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Shrelping course draws crowds to Lewiston-Clarkston valley

by Eric Barker
| June 18, 2020 1:00 AM

The Lewiston-Clarkston Valley is recognized for its proximity to a wide range of outdoor recreation.

Some of it, like fishing for salmon and steelhead and boating, can be done within city limits, but other pursuits, like hunting, hiking and remote camping, require a drive.

Mountain biking or hiking on single-track dirt trails largely fall in the second category. Hells Gate State Park is nearby, but not much else that doesn’t involve 45 minutes of windshield time to reach a trailhead.

A partnership between a dedicated crew of mountain bikers and Tim Barker at the Lewiston Parks and Recreation Department however, is starting to change that. Over the past nine months the fat tire enthusiasts, with Barker’s blessing and a professionally developed blueprint, have scratched in a series of single-track, multi use trails in the canyon at Community Park in the Lewiston Orchards. The paths are quickly being discovered by a range of users.

“We are seeing hikers, hiking clubs, people with families and kids, trail runners and bikers down there using those trails, and it’s just great. It’s awesome to see what is happening,” said Ryan Skinner, of Lewiston.

The canyon, which slices north from Warner Avenue and eventually opens into Lindsey Creek, was Skinner’s backyard as a child. His parents still live in what was once the only house on the north side of Warner Avenue, east of Thain Road.

“We would go down there and build forts and have BB gun fights and all kinds of stuff,” Skinner said. “We grew up down there and had a lot of fun times.”

Back then, the property that is now Community Park was owned and farmed by the late Ralph Nichols. It was purchased by the city, Lewiston School District and Lewis-Clark State College in 2004. In addition to the park, the site is the home of the new Lewiston High School and career technical education centers run by the school district and college, all of which are set to open in the fall.

The park, which includes a popular paved walking path, is being slowly developed. Barker said 62 acres of the 190-acre property are in the canyon.

‘It’s really cool once you are down in there,” he said. “It’s a totally unique habitat you don’t really see in this area.”

The sides of the canyon are dry and weedy, but the bottom has a year-round stream and in places is choked with cattails. In others, it’s lined with prickly Russian olive trees.

It’s home to songbirds, raptors, deer and other wildlife. Barker said he wanted to both preserve the habitat and open it to recreation.

“There wasn’t a solid idea of what to use that space for until about five years ago,” he said. “I looked at the options, and in the valley we are fortunate to have so many paved, asphalt trails systems, but we don’t really have single-track biking, or mountain biking, type spaces.”

The city hired a trail consulting company to develop a trail master plan or blueprint for the canyon. It outlined more than 5 miles of potential hiking and biking trails.

The plan sat idle until Barker partnered with interested trail users, including the Valley Off-Road Bike Association.

“They got really excited, because if they are not at Hells Gate they are having to travel 45 minutes to go somewhere else,” he said.

The vision was to acquire funding via grants to build the trails. But the bikers didn’t want to wait.

“I said ‘Do you mind if we grassroots this and just voluntarily start scratching out some trails, and when proper funding and grant money (is secured) the city can come in and finalize it and make it wider and do what they need to do?’ ” Skinner said.

Barker agreed, and Skinner and others, like Eric Justis of Lewiston and members of the Valley Off-Road Bike Association, started the laborious process of trail building. To do so, they first had to slash through a thick layer of weeds, including thistles, blackberry bushes and poison hemlock.

“Ryan was all about it and started coming out this fall, and at first I thought ‘You are crazy man,’ and then I started seeing the path and chipped in on this, but it was definitely Ryan who got it going.”

They used machetes, shovels, loppers and firefighting tools like McLeods — a half rake, half hoe implement — to do the work. They hauled railroad ties into the canyon to buttress banked turns and built bridges over the stream.

“It’s pretty much built out as far as what was planned,” Justis said.

The trails are marked, similar to ski runs, with green circles indicating they are good for novice riders, blue squares for intermediates and black diamonds to signal the more challenging routes. The paths are mapped on Trail Forks, a smartphone application.

“I always tell families and the people who want to come out here who haven’t done a lot of mountain biking to ride West Rim Trail, because it doesn’t have a lot of elevation,” Skinner said.

Both Skinner and Justice see the small trail system as something that will be an attraction both for people who live here and for those willing to travel. The trails could be a particular draw in the winter.

“It’s going to be something where a lot of people who are snowed in up north, they are going to come down, and they are going to spend the weekend, they are going to eat out, they are going to spend money in the valley and create some tourism. We need it, oh we need it,” Skinner said.

To be sure, many of the trails are still rough. The volunteers plan to nurture them over the next few years and wage war with the weeds that threaten to swallow their work. But for now they are just happy to have a new place to ride and happy to see their work being appreciated.

“I really take pride in people enjoying the trails we built,” Skinner said. “I love the sound of kids on the side of the canyon hooting and hollering and having a great time as they are going down the trails.”

More information about the Valley Off-Road Bike Association is available on the group’s Facebook page.

Barker may be contacted at ebarker@lmtribune.com or at (208) 848-2273.

photo

Ryan Skinner of Lewiston, looks on as Eric Justis of Clarkston races down Ralph’s Run, a canyon trail near Community Park in Lewiston. Pete Castner/Tribune