike parks like Duthie Hill and the Collonade, riders would set up illegal jumps and ramps in remote sections of land. The county is now seeing those illegal setups less often. "We used to see a lot of mountain bikers in Soaring Eagle Park, for example. But they're all at Duthie Hill now," Lovelace said. Mountain bikers have indeed flocked to Duthie Hill Park. So much so that parking has become a big problem, particularly on weekends, with more than 50 vehicles at a time spilling out of the small parking lot and into the Trossachs neighborhood and local schools. Lovelace said that parking is a key component of "Phase 2" - the county has identified three or four acres of land it owns in the south end of the property it hopes to convert into parking space. Phase 2 will also involve connecting a mulit-use trail through Duthie Hill Park across Issaquah-Fall City Rd, through Grand Ridge Park, and under Interstate 90 to West Tiger Mountain. For now though, Westra has his hands full coordinating the enormous volunteer effort it has taken to get the park this far. In exchange for the King County money, Evergreen has coordinated more than 6,000 volunteer hours and raised $20,000 of their own. After years of being kicked out of parks like this, the mountain bike community has responded enthusiastically to the idea of a space they can call their own, as have businesses and residents in Issaquah and Sammamish. "The Pacific Bicycle Company in Sammamish has been helping out at several work parties," Westra said. "Big local contributors include REI, Microsoft and Seattle Works." Westra said one local logger, a fan of what Evergreen were doing, regularly dropped off useable cuts of wood. Local volunteer groups like the Dirt Corps and the Highlife Crew spend every spare hour out at the park building jumps and sculpting "flows" - one way trails, like a slalom course. Issaquah residents JD Dusto, Josh King and Jamie Miller have spent many an afternoon hauling dirt and planks, and what they are building is truly unique, not to mention a vital attraction bringing thousands a people a month into Issaquah and Sammamish. "There is Whistler, up north, and I believe a couple of bike parks in Utah and Oregon," Lovelace said. "But I don't know if they offer the quality of natural setting that Duthie Hill has." As popular as it has been with the dedicated mountain bike community, Westra now hopes to engage with those local residents interested in getting into mountain biking. "The great thing about this park is that we have planned for a range of skill levels," he said. "If you are after the double diamond stuff, we have that, but if you are just learning and wanting to step up into bigger jumps and stuff, we have that too." Want to get involved? There are plenty of opportunities. On April 25 Evergreen will run a basic mountain bike skills class. There are regular work parties and classes at Duthie Hill and dozens of other Evergreen locations. For more information, visit their Web page at evergreenmtb.org. Contact Issaquah Reporter Staff Writer Jake Lynch at email@example.com.