Little Sand Creek Watershed - Lower Basin Trail Network Buildout
Pend Oreille Pedalers is Sandpoint’s local bike club and trails organization. We are responsible for the development and maintenance trails on City of Sandpoint property in the Little Sand Creek Watershed, where the city owns around 5,000 acres. At present there are 5 miles of trails in the Little Sand Creek’s Lower Basin, which encompasses an area of around 600 acres east of Schweitzer Mountain Road.
In 2020 the Lower Basin trails, as they are known, saw record usage, with an average of 200 riders per day using the trails between July 19th and 28th, as documented by POP’s game cameras.
All users, both on foot and on bike, both uphill and downhill, are currently funneled into a shared two-mile stretch of trail above the lower trailhead. User conflicts are inevitable and constant, as downhill traffic is forced to yield to uphill traffic, resulting in heavy braking, which causes wear and tear on the trail, contributing to tread degradation, rutting, and erosion. The steep gradient of the existing trail (9% average) means the majority of users rely on vehicle shuttles, further endangering the brave few who choose to hike up or climb the trail on their bikes
The Lower Basin Trail Network has not seen a new trail since 2015. In the mean time the level of usage has grown exponentially, resulting in environmental and safety impacts within the network. POP, as the stewards of these trails, is looking to expand the network to mitigate the effects of overuse.
POP’s proposed solution is to build out the Lower Basin trail network to offer users more route options, including designating downhill only routes so as to increase safety for mountain bikers and make the uphill route an attractive option for hikers and trail runners.
POP's Lower Basin Buildout project will occur in two phases.
Phase 1 - to be completed in 2021
A new, three mile, multi-user (hiker and biker), multi-directional "green" trail to the east of the existing trail below switchback 4 with an average gradient of 6%. This uphill-friendly trail will incentivize more users to travel uphill in the Basin, reducing dependence on vehicle shuttles and assuring a safe route for hikers and bikers.
Phase 2 - to be completed in 2021 and 2022
A 1.5 mile "blue" flow trail to the west of the existing DH trail between switchbacks 6 and 4, improvements to the existing DH trail between switchbacks 6 and 4, a new DH trail below switchback 4, and resurfacing of existing XC trail for the last 1 mile above the lower trailhead.
Scope of work
In total we will build approximately 5 miles of new trail and do restoration and improvements along approximately 1.5 miles of existing trail.
The ultimate vision is to have three distinct, separate corridors for riders to choose from in the Lower Basin trail network:
- A “green”, uphill-friendly trail consisting of the new 3-mile route between switchbacks 2 and 4 and the existing XC trail between switchbacks 4 and 6.
- A “blue”, intermediate, downhill-only trail consisting of the existing XC trail between switchbacks 2 and 4 and a new, flow-trail between switchbacks 4 and 6.
- A “black”, expert, downhill-only trail consisting of an improved version of the DH trail below switchback 6 and a rerouted DH trail below switchback 4, which will make use of portions of the existing DH trail corridor.
Budget and funding sources
For Phase 1 we are seeking $18,000 in funds from the Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation mountain bike license plate fund. To this $10,000 in matching funds will be added from the City of Sandpoint's 2021 Watershed Trail construction and maintenance budget. $6,000 will be sought from the Equinox Foundation. POP will do fundraising among club members to contribute approximately $2,700, and $1,450 of labor (200 hours at $7.25/hr) will be contributed by volunteers.
Total Phase 1 cost: $38,073
For Phase 2 we are seeking $40,000 in funds from the Recreational Trails Program (RTP), also administered by Idaho's Department of Parks and Recreation. $10,000 will be added from the City's 2022 Watershed trail maintenance and construction budget, and we will seek an additional $6,000 in funds from the Equinox Foundation. $1,740 of volunteer labor (240 hours at $7.25/hr) will be contributed by volunteers.
Total Phase 2 cost: $59,740
Phase 1 Budget detail
Professional trail building services provided by Collaborative Trails
- 12-16 weeks of two full-time and one part-time laborers (two machine operators and one "shovel guy") - $24,960
- Materials - $2,500
- Fuel - $1,260
- Excavator 1 (Kubota U17) - $2,463
- Excavator 2 (Kubota U25) - $2,440
Total Collaborative Trails bid: $33,623
- Force account labor (POP staff salary pertaining to project) - $3,000
- Volunteer labor (200 hours @ $7.25/hr) - $1,450
Total phase 1 cost: $38,073
Phase 1 budget narrative
A beginner-level, uphill-friendly, multi-directional trail.
- Approximately 3 miles in length.
- Bench: 24-30’’ (Minimal exposure or risk).
- Slope: 3-6%, with 8% max as ideal (stretches of trail more the 8% will not exceed 100’).
