By Jason Welker
Crooked Tree, Butterfly, Frog and Pinecone: To anyone who has had the opportunity to explore Pine Street Woods since its grand opening last month, these words all have something in common. They are the place-based — and likely temporary — names assigned to the first four trails in our community forest’s nascent trail network, which will eventually include miles of named, sign-marked routes for hikers, walkers, joggers, mountain bikers, snow shoers, Nordic skiers and winter fat bikers.
An incredible transformation has already taken place in the hills above Sandpoint. Since the road into Pine Street Woods, which climbs 300 feet above West Pine Street to a large parking lot at the edge of the forest’s signature central meadow, was completed in May, volunteers like Ross Longhini and Jeff Thompson of the Sandpoint Nordic Club and the Pend Oreille Pedalers have put in hundreds of man-hours preparing trails for outdoor lovers to come enjoy.
Butterfly is a 1.3-mile “narrow” loop trail that circumnavigates the central meadow, with about 150 feet of elevation gain and loss. The trail was machine-built by Jeff Thompson (meaning it was initially cut with a mini excavator) with mountain bikers and hikers in mind. After Jeff finished cutting the trail, volunteers buffed it out with hand tools, constructing many flowing berm turns that allow bikers to maintain speed in their roller coaster ride around the meadow.
At present, Butterfly is the only narrow trail in Pine Street Woods, but Thompson, who has walked the property extensively and already begun laying down GPS tracks for potential future trails, sees ample opportunity to expand the narrow trail network with a focus on beginner and intermediate-friendly routes.
On the steeper west side of Pine Street Woods, several rock outcroppings provide a tempting canvas on which a skilled trail crew could construct more advanced trails where local riders could build their mountain biking skills.
With the first snow of the season already crowning the Selkirks above town, you may think trail season in our community forest is coming to an end just as the forest opened. However, one of the most exciting features of Pine Street Woods is the partnership between Kaniksu Land Trust and the Sandpoint Nordic Club.
Grooming operations will relocate from North Boyer to the lofty heights of Pine Street Woods, which with average elevations of between 2,600 and 2,700 feet will hold snow for roughly twice as long each winter than the club’s previous trails. Longhini estimates the club will be able to groom the wide trails for skiing an average of 12 weeks each winter — double the six weeks the club averaged on its North Boyer trails.
For winter 2019, the Nordic Club will groom between five and six kilometers of wide trails, including tracks for classic skiers and plenty of room for skate skiers to muscle their way to the Crooked Tree viewpoint at the summit of Pine Street Woods.
After a successful fundraising effort by the Pend Oreille Pedalers, the bike club has purchased a grooming machine, with which it will build and maintain trails for fat bikes (which have tires that are 3.7 inches or wider).
The property is crisscrossed by old logging roads, now mostly reclaimed by the forest, offering ample corridors for the fat bike groomer to carve trails into corners of Pine Street Woods that will likely be utilized for the narrow trails planned for construction next summer.
For outdoors lovers, Pine Street Woods offers a year-round playground that will only grow in years to come. According to Katie Cox, executive director of Kaniksu Land Trust, the community forest is intended to offer residents a “gateway” experience in outdoor adventure. By lowering the barriers to entry to outdoor activities, users of all ability levels will find Pine Street Woods to be a welcome introduction to the excitement and challenges offered by trails in North Idaho and beyond.
To support trail building in Pine Street Woods, you can become a member of the Sandpoint Nordic Club (sandpointnordic.com) or the Pend Oreille Pedalers (pendoreillepedalers.org), or donate directly to Kaniksu Land Trust, which owns and manages the community forest (kaniksulandtrust.org).
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