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Sagebrush and Singletrack: Mountain Biking the Tri-Cities

Sagebrush and Singletrack: Mountain Biking the Tri-Cities

20160412-dsc_5709-edit“Left! Right! Right! Left! Duck!” I’m playing a dizzying game of two-wheeled follow-the-leader in   in the heart of Richland, WA. Leaning my elbows into the fragrant sagebrush that closely flanks the singletrack, I echo the commands as they’re passed down the eight-rider conga line – to turn at the frequent intersections, and to occasionally duck under the head-lopping cottonwood limbs that crowd the trail. Evening commuter traffic from a busy interstate interchange buzzes around the preserve, but I’m too fixated on the wheel in front of me – and the sights and smells of this central Washington trail oasis – to notice.

Located in Washington’s agricultural heartland, The Tri-Cities are used to being off the radar. Although the area has received justifiable acclaim for its wine-growing terroir – the area shares the same latitude at the legendary Burgundy and Bordeaux wine regions of France – it’s usually been paired with golf vacations. But Kennewick, Richland and Pasco have quietly begun to develop a reputation as an outdoor recreation destination, thanks to an impressive, loosely connected network of urban trail systems. “Flat” and “fast” characterize the riding here, with trails tucked in unlikely places – next to interstates, for example. From the B Reactor to bomber singletrack, the secret’s finally out: the region’s world-famous dirt makes for fine mountain biking, too.

STATE PATROL TRAIL SYSTEM 

20141214-dsc_1243-editSingletrack-savvy riders should make the “State Patrol” trail system near Kennewick their first cycling stop. Located on private land behind the Washington State Patrol building off Highway 395 on the edge of Kennewick, the State Patrol system boasts some of the best- and the only – sagebrush singletrack in the state, its deep lateral ravines concealing nearly twenty miles of trail. Tight, twisty turns and sandy soil will keep bikers’ attention on the trail, but keen-eyed riders may spot badgers, rabbits and hawks among the sagebrush. There’s no “official” trail system, and thus no map, but it’s hard to get lost; all trunk trails eventually connect back to the informal trailhead. Close enough to town for riders to pop in for a post-work ride, but with enough mileage to accommodate an all-day haul, the State Patrol system has a dedicated core of users. Coupled with nearly year-round rideability, this is truly one of the best urban mountain biking systems in Washington. Although the private landowner has graciously allowed trail construction – bolstered by users’ self-policing – developers have been eyeing this parcel of prime real estate for years, so there’s no guarantee this trail system will remain accessible in the future. Ride it now and lobby public officials to add the State Patrol property to the Tri-Cities’ enviable open space network.

Nearest bike shop 

The State Patrol trails are in the backyard of Leaning H Bike (3801 S. Zintel Way, Kennewick). It’s a great pre-ride stop for trail beta. Stop in post-ride too: owner Heather Henderson offers a bike wash & beer deal with Holy Mac & Deli next door, so you and your bike can both get sudsed-up for cheap.

BADGER MOUNTAIN 

20141214-dsc_1300-editThe multi-user trail at the 650-acre Badger Mountain Centennial Preserve in Richland anchors the area’s Ridges to Rivers Open Space Network, an ambitious plan to link undeveloped lands in one of the nation’s fastest-growing metropolitan areas. Two primary trailheads access the mountain from east and west. The western portal is the easiest for out-of-towners to reach and provides convenient access to nearby wineries. The throughline is the Skyline Trail, the best of the trails open to bikes on Badger. This three-mile route features impressive ridgeline riding for minimal climbing effort with plenty of wide-open vistas. This is one of the Tri-Cities’ most popular trail systems, so prepare to share the trail – nearly two-hundred thousand hikers, bikers, dog-walkers and equestrians access the Skyline Trail each year.  But the spectacular ridgeline route offers views of the arid Columbia and Yakima River basins. On a clear day – of which there are many here – distant Mounts Adams and Rainier are visible, their angular summits in stark contrast to the orderly rows of grapes below. Near at hand, springtime flowers – lupine, arrowleaf balsamroot, phlox, vetch, larkspur, lomatium and more – punctuate the sweetly pungent sage.

Riders can connect the Skyline Trail to the popular Trailhead Park trailhead via the Sagebrush Trail for an out-and-back, or they can make a loop around Badger with the Langdon Trail, which stays low on the south side of the mountain. Either way, it’s a round trip just shy of 8 miles.

Nearest bike shop 

               Velo City Cycles (120 Keene Road, Richland) is located on the city’s bike path, making it convenient for post-ride wine-tasting in the area.

CHAMNA NATURAL PRESERVE

20160412-dsc_5673-editBeginning bikers and foul-weather riders can get easy laps in the saddle at Chamna Natural Preserve on the edge of Richland. Protecting nearly three-hundred acres of riparian habitat along the Yakima River near its confluence with the Columbia, Chamna features more than a dozen miles of mixed single- and doubletrack trails. The riding isn’t technical, but the scenery is sublime, with paths swooping among sagebrush flats and through tunnels of twisting tree trunks and wild rose brambles. In the center of the trail system sits the Junkyard, a narrow route of pump-track bumps and tight turns through sagebrush and a smattering of old tires and other debris. Word on the trail is that the fastest sustained speed through the Junkyard is 26 mph; approaching anything close to that speed requires serious pedal strength and tack-sharp turning and braking ability. Good luck. Although the freeway skirts the edge of Chamna, the rushing Yakima River – and the rush of rustling leaves as riders navigate the vegetation tunnels – keeps road noise to a minimum, as does the hooting and hollering of riders chasing one another through the tangle of trails.

Nearest bike shop

Greenies (701 George Washington Way, in downtown Richland), hosts Tuesday evening rides, usually at Chamna. It’s a great way to get a fast, friendly game of follow-the-leader on the preserve’s circuitous trail system. Bonus: across the parking lot is Paperstreet Brewing which offers a great selection of beer.

aaron-thiesen-2Aaron Theisen is the co-author of Day Hiking Mount St. Helens (Mountaineers Books). He is currently working on Day Hiking Western Montana’s Glacier Country. Check out his stories and photographs at aarontheisen.com.

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