M aple Valley residents are beginning to discover a secret once known only among die-hard mountain bikers: Just south of the city limits lie the hottest bike trails in the region.
“It’s under-recognized. There are a lot of people who don’t understand the value and probably don’t realize it’s here,” says Rick Heinz, a 48-year-old engineer for Boeing who took up serious mountain biking three years ago when he realized that roughly 60 miles of trails were waiting for him in his own backyard behind the Maple Ridge neighborhood.
A mountain biker would need to go to Bellingham or Olympia to find such an extensive network of trails, says Glenn Glover, executive director of the Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance, a statewide advocacy and trail-building group based in Seattle. Sixty miles far exceeds other regional trails.
“There aren’t many places where 10 miles of trails can hold the interest of a mountain biker for a long period of time,” Glover says. “Being able to go to the same area and ride different trails each time you go there is a great benefit of the Black Diamond area.”
Glover’s alliance, King County parks and local trail builders are working to draw attention — and development — to the trails that have been carved over the last decade or so throughout the private and King County-owned land between the city limits of Maple Valley and Black Diamond on either side of state Route 169. The system is known informally as the Henry’s Ridge/Lake Sawyer trails for now.
About a year ago, the Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance signed a memorandum of understanding with King County that the county-owned area would be developed specifically for mountain bikers. Now the county provides support and supplies for trail building and maintenance. Separately, the Real Life Church, which initially had tried to tear down the illegally built trails on its adjacent private property, has embraced mountain bikers and encouraged trail building.
A few months ago, Heinz founded the Black Diamond Trail Coalition with avid trail builders and bikers to develop and protect the entire system. The coalition has a mailing list of 70 people, many of whom come out for maintenance and other events. The coalition is also working on official maps of the trails. View draft PDFs of Henry’s Ridge and most of the trail system.
“I just totally got a vision for the value of the trail system we have from Four Corners to Black Diamond,” Heinz says. “I kind of took it upon myself to say I don’t want to lose this.”
Glover’s statewide alliance plans to include the Henry’s Ridge/Lake Sawyer trails this summer for the first time in its annual Mountain Bike Festival, which features dozens of national bike vendors and educational groups. The first day of the festival will be held at Duthie Hill Mountain Bike Park, a 2-year-old park in Issaquah that offers fewer than 10 miles of trails. On the second day, Sunday, June 10, the festival will move to the Henry’s Ridge/Lake Sawyer trails.
Also, a number of mountain bike races are scheduled to be held on the trails beginning in April.
To accommodate the growing interest in the trails, in July King County plans to install a parking lot along Route 169 that will hold 50 to 70 vehicles.
“Especially on the weekends, you come here on a sunny day, and I bet there’s close to a hundred people out here,” says Todd Petrie, a former “rogue” trail builder who now holds the title of King County ambassador for parks and recreation, maintaining the trails with the county’s blessing. Petrie drives from the Cherokee Bay neighborhood in Maple Valley to work on the trails several days a week. (Read his story soon in the Post.)
Mountain bikers who don’t live nearby currently must park along the shoulder of Route 169 and in some of the adjacent neighborhoods that offer trailheads such as Maple Woods and Maple Ridge.
And as word has spread about the trails, bikers do come from all over. Heinz says he’s met some who regularly drive to Maple Valley from Yakima, Seattle, Olympia and Vancouver, B.C.
They come because the trails offer so many different rides. Petrie has identified four:
1. tight, twisty forest trails
2. long, open cross-country trails
3. more technical up-and-down rolling terrain
4. a jump and slalom course called the Summit Ridge Free Ride Park on the Real Life Church property
Jimmy Goulet, another area trail builder who lives in Auburn, says that he once clocked 34 miles of riding without repeating a trail — all on the east side of Route 169 alone.
“Here at Henry’s Ridge/Lake Sawyer you can spend days and days and never do the same thing twice, so it’s pretty unique,” says Petrie.
Some out-of-town mountain bikers have wished aloud for a place to camp nearby, Heinz says, though that isn’t in the works yet.
The difficulty level of most of the trails equates to a green or blue rating — similar to ski-slope ratings, says Petrie. He is seeking permission from King County to add a highly technical trail that would match a black diamond rating.
On the other side of the spectrum, Goulet would like to build a very easy, family friendly trail near the new parking lot.
“We want some stuff where they can get their kids out — you know, they’re just learning to pedal — and get them on the trails, with picnic areas,” Goulet says.
Meanwhile, the trails attract more than just mountain bikers. Dog walkers, runners, families and senior citizens have increasingly been using them.
Heinz and the trail builders say that the heavier traffic has helped to keep “riff-raff” such as vagrants and meth-lab operators out of the woods, which partially border three neighborhoods of about 600 homes. Access to trails also tends to improve property values, Heinz notes.
The trails provide access to nature, including a view of wildlife such as deer, elk, osprey, eagles, beavers (near Ravensdale Lake) and on rare occasions — from a distance — even bobcats, coyotes and bears.
Heinz says discovering the trails three years ago changed his life.
“Today I’m out on the trails four to five times a week either running or riding a bike. It’s part of my lifestyle right now.”
Want to learn more about the Black Diamond Trail Coalition? Click HERE.
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