MOUNTAIN BIKING IN BELLINGHAM
Story by Ian Ferguson
A scene on the rise.
Over 50 miles of trails within the city limits and a growing trail network just south have already earned Bellingham a global reputation in the mountain bike community. Throw in 8,000 acres of recently purchased parkland, a massive core of dedicated trail builders and a planned stop on the Cascadia Dirt Cup enduro series, and you have the makings of a burgeoning scene.
Things that are …
A quick ride away from downtown, Galbraith Mountain is a free bike park on privately owned land where loggers coexist with bikers, equestrians, hikers and dog walkers. ‘Galby’ offers world class, bike specific single track and downhill trails for every level of rider. Here is a sampling:
Ridge Trail, a cross-country/all mountain trail for all skill levels, follows a ridge towards the peak of Lookout Mountain, with views along the way.
Crowd-pleasing SST starts near the top of Lookout Mountain, follows a roller coaster downhill route through two miles of varying terrain, and is so well-designed beginners can manage it while experts still enjoy it.
Shawn’s Trail is more challenging, with narrow bridges and gnarly drops for advanced riders only.
Info and map: ridegalbraith.com.
Larrabee State Park in the Chuckanut Mountains just south of Bellingham offers the 6.6-mile Interurban Trail, a broad flat path for those who want to put some distance between themselves and the city. A climb to the top of Cleator Road brings bolder riders to the start of the Double Black Diamond trail. As the name implies, it’s steep and technical, with burly risk and handsome rewards for the intrepid, skilled biker. Info and map: parks.wa.gov/parks.
Trail builders from the Whatcom Mountain Bike Coalition (WMBC) put in thousands of hours each year building, maintaining and adding to these trail networks. The passion, dedication and skill of WMBC trail builders translate into amazing trails free for all to use.
Things that were …
Public access to these and other local trail networks didn’t come easy. There was once a hallowed realm of steep trails between two logging roads on state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) land near the North Fork of the Nooksack River. Downhill bikers flocked there for endless shuttle runs on some of the fastest, gnarliest trails in the state of Washington. In 2012 the DNR shut the area down. The WMBC is still lobbying to open it back up.
Galbraith went through its own access issues. When bike-friendly former owners Trillium Corporation sold Galbraith to Polygon Financial in 2009, it was only the outpouring of protest from hundreds of local mountain bikers that kept Polygon from canceling a long-standing recreational use agreement.
“Opening up and keeping access is a marathon,” said WMBC president Matt Durand. “There’s no sprinting involved.”
One access marathon that began in 2006 paid off in March 2013 when the county government approved the purchase of 8,884 acres of DNR land for the creation of a county park around Lake Whatcom. The land abuts Galbraith to the south, and includes the east side of 3,000-foot Stewart Mountain. Bikers played a major role in convincing the county council to approve the land transfer, and they have big plans for the future park.
Things that have not yet come to pass …
Local runners, hikers, equestrians and mountain bikers will bring their hopes for the park to meetings with park planners.
“Hopefully we’ll see these really long, looping trails,” said Kevin Menard, who sits on the WMBC board and owns Transition Bike Company in Ferndale. “We’re hoping to create connectivity from downtown over to Galbraith and then to the new park land. We’re also hoping to see some downhill directional, mountain bike specific trails.”
“We’re excited to help build an epic, nationally recognized recreation area,” Durand said.
Another exciting turn for local bikers is the Cascadia Dirt Cup, a five-part enduro race series in Washington that will make a stop in Bellingham sometime at the end of this summer if pending permit applications are approved. Enduro is an emerging discipline that combines cross-country and downhill mountain bike racing on a course with a majority of downhill portions. The idea is to test a rider’s skill on technical downhill features, while also requiring endurance and fitness for the cross-country elements.
Whatcom Events, a local organization that hosts fund raising shindigs such as the Ski to Sea race, announced in April that WMBC would be the beneficiary of funds from their annual Tour de Whatcom. In years past, the Tour de Whatcom has raised up to $20,000 for local nonprofits and businesses.
Matt Durand said the WMBC is thrilled to be receiving the money, and may use it to fund their first full-time position.
“With everything we’ve got going on around here, we’re going to need someone on the ground full time, directing trail builds, going to meetings and advocating for bikers,” he said. X