Tension turns into partnership for Real Life Church and biking community | Slide Show
By KRIS HILL
Covington Reporter Assisitant Editor
March 19, 2010 · Updated 9:00 PM
Pastor Steve Murray has long had a vision for the future home of Real Life Church and the vision would become reality on a 90 acre property on the edge of Black Diamond.
Murray envisioned a place for Real Life to have a church building to call its own — the congregation of 400 meets at Kentlake High these days — and the rest of the property could be used for recreation and be a gift to the community.
His vision never included mountain bike trails with jumps, though, so when a work party encountered just such a trail about 18 months ago on the property while doing Scotch broom eradication it came as a shock.
Rick Heinz, property development lead for RLC, was with Joan Burlingame with Friends of Rock Creek and others in the work party in the norther section of the church property.
They had obtained a grant to get rid of the Scotch broom so “the fir trees would have a better chance of living.”
A member of the work party stumbled upon the mountain bike trail and told Heinz, “You’ve got to see what’s up here.”
“We saw trees that had been cut down and spikes in trees,” Heinz said. “That section had some devastation. It was just ravaged. The irony of the whole thing is that we were out there doing a work party to help the forest, so, to walk over there and to see that somebody had ravaged our hillside.”
The first reaction of the work party was to remove the unauthorized trail and “within an hour, hour and a half, most of that stuff was ripped down.”
It wasn’t long before word spread to the mountain biking community.
Tension between the church and bikers who had ridden on the property for years grew with much of it expressed on Internet forums and blogs.
“It was dangerous,” Burlingame said of the trails that were torn down.
“You would literally go up on these log ramps way up in the trees. There’s really a culture difference between the church and the mountain bikers.”
Burlingame is also a member of RLC in addition to her role with Friends of Rock Creek, a group that is working to preserve open space and recreation opportunities in this part of the county, with the idea the various different groups of cyclists, equestrians, soccer and baseball players, among other can get along for a common goal.
Part of that work is to develop a vision for the area, which includes 32 square miles in Ravensdale where more than half the land is permanently protected from development, that looks at what the area will look like in 50 years.
That spirit of cooperation is critical in getting things done.
“The one way all the trail users are able to use the trails and keep using them is not to make their own new trails,” she said. “The property owners are more likely to allow trails if they coordinate with them. It’s a team effort.”
But, it wasn’t a team effort at first between the mountain bikers and RLC, especially since those trails had been built long before the church bought the property in early 2007, explained Paul Gannon.
Gannon, a mountain biker and trail builder, first started building out on the property seven or eight years ago “because we didn’t really have anything in the area for it.”
He found what was an old four by four wheel vehicle trail that even further back in history had been a logging trail.
King County had tried to keep motorized vehicles off that property but Gannon said it didn’t seem to work so he started building away from the road.
“When I first started digging out there, it was kind of a free for all,” he said. “People would go out there and party.”
He was building his trail among empty beer cans and trash, among other debris from unauthorized use.
When the trails were discovered, Gannon said, “They obviously did what anybody would and shut it all down.”
After tearing it down, Heinz and Burlingame went to the bike shop down the road and met with Pete Fisher, who owned the shop.
“We went over there, thinking he was the hub of communication,” Heinz said. “We were a little bit agitated over the whole thing.”
Initially, Murray said, there was anger and tension but church officials were asked to consider allowing the trails to exist on the property.
It was an idea Murray said needed to be mulled over.
“While we were thinking about it, someone said to me, ‘I thought you said our church was going to be a gift to our community,’” he said. “Yes, but, we didn’t talk about mountain biking.”
After some time and thought, the resistance melted away, and a meeting of the minds was set up at the bike shop.
From there, things happened quickly, faster than anyone had anticipated.
“Within a week they had 30 volunteers out there every weekend for six to eight weeks, cleaning up the trails,” Murray said. “We had a work party of over 150 people a couple weeks ago. Now we’ve become partners in redeeming the land. The bikers are planting ferns and other native plants out there around the trails.”
Now the right kind of trail has been built on RLC’s property, something that’s safe, with access provided free to whoever wants to use it.
And the site has a name now, the Summit Ridge Free ride Park.
Gannon described free riding as one type of mountain biking that was spurred on by downhill riding but “free riding kind of slows it down a bit and you can hit some of the features.”
To the untrained eye, a free ride trail looks like a BMX or motocross course, except this is built in the woods a few miles away from Maple Valley-Black Diamond Road.
There’s a trail called the Berm Line which Gannon said is primarily switch backs that berm, making it the easiest line “where people learn how to handle their bike and learn how to corner.”
Then there’s the line called Beetlejuice, which is a step up in difficulty, with a few jumps but “everything is rollable so you can go over it without crashing,” Gannon explained.
“The biggest line is called Gannonball,” he said. “That’s just got really big dirt jumps, big gaps and steeper lips. They’re almost BMX style jumps.”
And that is built where the original trail was years ago.
Bryan Connolly, another member of the mountain biking community, said three trails were built “in short order and started to generate a lot of interest in the park.”
“Everyone kind of showed up and kicked in and we got a fourth trail put together almost entirely in one day,” Connolly said. “The projects we’ve got going on out there now are primarily to finish work on the trails out there that are existing and planting projects. The undergrowth in that area is pretty much non-existent. So, we’re trying to green the place up again.”
Connolly said another project underway is posting trail signs and putting up information kiosks for mountain bikers so they can find the different trails.
Growing the sport, which is quite popular around here, is important to Connolly and the mountain biking community.
“With all the open space in the area there’s a lot of opportunity for growth in the sport which you don’t have on the Eastside and definitely not in Seattle,” he said. “There are a lot of people trying to preserve recreation areas ... like Friends of Rock Creek. They’re really helping us come into the fold ... and preserve our sport for the future.”
And this partnership with the church, Connolly said, “represents a shift in where things are going for mountain biking.”
“Washington state, especially western Washington, has always had a very high number of professional athletes in mountain biking as well as enthusiasts,” he said. “At the same time it’s always been notorious for having land access issues for mountain bikers which has hampered the growth of the sport. At the same time, the topography and dense forest areas has really made it a haven for people to go out and build their own trails without landowners permission.”
Here, though, “things are starting to come together in the right way.”
“We’re starting to see more success stories like this around the state and around the country,” Connolly said. “I think this is going to be a really good thing in the long run
we’re going to have exciting new trails that we’re not going to have to worry about losing.”
That partnership between the mountain bikers and RLC almost didn’t happen, but Murray said that now it is helping to fulfill the vision for the church’s property in a way he never would have dreamt.
“We had no reason to say we were sorry, but, we did and by doing that we came up with a peaceful solution,” he said. “Two enemies became partners in building recreation for our community. Now we have hundreds of people who come out every week to use those trails. Now they are helping us accomplish what we need to get done.”Contact Covington Reporter Assisitant Editor Kris Hill at email@example.com or (425) 432-1209, ext. 5054.