Islander and avid bike rider Brian Starr tests out the bike trails in Dockton Forest. After nearly one year of work performed by island volunteers, the trails, set in a portion of the forest not occupied by existing multi-use trails, will officially open to the public with a ceremony Saturday. (Anneli Fogt/Staff Photo)

Mountain bike trails in Dockton Forest will open this weekend

Forty acres of Dockton Forest that was once used as a testing ground for K2’s mountain bikes is open to mountain bikers once again and an official dedication ceremony is set for Saturday morning.

For the past 11 months, dozens of island mountain bike enthusiasts have volunteered more than 1,500 hours to the project. Led by Washington’s Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance, they created three miles of trails in the forest just off 260th Street. In total, there are six descending trails and two climbing trails ranging from beginner to intermediate skill levels.

“It’s so much fun,” island bicycle enthusiast, owner of Vashon Bikes and trail-building volunteer Brian Starr said after completing a downhill run on a trail that included jumps, sharp turns and a chance to gather speed. “It’s so great to have trails like this.”

Saturday’s ceremony will mark the end of a long-standing effort to bring mountain bike trails to the forest on Maury Island that started in the 1990s. At the time, Dave Warren, a former Vashon Maury Island Land Trust executive director who now operates the island nonprofit Vashon Forest Stewards, was working as a seasonal employee for the King County parks department. He noticed that while there seemed to be few signs of children in the forest — less clothing and toys left behind — there were signs that kids were attempting to build their own bike trails.

“When we (King County volunteers) maintained the trails in Dockton Park, I saw the kids were building jumps, banks, etcetera, that weren’t legal, and we had to tear them out,” he said. “Here were kids coming out working for hours with pick and shovel and I was destroying their work.”

So he talked to the county and asked if, instead of tearing out the hard work done by these young riders, it would be willing to turn that part of the forest into legal bike trails.

“I just started calling people,” he said.

He reached out to Starr, as well as McMurray Middle School teacher Larry Dubois, who, along with other teachers before him, has taught more than 350 students about mountain biking and stewardship in a mountain biking class that is offered as an elective at the school. It was through the students in his class that Dubois began to realize the importance of on-island trails.

“While it was easy enough for me to take a ferry and meet friends at some of the popular mountain biking destinations such as Duthie Hill, Tiger Mountain or Black Diamond, these places were out of reach for Vashon kids who relied on their parents for rides,” Dubois said in a press release.

According to Warren, the small group of enthusiasts, joined by a few of the teens who had been attempting to create the trails in the forest, began holding informal meetings inside an old, large chicken coop on islander and Sugar Shack owner Hedy Anderson’s property.

“We did these meetings in which we came up with drawings and what was important,” Warren recalled. “All the kids introduced me to this new term I’ve never heard and said, ‘You want LIP’ which I learned meant ‘least impact possible.’ Leave the trees where they are, the forests will stay. It’s not big and flashy, it will be Vashon. It’ll just be low-key and won’t push people out the way.”

Anderson laughed when recalling the late-night meetings in the cold building.

“I just set up a bunch of chairs … and we had maps laid out and could all kind of get our heads around what was going to be happening,” she said. “I have electricity out there so we had enough light. It wasn’t very warm, but we were all happy eating caramels. It was a devoted bunch.”

With a rough plan in place, in 2014, he wrote a grant application through the King County Parks Community Partnerships and Grants Program and was awarded $75,000.

A series of public meetings were held in the winter of 2015 with many voicing support, but others, especially in the equestrian community, pushing back against the project under the impression there would be unfriendly or dangerous interactions with mountain bikers. There was also much misinformation about the trails, as rumors circulated that the trails would actually become a full-blown mountain bike park or replace existing multi-use trails.

King County Parks’ David Kimmett said during the meetings that the mountain bike trails will be “essentially invisible” and non-intrusive to other forest users. In their completed state, the trails are contained within 40 acres of the 700-acre Dockton Forest and are separate from any existing multi-use trails. There is also a 50- to 100-foot wide “buffer zone” between them and the existing trails.

“I’m really proud of it,” Warren said. “We’re not offering this extremely unique mountain bike experience. It’s not a destination, we don’t want to cause problems. It’s just something to do for the bikers who live here.”

That said, Warren said the eight completed trails are just the first phase of what he hopes will become a larger system of trails with some more advanced and longer trails.

“This was phase 1A and 1B and then we’re hoping for a phase 2 with a pump track (a trail that is driven by momentum and can be ridden without pedaling) and a longer cross-country trail. Then phase 3, if it stays true to the original plan, it would stick more to gravity trails (and be) a little more daring. We didn’t want to start with that because it is a park open to the public with varying skill levels.”

More grants would be necessary to complete the remaining phases, but Warren said he is hopeful for more funding from the county parks department.

“We know now to ask for this amount of grant money ($75,000). I think everybody involved kind of said this is a great idea,” he said. “If you come up with a good idea, have man power and the project makes sense to King County, they will be were open to the idea. I think they will be very pleased with what’s happened.”

King County Parks Department’s Youth Sports Facility Grant Manager Butch Lovelace said the county is indeed “very happy” with not only the end result, but with the process that involved public meetings.

“We committed to having a closed, circular trail so that the trails wouldn’t interconnect with the existing multi-use trails and that’s exactly what we did,” he said.

He also touched on the point that Warren made about how the trails were never intended to be a large mountain bike park.

“That was very intentional,” he said. “It wasn’t intended to meet all the needs of island bikers or draw hundreds of people from off-island.”

The region’s two most popular mountain biking parks — Duthie Hill in Issaquah and Black Diamond in Maple Valley are both also county-funded parks.

For Dubois, he said the trails are just what island kids need.

“I am out in the Dockton forest several times a week and love to watch kids swooping through the trees as I work to maintain the trails,” he said in a press release.

Attend the trails’ opening celebration

The dedication celebration for the Dockton bike trails kicks off at 10 a.m. Saturday, April 22, and will be followed by a full day of food, bike demonstrations with Transition Bikes and rides along the new trail networks.

Following the 10 a.m. dedication ceremony, guests can take guided rides along the new trails — and Transition Bikes will offer demonstration rides of some of their bike models. A free BBQ lunch will be available at noon, and the bike demos and rides will continue until 2 p.m.

For more information or to get involved with VMBA, visit vmbadockton.wix.com/vmba or email vmbadockton@gmail.com.