There’s nothing like cruising along the miles of bike trails at Stub Stewart State Park on a warm and breezy fall day.
But in one scetion of the sprawling forested parkland there's a breed of cyclist who seeks the two-wheel challenge and freedom from a bike riding recreation called “free riding.”
It takes split second timing on narrow trails at high speeds and the riders love to get “big air.”
Each weekend at Stub Stewart State Park in western Washington County, the riders trade in their mountain bikes for shovels, rakes and trail building tools called ‘Mclouds.”
They are members of the Westside Trail Federation and they’re building a new recreation future.
They shovel and scrape the dirt, pound it down and rake it smooth.
Steve Kruger, Stub Stewart SP’s Trail Manager, said that the all-volunteer army is sculpting new “free riding” trails in the state park.
“This is really the first opportunity for a mountain bike club to partner with Oregon State Parks. They came to us and said, ‘we want a place to officially ride with safety that is sanctioned by the land owner.”
Ryan McLane, WTF President, added, “We told the park department that we’ll design it, we’ll build it and we’ll maintain it! Now, we have to prove it.”
Riders are looking for a place like “Black Rock Mountain;” a famous Polk County free ride area that was built in partnership with the Oregon Dept of Forestry.
Black Rock is unique for it’s miles of downhill trails, jumps and tightrope like riding challenges across skinny rails and boards.
Back at Stub Stewart State Park, WTF members Stephanie Yao Long and Debbie Causey agreed that Black Rock has it all – except for one thing:
“We like to ride at Black Rock but it’s two hours to get there versus a half hour to get here," noted Causey. “That’s a huge motivator for us to get trails built closer to home.”
Less than a mile away there’s another unique and quite different free ride trail building effort.
Joe Rykowski is the man in charge of a remarkable trail building machine called the “ST-240.”
The machine contours new trails that flow with the landscape and the best part of all is that it leaves the standing trees behind.
“It can go as narrow as 24 inches,” noted Rykowski. “So you can squeeze thru trees that are have grown up and that ‘s important because in this park there’s a lot of dense tree growth.”
The ST240 is a blader, a grader and a backhoe too. In fact, Rykowski, a volunteer with the NW Trail Alliance, was so impressed by the power and effectiveness of the ST-240, his non-profit cycling club bought the $80-thousand machine.
He noted that the machine’s remote control feature is a huge plus on the parkland’s steep terrain:
“I can do the work of 10-20 people depending upon the terrain and at the end of the day I am not dead tired.”
Whether by machine or by hand, all of the free ride cyclists agreed that it’s critical to ‘walk the talk’ for their outdoor recreation. They are excited to be involved and to help provide new recreation for hundreds of cyclists.
Ryan McLane is certain that if they build the trails more people will come to the park:
“It is a dream come true because state parks will bring new riders to the park and it’s a bonus for us because we will have a new place to ride.”
Steve Kruger agreed and added, “We cannot do anything without the help of volunteers. We wouldn’t be developing this really cool attraction if it wasn’t for groups willing to build it and maintain it for us.”
The new free ride trail construction at Stub Stewart State Park continues through fall and winter and park managers hope to have the trails open to the public by early June.