By Casey Knopik for Oregon’s Mt. Hood Territory
This summer, guests now have another way to experience the slopes of Mt. Hood from Timberline Lodge with the opening of their brand new lift assisted mountain bike park. Phase 1 features approximately eight miles of green, blue and black trails. Other Timberline Bike Park facilities that will open include a full service bike shop (offering repairs, rentals and sales), food and beverage concessions and a bike school.
But what visitors might not see right away is the amount of care and thoughtfulness that went into designing a bike park with sustainability at the forefront.
Enjoy and protect this special place
The Timberline area of Mt. Hood is home to several threatened and rare species of plants and animals. A critical part of designing the bike park was protecting these populations and training all crews on how to properly work within the design criteria.
“The biggest thing that I hope people appreciate is the fact that we aren’t just going out there to put trails through the woods,” said Jena Christiansen, bike park project environmental coordinator. “All of these trails are designed and engineered specifically for bikes and laid out as carefully as we can to allow for the sport and recreation, while taking into consideration and respecting the ecosystem.”
Christiansen worked as the key liaison between all involved parties during each step of the process. She worked daily to ensure that the approved project design criteria and the environmental assessment requirements were translated to the crews on the ground.
“I’ve always believed that the more people can connect with nature and connect with the mountain and connect with the flowers and the birds and the butterflies, the greater the appreciation they will have for this incredible area,” said Christensen. “I think that’s the most important part about having things like ski runs or mountain bike trails or hiking trails; they give people a way to connect with nature. This bike park has been designed with a lot of care and consideration for the ecosystem and hopefully it’s a place where people can come up to experience the mountain, breathe the fresh air and be a part of a very special place.”
Thoughtful trail design
When it came to building the trails, there was more to the work than just following a set of plans. Crews would scout ahead to make sure none of the protected species were in the path or that the land wouldn’t be disturbed too much. And if one of these species was found, the trail needed to be rerouted.
“We had to reroute a few times,” said Christensen. “However there is more to that then just shifting the trail a few feet either direction. You have to plan a half mile or more up the hill on how to adjust it and redesign it, making sure that the new route isn’t affecting a different species in that new section.”
The trails are designed so they are enjoyable for everyone and reroutes kept that in mind – especially on the beginner trails. Too sharp a turn or too steep a drop won’t make the park as enjoyable. Christensen and her team took all of that into consideration every day while planning.
“Each trail is engineered and built specifically for supporting mountain bikes,” said Christensen. “Sometimes people want to ride trails that aren’t designed for bikes, and the sides will give way, or there are erosion problems. But by offering trails that were specifically designed for the activity you help protect the area around them. We will also have crews out there daily monitoring any trail damage and making proper repairs. People will be able to enjoy their activity without worrying about the trail conditions.”
How visitors can help
One of the biggest things people will notice as soon as they arrive at the Timberline Bike Park is a series of educational signs that explain invasive plants and how they affect the local ecosystem. There is also a bike wash station for every visitor to use before hitting the trails.
“The bike wash station allows you to rinse any dirt or residual plant debris off your bike from where you rode before,” said Christensen. “This will help minimize the spread of invasive species and protect the native habitat.”
The bike park project also allowed for Timberline to start their own plant seed bank, which is a library of stored seeds collected from the local area. The collection of wild seeds allows crews to replant areas that get disturbed with native seeds from the area. There will be at least one opportunity this summer for volunteers to come in and help with seed collection.
“The biggest reason seed collection is important is that if I went to a store and bought seeds and tried to plant them at Timberline, they wouldn’t germinate because they haven’t adapted to the higher elevation and the snowfall,” said Christensen. “But by getting seeds specific to the west slope of the Cascades, you get a much higher germination rate and we want to support the ethological health of the mountain as much as possible.”
This summer visitors will only get a taste of Phase 1 of the new mountain bike park, as phase 2 construction continues.
“The Timberline Bike park development will be a multi-year process,” said John Burton, director of marketing and PR at Timberline. “Over the next several seasons, new trails and terrain will be opened as design and construction are completed.”
The Timberline Bike Park officially opened on August 12 and showcases the hard work and amazing trails being offered at the lodge. The bike park is now open seven days a week through Labor Day, with a revised schedule in the fall.