Trail work in full swing

GOLD BAR — It has been three years since off-road vehicle enthusiasts lost access to the Reiter Foothills.

Work began this month on 26 miles of new trails. People who hope to ride there are eager to return.

“We are excited the project is moving along,” said Charlie Preston of Baring, an off-road vehicle user who joined others in volunteering to clean up the area in preparation for the work being done now.

About half of the new trails will be developed for use by four-wheelers and motorbikes. The work is expected to cost about $3.6 million.

Sometime in August, the state Department of Natural Resources expects to open a 1.4-mile loop for motorized use. The idea is to give people a chance to see the work being done, and also to spread the word about how people are expected to use the trails going forward.

Half of the new trail system will be set aside for hikers, mountain bikers and horseback riders. The design for that part of the project is scheduled for an environmental review this winter.

Reiter Foothills was closed in 2009 because of concerns about litter, environmental damage and public safety.

Natural Resources has worked in recent years with a group of trail users who volunteered not only for the cleanup, but also by helping to design the trail system that one day will snake across thousands of acres between Gold Bar and Index.

“We couldn’t have done it without you,” Peter Goldmark, state commissioner of public lands, told Preston and other volunteers during a tour of Reiter Foothills early this week.

Crews from the Washington Conservation Corps joined volunteers in removing trees, excavating and laying rock along trails designated for motorized recreation. Work has also been completed on a temporary parking lot and to widen Deer Flats Road.

“The DNR has been very cooperative” and listened to people who will use the trails, said Steve Davies, a volunteer from Everett.

Work on the trail system is scheduled to continue into September and then resume when weather cooperates sometime next year.

Index Mayor Bruce Albert said he is glad off-road enthusiasts will have a place for their sport. He has concerns, though, that the site will draw more traffic to the Skykomish Valley. He also is concerned that part of the trail system is above an aquifer that supplies Index with its drinking water.

“DNR worked with the town to minimize the area used for the trail, but it didn’t eliminate it altogether,” Albert said.

Other communities are looking forward to the opening of Reiter Foothills.

When the site was closed, Sultan lost the money spent by people who stopped to buy fuel or eat at local restaurants, said Donna Murphy, the city’s economic development coordinator.

“The business will come back when people come back to Reiter Foothills,” she said.

The trails will bring more visitors to east Snohomish County, said Jeff Sax, the city of Monroe’s economic development manager.

“I’m confident we’ll capture that commercial activity,” he said. “(The project) is good for the entire valley.”

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