Expanding ‘frontcountry’ access for all

By Jason Welker
Reader Contributor

Sandpoint and its neighboring cities are blessed with an abundance of natural beauty — from the high peaks of the Selkirk and Cabinet mountains, to the pastoral contours of the Selle Valley and the clear depths of Lake Pend Oreille. 

For many who live here, our surroundings offer opportunities for regular recreation; be it hiking to alpine lakes, wake surfing on the river, or hunting deer and elk in the high Cabinets. Opportunities for backcountry adventure are nearly limitless for those with the means to reach and enjoy the wild places of North Idaho.

Pend Oreille Pedalers volunteers building a new trail in VTT. Courtesy photo.

For others, however, the natural beauty that surrounds us is little more than a scenic backdrop to the challenges of everyday life. We wake up in town, drive to work, come home exhausted, sleep, wake, repeat. The weekend rolls around and those high-mountain peaks and hidden emerald-green lakes seem too remote to even imagine venturing into. Yes, there are trails ad infinitum in the mountains to the north, but actually reaching them requires a level of commitment and investment in time and money that few can afford more than once or twice a year.

Fortunately, there are far easier ways to experience a taste of wilderness and solitude closer to town that involves far less investment in time and money. Only two miles up West Pine Street, the Syringa trail system offers a growing network of “frontcountry” trails open to hikers, runners and mountain bikers — all on privately owned land — that are either permanently conserved for open space and forest values or are in the process of being so conserved. 

Founded in 2004 as a nonprofit cycling club and trails organization, Pend Oreille Pedalers has long been the local organization charged with partnering with these private landowners and maintaining the trails of the Syringa system, which until 2019 included the 140-acre Sherwood Forest property, the 20-acre “Manning Buffer” and a quarter-mile ribbon of trail through the Pristine Heights neighborhood down to the Greta’s Segway trailhead on West Pine Street. 

Since 2019, more than 260 acres have been acquired and added to the land available for trail development within the Syringa system, including the 160-acre Pine Street Woods (opened to the public in 2019 by its new owners, Kaniksu Land Trust) and the 100-acre VTT property, which stands for velo tout terrain, or “mountain bike” in French, located west of Sherwood Forest and south of Pine Street Woods. 

Both Pine Street Woods and VTT were lands used historically for timber production, rock quarries and cattle grazing — “officially” off-limits to the public for recreational use and devoid of any formally designated trail systems.

Since 2019, Pend Oreille Pedalers and our trail building contractor Collaborative Trails have helped expand the narrow trail network within the Syringa system from the six miles of trail that the club built back in the 2000s in Sherwood Forest to nearly 10 miles of trail today, with more miles planned or currently under construction. 

In Pine Street Woods alone, POP has helped build about three miles of new narrow trail in the past year — this is in addition to approximately three miles of “wide trail” that have been built in partnership with the Sandpoint Nordic Club for cross-country skiing and “social hiking.” 

In VTT, the Pedalers have built one-and-a-half miles of new trail, and are currently building a perimeter trail around the property’s lower elevations that is being funded by donations from the Sandpoint Rotary Club. The 1.8-mile “Rotarian” trail will be completed and open to the public later this summer.

The aim of POP and all the partners and landowners involved in these efforts in the Syringa trail system is simple: make trail-based recreation accessible and affordable to more people. While we are a cycling club, the trails we build are open to all non-motorized users. Our trails connect people to nature and provide an outlet for those of us who spend our days dreaming of adventure in the outdoors, but may not have the time or means to get to the high alpine trails farther from our front doors.

Pend Oreille Pedalers is a volunteer and member/sponsor-supported organization. We depend on the efforts of the broad community of trail users to keep us going, through weekly volunteer trail work parties, monthly Saturday outings (which always include free food and beverages) and collaboration with private and public land managers and owners. 

Beyond Syringa, we are the stewards of the trails of the Little Sand Creek Watershed — where we have ambitious plans to expand the frontcountry trail network in the coming years — and we support maintenance on several Forest Service trails, including those at Mineral Point, Gold Hill and farther afield in the Cabinet Mountains above Hope and Clark Fork, along Trail 120. 

To learn more about Pend Oreille Pedalers, our club activities, volunteer opportunities, youth programs and more, check out PendOreillePedalers.org. 

The club is currently seeking feedback from the trail user community. To share your thoughts on how we can better serve the community, please complete a survey at PendOreillePedalers.org/survey.

While we have you ...

... if you appreciate that access to the news, opinion, humor, entertainment and cultural reporting in the Sandpoint Reader is freely available in our print newspaper as well as here on our website, we have a favor to ask. The Reader is locally owned and free of the large corporate, big-money influence that affects so much of the media today. We're supported entirely by our valued advertisers and readers. We're committed to continued free access to our paper and our website here with NO PAYWALL - period. But of course, it does cost money to produce the Reader. If you're a reader who appreciates the value of an independent, local news source, we hope you'll consider a voluntary contribution. You can help support the Reader for as little as $1.

You can contribute at either Paypal or Patreon.

Contribute at Patreon Contribute at Paypal

You may also like...

Close [x]

Want to support independent local journalism?

The Sandpoint Reader is our town's local, independent weekly newspaper. "Independent" means that the Reader is locally owned, in a partnership between Publisher Ben Olson and Keokee Co. Publishing, the media company owned by Chris Bessler that also publishes Sandpoint Magazine and Sandpoint Online. Sandpoint Reader LLC is a completely independent business unit; no big newspaper group or corporate conglomerate or billionaire owner dictates our editorial policy. And we want the news, opinion and lifestyle stories we report to be freely available to all interested readers - so unlike many other newspapers and media websites, we have NO PAYWALL on our website. The Reader relies wholly on the support of our valued advertisers, as well as readers who voluntarily contribute. Want to ensure that local, independent journalism survives in our town? You can help support the Reader for as little as $1.