In addition, approximately 1/4 total mile of new DH-only trails to be built as needed. DH-only Specs:
- Width: 48”-72’’. Slope: -3-6%, with -20% max as ideal (stretches of trail more the 8% will not exceed 500’).
- Features will be Family Friendly (no gaps). All wood features to be free from arsenic preservatives.
Materials include approximately 100’ of elevated bridging, with instances of railing. Estimated timeframe for completion is 60 to 90 days.
Phase 2 Budget Detail
Professional trail building services provided by Collaborative Trails:
- 18-22 weeks of two full-time and one part-time laborers (two machine operators and one "shovel guy") - $37,440
- Materials - $5,000
- Fuel - $1,890
- Excavator 1 (Kubota U-17) - $3,696
- Excavator 2 (Kubota U-25) - $3,660
Total Collaborative Trails bid - $51,686
- Force account labor (POP staff salary pertaining to project) - $4,000
- Volunteer labor (240 hours @$7.25/hr) - $1,740
Total phase 2 cost estimate - $57,426
Phase 2 budget narrative
A 1.5 mile intermediate (Blue), DH/Flow trail, a .75 mile advanced (Black), DH/Jump trail, and rebuilding of ~1 mile of the existing Lower Basin XC into a DH/Flow trail.
- Width: 48”-72’’
- Slope: -3-6%, with -20% max as ideal (stretches of trail more the 8% will not exceed 500’).
- Features will be family friendly (no gaps).
Materials include approximately 100’ of elevated bridging, with instances of railing. Estimated timeframe is 90 to 120 days.
Phase 1 and 2 details
- Native surface (mineral soil) and wood.
- Remove all organic materials and spread evenly in the forest.
- Shape the in-slope and out-slope to blend into the environment. Borrow pits may be used, if needed (*approval required*).
- Tread out-sloped whenever possible.
- Gravity-dips and out-sloping, will serve as the primary drainage structures.
- Minimal culverts and French drains to be used.
- Extreme attention to sediment and erosion minimization and
- Silt fencing to be used as necessary.
- SEEP and CESCL certified employees on site at all times.
- 6’ wide by 10’ high (mature trees that do not impact trail alignment can remain).
- Clear/establish adequate sight-lines around corners.
- Clear corridor on the uphill/downhill side of the trail.
- Slash from corridor may be used to close social trails or scattered in the forest.
- Radius- 20-75’ climbing turns (no switchbacks).
- Good sight-lines throughout turns.
- Machine 1 is a 2-ton at $1232/mo.
- Machine 2 is a 3-ton at $1220/mo.
- Excavator rate based on 50% local Sun Rentals monthly rate for similar machine.
- Crew size is minimum of two operators and one hand-tool builder.
Letters of support
To communicate the support for our efforts to expand Sandpoint's Lower Basin Trail Network we reached out to stakeholders we believe stand to benefit both directly and indirectly from the project.
- Schweitzer Mountain Resort, which owns much of the property above the Lower Basin and operates from June - September as a summer recreation destination, strongly supports the project.
- Kaniksu Land Trust, whose mission is to connect communities to natural places, also supports our project.
- Businesses, who benefit from increased spending on trail-related activities and increased tourism from riders who come to experience our trails, are represented by the Sandpoint Chamber of Commerce
- The residents of Schweitzer Mountain are represented by the Selkirk Recreation District, which itself builds and maintains trails further up in the Sand Creek and Schweitzer Basins.
- Many other groups support our project, as voiced in the letters below.
Examples of planned features
a) Describe the urgency of this project due to potential resource damage, or other impacts that may cause an opportunity to be lost if no action is taken. If this project is not funded, what effects will it have?
Spreading rider traffic out with a new trail will minimize the erosive effect of the excessive traffic experienced on the existing trails. Building the trail using sustainable trail design and construction techniques as described by the International Mountain Biking Association, in partnership with the City of Sandpoint’s environmental and water quality experts, will set a new standard for trails in the city’s Watershed. As more riders use the new trails, the environmental and safety risks arising from the overuse of the existing trail will be mitigated, resulting in opportunities for resource conservation that would otherwise be lost.
If this project is not funded, then user conflicts will continue to multiply, resulting in more and more accidents and injuries, while trail degradation and the resulting threat to environmental sustainability, and specifically the City's drinking water supply, will persist, requiring more frequent and focused maintenance efforts by POP volunteers.
b) How does the project address public health and safety issues?
As has been stated, nearly all of the traffic above the switchback 2 trailhead currently funnels onto a single, 2 mile stretch of trail (which we refer to as “Lower Basin XC”). The trail was constructed by POP in 2015, but the trail’s 9% gradient is too steep for the typical recreational mountain biker to climb in comfort, therefore the vast majority of the traffic on this trail consists of downhill, vehicle shuttled, mountain bikers. Those who wish to ride uphill, therefore, must contend with large amounts of high speed, downhill traffic.
