Emerald Valley Almanac

Cycling Through the Trails

MATT KINCAID/PHOTO Local rider Scott Briggs getting some air at Whypass.

World-class singletrack? Lane County mountain bikers don’t even need to travel outside our own county to enjoy some of the best of the best. McKenzie River Trail and numerous trails out of Oakridge are known far and wide for their beauty, challenge and flow. Many trails are seasonal, though, so as the rains come and the snow falls, the choices get limited. 

During the dark and wet time of year, local riders need only to drive 15-20 miles southwest of Creswell, to just outside Lorane, for a high-quality singletrack fix. The network of trails, officially called the Carpenter Bypass Trail System but known to locals as Whypass, hosts trails that suit just about any type of riding. 

My most recent ride there was a couple days after some extended rains, but the trails rode wonderfully, with great drainage, some re-routes making the lines smoother, graveled spots firming up the soft stuff, and some trails reclaimed after recent logging. Trail volunteers from the Eugene-based Disciples of Dirt Mountain Bike Club are constantly improving the trails; in Covid-hampered 2020 alone, they put in 1,153 hours of labor there. 

My ride was a 14.2-mile jaunt with more than 2,000 feet of climbing (and descending!) – about 13 miles of it being twisting, undulating, challenging, beautiful brown ribbons of singletrack. And my dog loved it as much as I did! In fact, Whypass is a great place for taking your own trailhound, as the relatively short climbs and descents allow for your pup’s recovery between the rippin’ downhills. 

MATT KINCAID/PHOTO A ribbon of singletrack at Whypass.

The trails have existed (then, for motorcycles, and to a lesser extent, horses) at least as far back as the 1980’s. Your author has ridden there since 1995, and they were a different story back then. Trails were built anonymously and with the knowledge that they could be logged over at any time, a kind of cat-and-mouse game between riders and landowners, i.e., logging companies and Bureau of Land Management (BLM). Many trails went straight up and down, without the flow that makes trails more interesting and sustainable. Trailbuilders weren’t especially concerned with proper drainage, and riders could expect to be sunk down to their bottom brackets in mud – and to be completely covered at the end of a ride.

A small group of mountain bikers improved and expanded the trail system in the mid- and late-90’s. At that time, if there was another vehicle in the parking area, the rider would know who else was on the trails. A core group of trail builders flagged routes and gathered crews to build in the expanding network. And sometimes their work would get logged over – ultimately, it was and is a working forest. Sometimes trails could be reclaimed, but often it was a case of keeping at it and building more. 

Over time, trail building techniques evolved, and the network expanded further. The BLM knew about the trails, but “they willfully turned a blind eye,” according to one of the builders. There was talk of approaching  the BLM to legitimize the trail system, but fears of a blanket shutdown of the network, or consequences for illegal trail building, held them back from doing so. Another hesitation was that the club, of which all the key players were members, had started to show off the trail system to the world with an event called the All-Comers Meet, which included guided trail rides, bonfires, beer sponsors and raffle prizes – all without a permit.

KYLE HUGHES/PHOTO Trail crew team scraper on a recent work day at Whypass.

As these stresses were coming to a head, the core group held a meeting (at the home of your author!) to decide whether to, and how to, approach the BLM. The decision was to come clean with the BLM, and not long after, a memorandum of understanding between the BLM and Disciples of Dirt Mountain Bike Club allowed continued use of the trails without expanding the network any further, without taking down trees or without bringing heavy equipment in to build.

The trails were officially blessed around 2012 by the BLM, which earmarked money for parking, a bathroom and some trail improvement. They have sanctioned some technical, rocky downhill trail with jumps and drops for the gravity junkies, while improving and adding to the existing cross- country trail network. The BLM has also embraced mountain biking on land at Alsea Falls, between Monroe and Alsea, and at Sandy Ridge, near Mt. Hood, and riding in both locations has been immensely popular. 

January of 2020 saw the 16th annual All-Comers Meet, billed as “officially the largest free mountain bike event in the Northwest.”  It is billed as an “all-abilities social ride and party – it is not a race.” The 2021 event fell victim to Covid, but its return is fully expected and eagerly awaited.

So jump in. Embrace the mud, because, as improved as these trails are, you will still get muddy – after all, it’s winter in the Northwest. Come prepared with a map or the Trailforks app; the web of trails can be confusing and daunting to newcomers. You’ll get a great outdoor winter adventure, nearby, on two wheels. And maybe four legs as well. And though the network was originally developed as a winter alternative to the more famous trails in our neck of the woods, it has become popular year-round!

BILL RAMSEY/PHOTO Trailbuilder Terry Sayre does a “flow check” on a newly built berm.

To get to the Carpenter Bypass Trail System, drive to Lorane via Hamm Road/Territorial or Cottage Grove-Lorane Highway. From the junction of Territorial Road and Siuslaw River Road, go west on Siuslaw River Road about 1.5 miles (just past milepost 43) to the signed intersection of Carpenter Bypass Road. Turnleft and climb .8 miles to a big pullout on the left, or drive another mile up to the south parking area.

For more information, visit https://www.blm.gov/visit/carpenter-bypass-trail-system and https://disciplesofdirt.org/



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