It is already difficult enough to navigate over the steep topography and around hairpin turns. Add in maneuvering through an alphabet soup of federal, state, county and city agencies, and the feat that is biking in Central Oregon is even more impressive: For example, to connect trails throughout the region, like the popular Phil's Trail, necessitates synching up federal regulations on US Forest Service lands with access from Bend's Park & Recreation.
Over the past three years, various city governments have worked with the State of Oregon and with support from Senator Ron Wyden, and with local bike organizations to draw out ambitious plans to create perhaps the most extensive system of mountain and road bike trails in one region.
Elected officials and bike advocates talk about a day when mountain bikers and road bikers will be able to connect, uninterrupted from McKenzie River Pass to La Pine. Some of those pieces of the puzzle have been put into play, like the designation of Twin Bridges Scenic Bikeway which loops around Tumalo and encompasses panoramic views and, most importantly, provides a wide-reaching route for road bikers to move easily between Tumalo and Bend, with barely touching wheels to Hwy 20.
Yes, there are still some missing links to the dream to create an uninterrupted regional bike way, but a few more connections are being made this summer.
Happening: One of the more promising developments for local mountain biking is a recent announcement from Tetherow Resort that they have coordinated with Park & Rec to open a second trail entrance for the Alpine Trail; a parking lot and trailhead at West Campbell (heading west on Skyline, just before turning on to Skyline Ranch) to open in May.
The resort is undergoing some major changes: A month ago, the resort opened a pub-style restaurant, The Row. Offering familiar, but slightly upscaled dishes, the restaurant is a welcoming and classy post-golf, post-bike outpost. And, this spring, it will open a score of comfortable hotel-like rentals.
The upshot? Tetherow is approaching its role in Central Oregon less as an exclusive resort, and more as a community member. It plans to add lookout spots throughout its trail system, as well as make trail maps available with concierges; overall, providing an important puzzle piece to the mountain bike trail system snaking throughout the national forest, and creating a model for public and private collaboration. It also offers westsiders an opportunity to bike from their garage and link to Phil's Trail system.
Coming Soon: In late March, construction began for a $2.5 million pathway connecting Sunriver to Lava Lands Visitor Center. Already, Sunriver trails are nice (if not a bit confusing and meandering). Moreover, the roads and trails west from Sunriver roll through miles of ponderosa forests, with Centennial climbing to several beautiful lakes and a remarkably low amount of car traffic. This bike path helps balance those trails with options heading eastward. There is no word yet whether a path will be created to provide safe crossing over Hwy 97 and to another web of roads and lakes on that side of Hwy. 97.
Wishful Thinking: For comfortable road biking, the regions south from Bend remain almost as uncharted as when the Hudson Bay Company first arrived in Oregon.
Sure, Hwy 97 is paved and about as straight as the crow flies, but it is not a peaceful or necessarily safe bike ride. At this time of year, the road's shoulders are still dusted with rocks and pebbles and rubbish; and, throughout the year, the roadway is a major throughway for trucks, which hardly make the best road-mates for a scenic bike ride.
To travel comfortably between Bend and link up with a bramble of eminently rideable roads in Sunriver's vicinity requires an ambitious and obtuse route, climbing some 15 miles toward Mt Bachelor, before turning left/south on Centennial, which rolls through a beautiful, undisturbed (and paved) roadway. But that route is hardly an efficient route, and violates the most basic geometry adage about the shortest distance between two points.
There is a solution: Much closer to Bend (only several miles outside of town, and before the climb to Bachelor has completely cashed a rider's legs), Forest Service 4130 turns off Cascade Lakes Hwy and, for about two miles, that road is paved—a bit chunky, but still rideable. However, the road just crumbles out, stranding a road biker without a bridge between Bend and Sunriver.
Currently, that stretch—the missing link, as it were—is not rideable on a road bike, and riding a knobby-wheeled mountain bike from Bend just to clear this short unpaved stretch is not a viable solution. Meaning: There is simply no logical route between Bend and Sunriver, a problem that is easily solved by paving a three-to-four mile section, and creating an easy link between the roadways around Bend and the pathways around Sunriver.