New mountain biking trail in Tillamook State Forest was 16 years in the making
It took 16 years to finish an unbelievable mountain biking trail through Tillamook State Forest. Enjoy this immersive read (and your trip over to the coast)!
On a chilly spring morning, Ryan McLane called out to a group of about 30 volunteer trail-builders and their dogs on a gravel road in the Tillamook State Forest.
They gathered in a circle flanked by pickup trucks with mountain bikes hanging off the tailgates.
“Thanks for coming out,” McLane said. “Welcome to Fear and Loaming, if you haven’t been here. It’s been a long time coming.”
McLane has spent the last two years organizing trail-building days like this with a core group of volunteers cutting through brush, removing logs and trees, and digging out a 4-mile path that drops 2,500 feet through dense Douglas fir forest, clear cuts and alders. But that’s just the final push in his 16-year struggle to build a downhill mountain biking trail close to home.
He guided the trail-building crew toward one of the last unfinished sections of trail and offered digging tools and advice as he carried a chainsaw to a large downed log that needed to be cut and removed from the trail bed.
“This is all hand built,” he said, walking past volunteers whacking roots with hoes. “It’s not like we got a million-dollar grant and there’s professionals coming out here with excavators building all this. It’s a lot of work.”
The completed black diamond trail opened to the public earlier this year. Its name is in homage to both Hunter S. Thompson’s “Fear and Loathing” books and essay collections and to the fertile soil trail-builders spent countless hours digging through. The route winds its way down Larch Mountain with exhilarating 20- to 35-foot jumps and optional bypasses that McLane compares to a roller coaster with choices.
“Do I want to do the huge loops or do I just kind of want to get around this?” he said.
Two years of volunteer trail-building by hand is a lot, but it’s nothing compared to the time McLane spent just getting to the point where he and his friends could start digging.
‘Why aren’t we going up there?’
When McLane was 25 years old, he and his friends were spending a lot of time and money just getting to the mountain biking trails they wanted to ride.
“We were driving two hours one way and two hours back and sometimes only riding for an hour,” he said. “It was hugely inefficient and expensive.”
It was 2005 when he started thinking about whether they could build a trail closer to where they lived in the Portland metro area — in the Coast Range mountains about 20 miles away.
“At that time, there was nothing in Portland. Nothing challenging,” McLane said. “We’d look behind us at the hills as we were driving away and be like, ‘Why aren’t we going up there?’”
They did some homework and found an Oregon Department of Forestry recreation plan for the Tillamook State Forest from 2000 that identified a need for more advanced mountain biking opportunities and allocated 10 square miles to future trails.
So, McLane and his friends went to the forest and found a spot where they could drive up 3,300 feet on existing roads and build a trail with about 2,500 feet of vertical drop over about 4 miles of terrain.
“Almost quite literally we show up with shovels and say, ‘Alright! We’re ready. We want to build,’” McLane said. “We’re in our mid-twenties. We’re thinking this should be easy. Just go build a trail, right?”
But it wasn’t that easy. The Oregon Department of Forestry had a whole process for planning and approving new trails that the group had to follow.
“They’re like, ‘Whoa, wait. We got to think about this. We got to plan it,’” McLane said.
A huge crash
Randy Peterson, recreation program manager with ODF, said there are numerous factors his agency has to consider before approving a new trail. The agency tries to minimize stream crossings and environmental impacts, stay off major roads and avoid conflicts with other forest uses like logging or mining, both of which are visible along the Fear and Loaming Trail path.
“We went through a pretty detailed process, and created a fairly comprehensive plan,” Peterson said.
McLane said he spent years touring existing trails with ODF managers and talking about risk mitigation, forming a nonprofit with his friends to help organize the project and writing a 30-page planning document that he hand-delivered to the agency in 2009.
“And if you guys remember what happened in 2009, we had a huge crash,” he said. “The market crashed, and people stopped building houses. Lumber and logging, Oregon Department of Forestry gets a huge chunk of the revenue from that.”