A new, longer, gentler gradient trail between 2,600 feet and 3,400 feet (switchbacks 2 and 4 on Schweitzer Mountain Road) will vastly increase safety among the thousands of mountain bikers who ride the Lower Basin Trails each year. What follows is a summary of the health and safety benefits the proposed trail improvements will provide:
- A separate, climber-friendly trail will disperse bicycle traffic in the Lower Basin, and all but eliminate the uphill/downhill rider conflicts that happen dozens if not hundreds of times per day on a busy summer day. Fewer collisions and unexpected slamming of the brakes will occur, increasing both rider safety and leading to reduced rutting, erosion, and general wear and tear on the trail surface.
- Younger riders, beginners, and novice riders will have the option to ride down the new trail, providing them with a safer, gentler, and therefore more enjoyable “beginner” downhill mountain biking experience compared to the existing Lower Basin XC and DH options that exist (which have average gradients of 9% and 13% respectively). While the new trail will be built with uphill riders in mind, it will be open to downhill traffic, but designed and built in a way that will make riding it at extremely high speeds impossible.
- The new trail will be open to all non-motorized users (not including horses), and given its gentler gradient and relative lack of downhill mountain bike traffic, it will likely be an appealing route for hikers, trail runners, and, in particular, huckleberry pickers. The south facing slope, in fact, is prime huckleberry habitat, and we envision hundreds of pickers taking advantage of the new trail in July and early August when the berries are ripe at this elevation. More people outside hiking on trails improves public health and well-being.
Describe how the project creates new opportunities not currently available?
To meet local demand for trails
2020 saw unprecedented demand for outdoor recreation in general and for mountain bike trails in particular. The bike industry, as is well known, saw a historic boom in sales, as millions of Americans got into the sport for the first time or returned to it after years off due to the unusual circumstances posed by the pandemic. In their efforts to experience adventure closer to home, tens of thousands of road trippers, and nearly all locals, made Sandpoint their summer vacation destination (or “staycation” for us locals). Sandpoint’s economy boomed throughout the pandemic, and no small portion of our visitors arrived here with mountain bikes on the backs of their vehicles. As a result, the trailheads along Schweitzer Mountain Road, on any given day in the summer, contained cars with plates from as many as six different states, along with the “regular” local riders who have ridden the Basin Trails for years.
Despite record usage, our local trail networks have not grown to keep up with demand. The last new trail built in the Lower Basin was the POP-funded, Lower Basin “XC” below switchback 4, which in 2015 added about 1 mile to the existing network. In the five years since then, usage has quadrupled while route options have remained the same. By expanding the Lower Basin network POP will meet the demands of the local and visiting mountain biking communities.
To make Sandpoint a "trail town"
By investing in our local trail networks, which are already a popular stop on visitors’ agendas, POP hopes to help make Sandpoint a true “Trail Town,” to which people wish to come specifically because of our amazing trails. While the Lower Basin trails network’s high level of usage points to its popularity, if it is to continue providing local and visiting riders with high levels of amenity it must be expanded to make it safer and more environmentally sustainable.
To continue progress on the Watershed Crest Trail
In 2020 POP received an Idaho MTB license plate fund grant to complete a high alpine trail that is part of the broader Little Sand Creek Watershed trail network, connecting the existing High Point trail to Uleda Ridge high above the Lower Basin of the watershed. After opening this trail in early September, it saw incredibly high levels of usage and drew riders from out of town who came to experience a unique high alpine mountain biking experience in the “front country” of Sandpoint.
The Uleda trail (which we ultimately named “Solar Ecstasy”) is, in effect, the highest segment of trail within the Little Sand Creek Watershed trail network, of which the Lower Basin is a part. Many mountain bikers who begin their rides in the Lower Basin at 2,600 feet eventually climb all the way to Solar Ecstacy, which tops out at 6,100 feet. The proposed "green" trail would provide provide users with a new option covering the first three miles of this contiguous route that would match the final three miles in design, construction quality, and level of enjoyment. At present, Lower Basin XC trail, with its 9% grade, is twice as steep as Solar Ecstacy, which while beginning 3,100 higher up in the network offers riders a much easier and more enjoyable 4.5% average gradient.
POP plans to eventually extend the Uleda trail beyond the point we ended at in 2020, ultimately completing the “Watershed Crest Trail” that will circle the entire Little Sand Creek Watershed. While our priorities in 2021 and 2022 lie are in relieving pressure in the more intensively used Lower Basin area, our plans for 2023 and beyond include completing the WCT, which will entail building 12 more miles from Uleda Ridge back to the Lower Basin.
Plan or Survey
Is this project included in an outdoor recreation plan or survey? How does this project relate to the recommendations of the plan?
