Under the Bridge Downtown

Seattle has seen the future of urban mountain biking, and it is good
Other Places to Ride
The banner Seattle mountain-biking locale is Tiger Mountain, roughly 40 minutes east of downtown on I-90. Carve a 12-mile loop out of miles of moderately technical singletrack and gravel roads as it weaves throughout Tiger Mountain State Forest, a dense swath of Douglas firs, western and red cedars, western hemlocks, red alders, and big-leaf maples. The trail's 1,500-foot elevation gain may seem punishing, but stellar views of Mount Rainier should keep things in perspective.
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With the snow-capped peaks of two mountain ranges—the Olympics and the Cascades—surrounding Seattle, urban-dwelling mountain bikers almost have to wear blinders to get through the work week without chucking it all and succumbing to that visual siren song. But if Backcountry Bicycle Trails Club (BBTC) has its way, the landscape of Seattle singletrack lust will have a new object of affection: a new mountain-bike park just two miles from downtown in one of the most unlikely of places: underneath an elevated section of Interstate 5.
The plan is ambitious—and one of a kind. Take a sloping, two-acre stretch of land below the deck of the I-5 freeway in the Eastlake neighborhood, currently occupied by austere concrete support pillars and a few homeless squatters, and carve two miles of singletrack with three types of terrain (beginner, intermediate, and expert). Clean out everything and then line the trails with rock to prevent erosion and cover it with "clean dirt"—not an oxymoron if you consider that the existing dirt has a legacy of traffic-related pollution. Then pepper each loop with all the signature fat-tire elements: drops, jumps, switchbacks, logs, skinnies, see-saws, and more. Create a high-speed loop for catch-me-if-you-can racing and alternate routes for novice and intermediate riders. Add viewing platforms and parking lots. And position the whole ball of mud, gravel, and dirt in between the concrete columns so that the freeway becomes a ceiling to combat the region's characteristic rain, along with ample lighting to amp up your saddle time.

The idea started with mountain bikers living in Eastlake and the surrounding neighborhoods, anxious to transform a formerly forgotten stretch of the city into an urban playground. Their grassroots efforts fit seamlessly with BBTC, who joined forces with Urban Sparks, a Seattle-based nonprofit group that spearheads local community-development projects. They're still waiting for the Washington Department of Transportation and city government to finish negotiations and sign off on the land lease. "Every two weeks I've been told the lease will be signed in four weeks," laments Justin Vander Pol, BBTC's executive director.
But bureaucratic growing pains haven't stifled BBTC's ambition or slowed their efforts. An active Web-based discussion board has brainstormed a number of potential trail features, and they've begun construction of faux-rock structures—cement molds custom-made for trail variety and multi-bike passage, an innovation that will save on the exorbitant cost of purchasing large stones. Despite such innovations, the overall design goal remains rooted in nature and as many all-natural materials as possible will be used. Soon the entire parkl layout will be clear. Since the trail system is part of a larger city project, every aspect of the park must be explicitly outlined before the first stone is placed. Given that they're working under a highway near a neighborhood and not out in some unpopulated woodland, BBTC will also undertake efforts that'll exceed even the International Mountain Bicycling Association's strict guidelines for eco-sensitive trail construction. But when all is said and done, this rigorous attention to detail will translate into one of the country's most unique urban environs for the fat-tire set. "It's not a question of if," Vander Pol explains. "It's just a question of when."
Getting There:
The proposed open space lies beneath I-5 in an area south of E. Howe Street between Lakeview Boulevard and Franklin Avenue E. The mountain-bike track will be part of the larger proposed I-5 Open Space/Colonnade Park, which will also include public parklands, an off-leash area, public art by area artist John Roloff, a potential commuter's route, and viewing platforms.
BBTC is hopeful that construction will begin before the new year. To help get this park up and running, consider making a donation to the project by visiting the BBTC website at: www.bbtc.org. On-site photos, a discussion board, and future-site plans are also on view.


Nathan Borchelt is the lead editor for Away.com

Published: 7 Sep 2004 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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