Biking trail may open in July at Tacoma's Swan Creek Park

Staff writerMay 2, 2013 

A lot of stump removal, brush clearing and trail blazing is in the works at Tacoma’s Swan Creek Park, which outdoor enthusiasts say will be exciting news for South Sound mountain bikers.

“You can count on having a mile of trail to ride by July 1, maybe more,” said project manager Mike Westra, who works with the Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance.

He expects to see more than two miles of biking trail by the end of December.

The goal is to open part of the trail July 1, and to come back and pick up the work in the fall, completing the project by the end of the year.

That’s a big deal for local mountain bikers, who now must drive about 40 minutes to find trails to ride, said Joe Brady, Natural Resources Division manager for Metro Parks Tacoma.

“It’s an awesome place,” he said. “People that go there are really amazed that you’re a stone’s throw away from downtown Tacoma. We want the community to realize that Swan Creek is their park.”

Metro Parks finished a master plan in 2011 to make improvements to the East Side park, which has about 280 acres controlled by Tacoma and 100 overseen by the county.

The overall project is funded by $1 million voters approved in 2005 to further develop Swan Creek, $40,000 of which is part of a contract signed with the Evergreen bike alliance in January to create a mountain bike trail system, Brady said.

Under the agreement the nonprofit biking group will design and build the trail system and maintain it for two years.

At community meetings during the planning process, Brady said, South Sounders made it clear that mountain bike terrain was something Tacoma needed.

Other improvements paid for with the bond money have included reopening a vacant community garden in the park in May 2012 and developing basic trails and boardwalks. Signs were put up to help visitors find their way through the park, and a map of the new system was made.

Seasonal restrooms and a parking lot and park entry are planned.

Work on the new bike trail began in March, with several large volunteer work parties and various smaller ones.

“One man came all the way from Lynnwood,” Brady said. “We’re expecting this to be a huge hit.”

Evergreen has a “proven track record” of designing, building and maintaining bike parks, largely using volunteer labor and mountain bikers themselves, he said.

Duthie Hill Park near Issaquah is an example of that, Brady said. Swan Creek’s trail system will have similarities to that terrain. The trails will be smooth and cater to all levels of cyclists, from small children to more advanced riders.

“It’s really the first mountain bike trail built (in Tacoma) for bikers by bikers,” Westra said while setting flags in the park Wednesday to direct future Swan Creek volunteers. “The first phase is going to be focused on really rolling, banked turns, really smooth. You see lots of families on those types of trails, but also experts like to rip on them.”

Some South Sounders are showing their support already. Evergreen added about 20 members at one work party, including Brady, Westra said.

The most recent effort involved 70 REI store employees who helped clear the new trails Thursday under the direction of Evergreen staff members.

There are benefits to the agreement with Evergreen for the city beyond the new trails, Brady said. Bringing the biking community into the park is a way to discourage transient camps that have been an issue in the area, he said.

“Mountain biking is one way to go about doing that,” Brady said. “They’re vested users.”

The use of motorized vehicles, such as quads, jeeps and motorcycles, on Swan Creek’s trails also has been a problem, he said.

Mountain bikers who build and use the trails will have an interest in educating users about the damage they can do to the park by breaking the rules, he said.

Evergreen is thinking long term too — about a second phase of the bike trail project with more advanced terrain.

“Roots, drop-offs, even jumps,” Westra said.

There’s not a specific plan or time line for that yet, Brady said, but they certainly have the room.

“It’s a big, big park,” he said.

Alexis Krell: 253-597-8268

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