Bonner County Trails Plan
The 2016 Bonner County Trails Plan, which aimed to “identify the highest-priority areas for connecting and expanding in-town and backcountry trail systems.” ranked trails by priority in several phases based on the value placed on various proposed trails in Bonner County. The Watershed Crest Trail (WCT), of which this project would include the first three miles, “had the highest weighted score of any proposed trail.”
City of Sandpoint Watershed Master Plan
In 2020 the City of Sandpoint undertook a detailed environmental assessment covering the city’s 5,000+ acres of property in the watershed, with the aim of creating a formalized process for permitting continued development of the watershed for recreation and other purposes as part of its development of a new Watershed Master Plan. In February of 2021 city council will vote to approve the new permit process, after which time POP and any other group wishing to develop recreational amenities in the watershed will be able to formally apply for a permit.
In the interim, POP has been communicating closely with city staff about our desire to build new trails on city property in the watershed, an effort towards which the city has been supportive, even offering POP city funds to put forward as a match for any grant we are able to secure.
POP currently holds a “Watershed Trails License Agreement” with the City of Sandpoint, wherein Sandpoint city council “approves an agreement with Pend Oreille Pedalers for the construction, maintenance, and preservation of selected aspects of the new Watershed Crest Trail.” In the agreement, it is acknowledged that, “Pend Oreille Pedalers desire to construct trails in the Little Sand Creek Watershed and will be responsible for ongoing care and maintenance of the trails.”
Idaho's Statewide Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan (SCORP)
City and County plans for trails in the Watershed are not the only plans into which the proposed trail fits. The 2018 Idaho Statewide Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan (SCORP) said,
“As Idaho’s urban areas continue to grow, the demand for urban outdoor recreation opportunities will increase, and much of that burden will fall on local governments to provide the appropriate facilities and programs within these areas. Additionally, public lands and open space adjacent to these urban areas will continue to see increased pressure on the existing facilities and resources, challenging land managers to balance opportunities with the preservation of the natural resources.”
Sandpoint, and more broadly Bonner and Kootenai Counties, are some of fastest growing regions in the state of Idaho today. According to Sandpoint’s 2020 draft Comprehensive Plan, “a 3.4% growth rate through 2025 is forecasted,” and, “an annual overall growth rate of 2.7% through 2040 is projected considering historic census data as well as recent development trends and is shown in the chart below. At this rate, Sandpoint could reach around 16,700 residents by 2040, nearly doubling in size.”
The pressure this growth brings on existing trail infrastructure is intense, as evidenced by the record usage POP-maintained trails have experienced in recent years. Given POP’s relationship with the city of Sandpoint, it is our organization’s responsibility to assure user safety and environmental sustainability of our recreational trails on city-owned property.
The 2018 Idaho SCORP also stated,
“Impacts on recreational use and demand from large population centers proximate to Idaho’s borders must also be considered. Recreational facilities in the northern regions of Idaho see considerable use from the Spokane-Spokane Valley, WA Metropolitan area (population 540,915). Much of this use occurs on Idaho’s... non-motorized trails.”
With Spokane just over an hour drive away, and with limited access to mountain biking trails in that area, many Spokane mountain bikers make the drive to Sandpoint on weekends to enjoy POP-maintained trails, most notably the Lower Basin trails, of which the proposed project is a part. Out of state riders of POP-maintained trails bring benefits to the Sandpoint community, including consumer spending at outdoor retail outlets, restaurants, accommodation providers, and so on.
Why support POP's Lower Basin Buildout?
After an extraordinarily successful project building the High Point to Uleda Ridge trail (Solar Ecstasy) in summer 2020 using MTB license plate grant funds, POP is eager to keep the momentum going towards the completion of the WCT. 2021 will mark five years since the initiation of the Bonner County Trails plan, within which the WCT was the highest prioritized trail. 2020 saw huge progress on the highest segment of the trail, and in 2021 POP wishes to pursue the “low hanging fruit” in the Lower Basin, which also happens to be THE most heavily used zone within the entire Watershed.
In summary, the Watershed Crest Trail, as described in the Bonner County Trails Plan, is the highest priority proposed trail in the entire 1,920 square mile area the plan covers. Furthermore, Idaho’s State Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan raises the issues that Sandpoint’s local trails are experiencing as a direct result of local population growth and growing demand from population centers in adjacent states, notably Spokane and Spokane Valley. The city of Sandpoint’s Watershed management and recreation plan, currently in development, identifies Pend Oreille Pedalers as the party with the responsibility to “construct trails in the Little Sand Creek Watershed” and for the “ongoing care and maintenance of the trails.”
By supporting the current project, therefore, the IDPR will help meet the urgent need for improved safety, sustainability, and public health, while supporting economic and community development in the North Idaho region.