(updated – scroll to bottom for latest info) As a mountain biker that admittedly has a love for gravity fed experiences first and foremost, learning about the up and coming Marmot Dam Trail System was nothing short of a treat.
I’ve missed the last two underground DH races at the Marmot Dam trails, so I was stoked to finally make it up and join some of the guys in riding and building on the DH/ Freeride specific trails. The Marmot Trail System is still pretty new- at the moment, they aren’t quite official yet, but that hasn’t stopped a group of dedicated trail builders that have been out there every weekend for the last month, working and riding.
Located 40 miles east of Portland near Sandy, Oregon, the system is a potentially new add on to a multi-site network that is already blowing up, with a number of projects underway and in progress. We recently rode Hide and Seek, a section of the Sandy Ridge Trail system, currently in construction. Built in conjunction with IMBA Trail Solutions, the BLM, and the Northwest Trail Alliance, Hide and Seek delivers the goods for the all mountain or trail rider with the legs needed to pedal the paved three mile climb to the trail head. With sections of pure sweetness, it’s a ride for those willing to invest some sweat pedaling up to earn their descents.
But what of the riders that live purely to go down? This demographic tends to be last on the priority ladder on a lot of totem poles, which is ironic, as this user group is often the most discussed and blasphemed. (which wouldn’t happen if they had a place to go) However, when it comes to actually picking up a shovel, rake, or hoe, it is clear that these riders are not shy to roll up their sleeves and move some dirt.
If you’re a rider that falls under this category, your new favorite place to ride is probably going to be here. (Unless you don’t have a vehicle, and in that case you are screwed, because the city of Portland doesn’t care if you don’t have a place to ride- just don’t build illegal trails in parks near well-to-do neighborhoods. But that is a whole another bag of worms, and one we hope to address and change) It’s the closest shuttle friendly riding spot to the city, and trail builders are more than welcome to contribute on the lines already established. In fact, we saw 20-30 riders here on the Sunday we were out.
Like Sandy Ridge, Marmot lies on BLM land. However, unlike Sandy Ridge, it is still in the process of being approved, and as of yet, still lies in a distinctively grey area. Carey, the owner of Momentum Bike, Hike, and Board, a local shop in Sandy, has been representing the riders in a dialog with the local land managers, and so far, talks have been going well. In fact, Carey is on the verge of filing 501c3 papers for the Sandy Area Bike Coalition, a non-profit being set up to represent riders in the area.
Several trails and flow lines are already underway, with several trails fully ridable. Most of them are fairly short, but with a graded road in excellent condition, shuttle trucks and riders were moving constantly on it, with the occasional kayak shuttle thrown in the mix as well, as it also serves as a drop off point for boaters.
The first thing we checked out when we arrived was the start of a flowy jump line.
At the moment, it is in very early stages of construction, but promises to be a fun line with enough jumps and flow to be a draw. It’s also the last new line the group is starting. Due to the talks in progress, Carey has asked the builders to focus on dialing the existing trails, and to avoid starting any new trails. Things look good though, with many of the trails and features similar to what is found in Falls City, at the Black Rock trails. The biggest difference being the option of being able to shuttle- which is likely to be a huge draw.
After snapping a few pictures, we stashed our gear and joined a group for a few shuttle runs. The equipment the guys were running varied- riders were on bikes ranging from 5-6 travel slopestyle bikes, to full blown DH rigs. On my 6″ all mountain Remedy with dual ply DH tires, I was super happy, as it jumps super well, and can handle a berm with the best of them. There was only one rock garden section of the DH trail we rode later where I felt under gunned- the bulk of the rest of the trails have a fairly mellow tread. (especially for DH/FR trails) What stuck me the most, was how great sections of trail flowed- following a rider down the trails, I hit every feature first try without even having to think about it. Most jumps and drops were fairly small to medium is size, but everything ranked high in the fun factor.
