From the Chelan-Douglas Land Trust offices in downtown Wenatchee, executive director Bob Bugert can get to the Castle Rock Trailhead in 10 minutes.
Sounds fast, but Steve Maher, owner of Adventure Wenatchee, says he can reach the mountain bike trails northwest of town in about five minutes.
“We want there to be a trail within 10 minutes for everybody who lives in Wenatchee,” Bugert said.
The foothills linking Wenatchee to the mountains are a recreational wonderland packed with trails for hiking, biking, running, horseback riding and other activities. The Chelan-Douglas Land Trust was founded in 1985 with a mission of preserving this resource.
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The organization has grown to include more than 1,200 members as the community has rallied to protect more than 14,000 square acres of land.
In the process, Wenatchee has grown into a destination for recreation.
Jerri Barkley of the Wenatchee Valley Chamber of Commerce says the booming mountain biking scene, in particular, has helped changed the perception of the region from a land of orchards to a place for outdoor adventure.
The Evergreen Mountain Biking Alliance, a Seattle-based organization that advocates for its sport and builds trails around the state, is involved in building trails near Wenatchee, including an ongoing project in No. 2 Canyon on CDLT land.
“That brings people to the area to work on the trails,” said Barkley. “That in and of itself has changed the picture of what is happening in our foothills.
“The word spreads even faster than it would through advertising.”
Maher started a trail running series in the foothills that’s also luring visitors. He recently expanded his business to include guided trips and birdwatching excursions.
Maher says recreation has traditionally been an afterthought in Wenatchee, but that changed thanks to the recession and with much of the area’s apple industry moving out of the county.
Now, Maher says, Wenatchee is embracing its big playground.
“Hundreds and hundreds of communities would kill for what Wenatchee has,” Maher said.
He says he can’t envision Wenatchee becoming a recreation destination on the scale of Bend, Ore., but he does expect it to thrive.
Especially because Wenatchee is protecting what it has. Bugert and Maher believe the foothills would be covered with homes if it wasn’t for the CDLT.
When new home construction started blocking the easiest access to Castle Rock, an iconic rock formation visible from town, people started taking notice.
“If we don’t do something, access to the foothills is going to be eliminated or at least more difficult,” Maher said.
The CDLT purchased a 35.7-acre piece of land west of downtown that would allow for safe access to Castle Rock. In 2014, a new trailhead was constructed on the land.
Recreation and conservation are things the community takes great pride in, Bugert said.
In 2013-14, the CDLT set goal of raising $8.1 million. They raised $8.7 million.
“The foothills are the backdrop to our community, and they really are lovely,” he said. “It makes a great connection between our lands and the public lands beyond.”
There are plenty of place to play on the land the CDLT helped protect. Here are five options:
1. HORSE LAKE RESERVE
The 1,500-acre Horse Lake Reserve, northwest of town, was protected in 2006 and is a popular destinations for mountain bikers. Trails are easily accessed from town and, Bugert said, offer plenty of rewards.
“The views are stunning,” he said. “You can see the Columbia River and the Enchantments.”
Bugert said the reserve, a pair of former homesteads, is also important for wildlife such as mule deer and elk. The reserve creates passage from the valley to the mountains for these creatures.
The reserve was part of the land scorched by a June forest fire and is currently closed, but Bugert suspects the area will open in late summer or early fall.
2. CASTLE ROCK
One of the CDLT’s most recent projects, the trail up Castle Rock, is about 1.25 miles roundtrip and gains 560 vertical feet with big views of the valley. It’s one of Wenatchee’s most popular day hikes.
3. SADDLE ROCK
Saddle Rock, a prominent rock outcropping on a ridge southwest of town, is beloved by the community. Art work of the landmark is displayed in Pybus Market near the city’s riverfront.
A short but steep hike to the ridge yields panoramic views of the city and much of the rest of the Wentachee Valley. But bring good shoes. “The trail is unstable and needs work,” Bugert said.
The CDLT organizes work parties to work on the trails at the 325-acre Saddle Rock Natural Area and other areas in the foothills.
4. DRY GULCH
Located near Saddle Rock, the 685-acre Dry Gulch Conservation Easement is a popular hiking area, Bugert said.
The preserve can be brutally hot on summer afternoons, but with trail options ranging from 2-8 miles, visitors can get a glimpse into the area’s mining history. Gold was once mined there.
A new trailhead is in the works for Dry Gulch and Saddle Rock, Bugert said.
5. THE APPLE CAPITAL RECREATION LOOP
The recently expanded paved trail along the Columbia River isn’t on CDLT land, but the trust did play a role in making the 23-mile trail a reality. The trust and its volunteers advocated to connect the trail on the west side of the river to the trails on the east side. The trails are linked by the Pipeline-Pedestrian Bridge spanning the Columbia.
The trail links parks and river access points. Bike rentals are available in town and trailside at Pybus Market.
And in a town where summer temperatures can flirt with triple digits and shade is scarce, Barkley says, “it’s the coolest ride around.”