$1.3 million for 6 miles of top-tier trails: The newest county park in Washington is only open to mountain bikers

"These trails have saved my life." Through a rare private-to-public land swap, the residents at Tehaleh have access to an incredible bike-only trail system.
 Mountain bike jump at Tehaleh
Photo: Vivika Stamolis

An innovative mountain bike-only trail system is opening in a neighborhood in the underserved South Sound region outside of Tacoma, Washington. The Evergreen MTB Alliance has been hard at work building new trails all across the state for decades, but the story behind the new Trek at Tehaleh trail system is way outside the norm.

The tract of land that has become the Trek at Tehaleh trail system (no relation to the bike brand) has long seen historic mountain bike use on a network of social trails, but those trails were located on private land. The area is currently being developed into a planned residential community known as “Tehaleh” that, when fully built out, will have nearly 10,000 homes.

But this is Washington, and any forward-thinking land developer needs to create a community that will attract and retain residents. Tehaleh is already home to attractive amenities like hiking trails, dog parks, pocket parks, greenway paths, and more. The community includes about 1,800 acres of open space, with at least 15 parks. But building a bike-only trail system was a big step further.

The idea of turning this tract of land into a mountain bike trail system was conceived by Morgan Irwin, Washington State Representative for Pierce County, who was able to earmark $300,000 of park impact fees from the state budget to go toward the park development.

Park impact fees are collected by the local government whenever a new house is built to fund the construction and maintenance of open space infrastructure that the residents can use. At the time of this writing, the park impact fee is $3,000 per home built in Pierce County, so roughly $30 million will be collected in fees from the Tehaleh development.

Easy trails at Tehaleh
Photo: Henri Halle

A rare private-to-public land transfer

That $300k was just the beginning. The most challenging aspect of the project was a private-to-public land transfer of this 230-acre parcel, because in order to receive the state funds, the park has to be publicly owned. The land was originally owned by the developer, so in order to fund the project and transfer the land, they had to get creative.

Evergreen MTB Alliance was contracted to design and build the mountain bike trails in the park, and they acted as an intermediary between all the various public and private entities in this complicated project.

“The developer engaged us in the design and then the construction of the project and paid us, so our construction crew and our not-for-profit was paid for the work that we did,” said Yvonne Kraus, Executive Director of Evergreen MTB Alliance. “We provided volunteer match resources, [and] we had some match funding. But the state couldn’t issue the funds out of that earmark budget until the property was back in public hands. So the upfront investment and the risk was fully held by the developer. They’ve been paying us, and our portion of the project cost was just over $300,000.

“We worked on a maintenance and operating agreement with the county. So that contract was established, then the county had to do the land transfer, and then negotiations with the developer, to officially bring that part of the property into public hands. So it’s now officially a Pierce County Park.

“This week, we signed a contract with the Department of Commerce, and they’re going to issue the funds to us, which we then pay back to the developer, because the developer paid for the whole thing up front. So the commitment from all the parties to believe in that process, trust each other, understand that all this legal work was necessary, the negotiations, the planning, was quite incredible. And not something we’ve experienced before,” said Kraus.

MTB drop zone
Photo: Vivika Stamolis

It costs much more to buy and build a county park — $1,328,665, to be exact

The $300k number mentioned earlier went solely toward the trail building, which cost $342,678. By the time everything was said and done — which included the paved parking lot, lighting, and restrooms — the total park impact fee credit applied to this project was $914,380.

On top of that, the developer donated the land to the county, which was worth about $575,000 alone. That brought the total cost of this new 6-mile trail system to $1,328,665.

Mountain bike flow trail
Photo: Vivika Stamolis

Superb mountain bike-only flow trails in the Trek at Tehaleh trail system

The new Trek at Tehaleh trail system features six miles of professionally built mountain bike trails. This brand-new trail system is only open to mountain bikers, meaning that Evergreen didn’t have to make any concessions in this trail construction for hikers or horse traffic.

This trail system is small but mighty, and it features trails for all skill levels. A 2.5-mile beginner-friendly cross-country loop runs along the outside of the property’s northern edge and then cuts through the middle. Bisecting the loop are several intermediate and advanced trails, including a slew of downhill flow trails. To the south of the beginner loop, more intermediate and advanced trails can be found. In total, there’s 1.5 miles of intermediate trails and two miles of expert trails on the property.

Trek at Tehaleh features 260 vertical feet of relief, providing jump-filled flow trail descents that are up to 2,000 linear feet long. Riders will also find a professionally built dual slalom course at Tehaleh. While the laps might be short, with easy return trails to get back to the top, it’s easy for riders to pedal laps on laps!

Trail construction with machine
Photo: Brian Tustison

Credit to the trail builders and volunteers

Kraus gave immense credit to their hard-working team of in-house trail builders who executed the project. Brian Tustison was the project lead, and Jeremy Bushnell, Ian Robinson, Paul Martin, Michael Fischer, and Bryan Connolly all worked on the project.

Trek at Tehaleh also would never have happened without the Pierce County Lead, Rob Buck. “It took an incredible amount of patience and dedication and knocking on the door of the county to keep momentum moving forward, to keep believing that the mechanics of that project were gonna come through. To work with fire and rescue and a developer and the county to [say,] ‘we can do this,’ and identify how this is not a baseball field, but still requires paved access,” said Kraus.

Building a berm
Photo courtesy Evergreen MTB Alliance

Phase two on the horizon

An additional plot of open space land lies directly to the south of the current trail system, and it is already slated for a second phase of trail development. This second parcel of land will roughly double the total acreage of the trail system, but at this time, phase two could be a long way off. If it cost $1.3 million for phase one, some serious fundraising will be required for phase two. “That’ll be the next piece,” said Kraus. “Like, when is it time? How do we acquire funds, and how do we make that happen?”

“These trails have saved my life.”

When Kraus went to ride the Trek at Tehaleh trails for the first time herself, she met a local resident in the parking lot.

“When we got out of the car and I asked him, ‘Hey, how are you doing, how was your ride?’ He recognized us and thanked us profusely, said Kraus. “He moved up from California [and] bought a house at Tehlah — had no idea these trails existed. He was a former BMX professional and said, literally straight up, ‘these trails have changed my life, I moved to paradise,’ because he did not expect those to be there. And now he has before-work or after-work rides that kind of reminds him — there’s jumps, there’s a dual slalom, there’s fun terrain for him to just play. So he literally said, ‘these trails have saved my life.’ And that was very rewarding to hear.”

 

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