After getting tour on each trail, we joined a group working on the freeride trail in construction already christened “Circus-mouse.” Ed (the builder) pre-fabricated sections of stringers in his garage before bringing them out to the site, and bolting them together. In just a few short hours, a group of us threw enough dirt into a wood crib to have a landing. (The shovels were never on the ground for more than a few minutes)
However, the ladder didn’t have an approach built yet. That issue was resolved quickly- downed trees were sawed up and placed in to position. And then it was time to test the new feature.
The feature was tested, approved, and we tested it some more. After landing on the banked transition, the next bermed turn sets you up and onto another ladder section, which was also a fun jib. The technical level of this trail, while technically a black diamond, or even a double black, due to the gaps, was pretty mellow, and suitable for most intermediate level freeriders. As the trails aren’t finished yet though, skills filters haven’t been added.
After a bit of building and shooting, we packed up our gear and rode some more. It made for a fun way to spend the day. If all goes well, you’ll be hearing a lot about this new riding area. If you’re a rider frustrated with a lack of places to build and ride in the Portland area, this is a great place to direct your energy.
To get more info on the Marmot Dam Trails, contact Carey at Momentum Bikes.
Momentum Bike, Hike, and Board
39150 Pioneer Boulevard
Sandy, OR 97055
Update: trails apparently not so grey- BLM to decommission trails
Unfortunately, days after this story was posted, we received word that the wood structures have been decommissioned. Carey at Momentum had hopes to keep the trails, but I sent off an email to Zach Jerrett at the BLM to learn more about the situation.
BLM Land manager responds:
Thanks for taking the time to shoot me an email to clarify the situation
that is occurring at the “Marmot Dam Trail System”. As you very well know
by now the BLM has taken action to decommission these trails and have
requested that no riding, construction or events occur within this area
without BLM permission or necessary permits. I’m currently working with
IMBA to address this situation. The BLM and IMBA have been working
together to design trails adjacent to the Marmot Dam site. These trail
plans are reflected in the Sandy River Basin Integrated Management Plan
(SRBIMP), see attached link. You will notice that the trails that were
planned and designed are to the North of the historic dam site and are not
located next to Marmot Rd., where the majority of these unauthorized trails
have been constructed.
I understand that there is a general lack of DH/Freeride trails close to
the Portland metro area. But providing this opportunity and managing it so
that we can control visitor conflicts and environmental degradation is
extremely difficult. The BLM has a process for evaluating a proposed
action and determining whether or not that action will have environmental
effects. This process was not followed on the Marmot trails.
The BLM is currently working on completing the Sandy Ridge Trail System,
and once this network is completed will re-evaluate our plans to offer
additional trail opportunities within the planning area. We are seeing a
tremendous amount of use on the Sandy Ridge Trail system and it is apparent
that mountain bike specific trails close to the Portland metro are needed,
and that the user response is indicitive of that. The BLM, IMBA and NWTA
feel like we are offering a high quality experience for mountain bikers
within the Sandy River Basin, and hope to work with riders in the future to
build on this successful foundation.
Feel free to give me a ring if you have any questions.
Lead Outdoor Recreation Planner
Bureau of Land Management
There you have it, straight from the land manager in charge of the district. I understand his point of view- these trails were never approved, and from what I’ve heard, Zach is an avid rider, and probably hates this aspect of his job. I’m still digging for more information on the situation, and hope the freeride trail builders and riders are considered in the equation, as I know from talking to many that they don’t feel represented adequately by either IMBA or NWTA. Hopefully there is a way we can work towards a happy ending here- sanctioned DH and Freeride trails close to the Portland Metropolitan area, with shuttle access- is this too much to ask for?
I know there are a lot of frustrated and really pissed off riders out there with now where close to ride or build. I recognize there is temptation just pick a new place and start rebuilding- I’ve dug dirt jumps for years, and watched them get torn down again and again. However, I believe it is possible to work with IMBA and NWTA to secure the kinds of riding for all types of riders. We have just moved here, but I feel your pain. I am currently contacting members of IMBA and NWTA to get more insight on the situation, and will post updates as I hear them.