Access to Miles of Trails Now Possible
By Joan Burlingame
Imagine riding onto a trail from the parking lot and immediately riding past a mother log that was 300 years old when it fell and now has a 200-year-old cedar growing out of it. Or ride through mountain creeks cascading down a steep hillside. Are you riding through a waterfall or a creek? Plus, almost all the trails, created 100 years ago for trains to carry old growth logs out of the canyons, are appropriate for beginner to intermediate riders and those who fear drop-offs.
One of the best-kept secrets, and one of the most beautiful places to ride or hike in Washington, is the trail system that can be accessed from the Middle Fork Snoqualmie trailhead outside of North Bend, Washington. There are five trail systems. Only one trail, Pratt River Trail, has serious drop-offs. The valleys radiating out of the Middle Fork of the Snoqualmie can be considered Seattle’s equivalent to California’s Yosemite Valley.
Until three years ago the 12-mile-long road serving the trailhead was washed out, so most people were not able to reach the trailhead. Now (after twenty million dollars) a new paved road is carved out of the hillsides and the associated trailhead improvements are completed. The trails are open for our use.
But with all that improvement no money had been set aside to pay for new decking on the iconic Gateway Bridge – a 150+ foot-long suspension bridge over the river. The decking was becoming too dangerous for stock.
As a volunteer for the Mountains to Sound Greenway and a long time member of BCHW, I wanted to see equestrians get involved in updating the bridge to make it safe for horses and mules. I met with Alex Weinberg, I-90 Corridor Manager, Mt. Baker Snoqualmie National Forest and Joe Olbrych, Middle Fork Valley Community Coordinator, Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust.
I asked if the USFS and The Greenway Trust would allow me to raise the funds from the equestrian community for new decking. They were thrilled. Gary Zink, a retired Boeing engineer and active with both Washington Trails Association (WTA) and a BCHW crosscut/chain saw instructor, joined the partnership and took over the planning for the project.
Back Country Horsemen of Washington and other equestrians accepted the challenge of raising 100% of the funds needed to restore the bridge’s decking. The decking for the bridge had to be specially milled to meet the engineering requirements of the original design so no “off the shelf” timber could be used. The estimate for the new decking (not including labor) came in around $20,000.
John Morris from TRM Lumber, an avid roper, agreed to provide the specially milled lumber for about one third of the estimated cost. Back Country Horsemen of Washington donated $2,000 and the Pierce County and Tahoma Chapters BCHW donated $1,000 each. Susanne Forderer, owner of Starlight Meadows, donated $1,500. Other horse owners donated a hundred dollars or more.
In the end, the equestrian community raised enough money to pay for the lumber and the hardware to replace the aging decking. By the time the 2019 summer hiking and riding season is in full swing the Gateway Bridge will be sporting its new decking.
The Middle Fork Snoqualmie Trails are available for day riding and primitive camping once the snow melts from the trails. Two of the trails connect to—and cross—the Pacific Crest Trail. One of the trails goes all the way to Salmon La Sac in Eastern Washington (a three day ride)! Most of the trails enter the Alpine Lake Wilderness five miles from the trailhead.
The CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) Trail, built during the Great Depression, does not enter the wilderness but does have amazing bridges built by the talented CCC trail crews. The Tahoma Chapter of BCHW has been working to repair the old bridges on the CCC Trail. Put this beautiful area on your to-do list this summer.
Upcoming BCHW Activities and Events
- October 26 18th Annual Winery Ride & Costume Prize Ride in Zillah, WA
Back Country Horsemen of Washington is dedicated to keeping trails open for all users, educating stock users in Leave-No-Trace practices, and providing volunteer service to resource agencies. To learn more about BCHW go to www.bchw.org Keep up with BCHW and issues and events we are following on our state Facebook page www.facebook.com/public.bchw