Trails for everyone, forever
It’s taken years of collaboration, but a plan for sustainable trails for a section of the Teanaway Community Forest will soon be finished, and work will begin in 2022. By James Moschella
For nearly a decade, WTA has been championing the Teanaway Community Forest, a 50,241-acre area that offers year-round outdoor recreation near Cle Elum. Recently, a large part of our focus has been in one area around the West Fork of the Teanaway River, which is crisscrossed by many miles of informal, user-built trails.
Now, after years of collaboration, WTA and the West Fork Teanaway Trails Coalition are working together to develop a plan for a connected, sustainable trail system. The plan will soon translate to on-the-ground work, including new and improved trails, a new trailhead and even hopes for a new sno-park to support winter recreation.
We’ll soon have a stronger trail system that takes hikers to the best places in the West Fork Teanaway, and more year-round recreation opportunities in an area less than 90 minutes from Seattle.
The plan builds on the recreation vision for the broader community forest, which was finalized in 2018 following almost 2 years of collaborative planning and input from hikers, community members and other folks who recreate outdoors.
Since then, WTA and the West Fork Teanaway Trails Coalition have been working with the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), the Department of Fish and Wildlife (DFW), and Yakama Nation Fisheries, as well as community groups and nonprofits, to envision a safe, multi-use trail system that meets the needs of user groups including hikers, bikers, skiers and snowshoers.
“WTA made a huge contribution to the success of the community forest by bringing their expertise and facilitation to problem solve this project for us,” said Larry Leach, DNR Southeast region state lands assistant region manager. “I feel like they balanced the goals of the Teanaway Community Forest with quality user experiences for the many different users of the forest, which moved formalizing trails ahead of where we’d be without the collaboration.”
We’re grateful for our partners and the collaborative nature of this work. In a place like the Teanaway, which includes unique natural features and sensitive wildlife habitats, these efforts take careful thought and discussions between those who know the area well. User safety and environmental sustainability were key considerations in the final proposal. A number of trails will need to be rerouted or improved so that they will be safer, avoid private property and stand up to the test of time (and the many feet, hooves and bicycle tires that will travel on them).
Over the last 18 months, we’ve been working with our partners to assess what trails exist and plan how trails should look in the future. The work began with a lot of hiking. WTA staff and coalition members visited the West Fork Teanaway area and cataloged the 140 miles of user-built trails and every road, as well as opportunities for new or improved trail segments. It meant a lot of hours of getting to know the area, step by step. Alan Carter Mortimer, WTA’s field programs manager, has walked every step of trail that ended up in the final plan. He said that connecting with the many different user groups who like to explore the West Fork really helped him understand how to craft a trail system that will meet everyone’s needs.
Our vision for the area is to provide safe and accessible year-round trail experiences that are welcoming to everyone, from the first-time mountain biker, to the intermediate hiker, to the highly experienced equestrian. With that in mind, we created a plan to offer the best recreation opportunities, while protecting delicate habitats. We prioritized things like loop hikes, which offer hikers more variety and options to spread out.
We worked with state agencies, community members and tribal representatives to make sure that all proposals take into account things like wildlife migration patterns, how winter recreation and snowmobiling options will be included and respecting lands where tribes have been since the beginning of time.
This creative collaboration will ensure that, no matter when you visit the West Fork, you will be able get outside and enjoy the natural beauty.
The West Fork is just one portion of the Teanaway Community Forest and this planning work ensured that the new trail system will fit into the rest of the forest and the broader area. The West Fork is a good place to start work because it already has many miles of user-built trails, and it’s an area that hikers are already visiting. It’s also an area where some good work has already been done, including improving Teanaway Camp.
With the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest surrounding much of the forest, and the Towns to Teanaway project just to the south, the West Fork offers plenty of opportunities for connections.
Facing north on the Cle Elum Ridge — a natural border of the West Fork planning area — you can see out into the West Fork and observe the natural beauty of the Teanaway. And, with the new trail system, you’ll be able to explore deep canyons, fascinating geological features, rushing creeks and rivers and, in the distance, catch views of Mount Stuart and the Enchantments.
Face the south, and you look out into the borders of the Teanaway Community Forest, where a vibrant community thrives. The towns of Roslyn, Cle Elum and Ronald lie just below the ridge. Trails through beautiful forests, with the potential for wildlife sightings, connect the Teanaway to the nearby towns. An effort led by the Mountains to Sound Greenway is helping to create a more formal system of trails through this area and connect the communities of Roslyn, Cle Elum and Ronald.
These improvements will also benefit those local communities and economies. Kittitas County (where the community forest is) brings in $185 million annually in recreational tourism and helps support approximately 1,700 local jobs. Connecting the West Fork to the surrounding communities is a great example of the forward-thinking planning that our groups are prioritizing. These economies are reliant on recreation, and planning that takes into account how the entire area will benefit from trails is a great way to ensure the trail system remains sustainable.
The West Fork Teanaway offers abundant summer recreation opportunities, and this plan will make those opportunities easier to access. A new trailhead along the West Fork Teanaway Road will make it easier for vehicles pulling horse trailers to access the area, in addition to offering access for hikers and mountain bikers. And we’ll be creating improved trail access to areas like Frog Pond, Indian Cave, Mushroom Rock, Mammoth Rock and Sentinel Rock.
We know that, with the trail improvements, we’ll also need to help hikers understand the trail system. So we’re planning for signage and education efforts to give people the information they need before heading out on trail.
The Teanaway is lovely in the winter, too, and we’re excited that a new sno-park is in the works. One of our priorities is to make sure that the West Fork offers non-motorized recreation and connections for already-existing motorized travel through the area. Cross-country skiers, sledders, fatbike riders, snowshoers and snowmobilers will all have places to recreate.
The coalition is sending a final report to DNR this winter. This report will offer recommendations on how to get started — which projects should be completed first, how we can educate users on the trail system and how we can make sure that illegal trail use doesn’t occur.
As the project is moving into its final phase, the work won’t be finished. The West Fork will require funding and investment from our state to realize the vision we’ve created. We’ll need hikers like you to help support the vision for the West Fork Teanaway. Together, we can make sure that the Teanaway Community Forest truly has trails for everyone, forever.