Everyday Cyclist: High Drive Trail Explosion

For walking or biking, I love the High Drive trails. The High Drive trails sprawl over the west and south sides of the bluff that climbs up to the South Hill from Latah Creek.

I grew up on the lower South Hill in the ‘80s. Way back then, the area off High Drive had an overgrown access road cutting across the northern slope, another access road from the Manito Country Club down to the river below, and a few random trails and jeep trails around what is today some development on the south portion of the trails. A couple times a year, I would strike out on all day expeditions and explore “the bluff,” dropping down at about 22nd Avenue or so, and trekking down to the creek below.

When I moved back to Spokane as an adult about seven years ago, I was amazed at the trails that had been put in all along High Drive. It was wonderful. For weeks, I rode the trails and explored the seemingly neverending connections and loops that make for a unique and special trail system. There are miles of swoopy single track; some great descents, moderate technical sections, and of course lots of climbing.

Since most of the trails are smooth single track, you can get by with just about any bike; you certainly don’t need a mountain bike to enjoy the trails. However, if you enjoy bombing down steep rocky trails, you can take more direct routes down to the creek, and a downhill mountain bike would be ideal.

Since discovering the trails, I ride the trails multiple times a month. About once or twice a week, I take the long way home from work and pedal up the trails from an access point near 7th Avenue and Government Way. It’s a fantastic workout and a great way to clear my mind of the day’s work.
I’m not the only one who has fallen in love with these trails. I’ve noticed over the last five years how more and more cars are parked at the Bernard and High Drive trailhead early in the morning and on the weekends. And due to crowds, I’ve avoided riding the trails on sunny weekend days for a couple years now. But, since the sun has come out this year, I’ve seen way more people on the trails than I ever have. Last week, I must’ve crossed paths with at least 15 people on my midweek commute home. The parking circle at Polly Judd Park was full last Wednesday night at 6 PM.

I’ve always wondered why I rarely saw so few users on such an amazing trail system that is literally out the back door of thousands of homes on the South Hill. So, I suppose it was just a matter of time before High Drive trails were discovered.

As with more users, it’s also inevitable that we’ll start to see some conflict. I’ve already experienced, witnessed, and heard of folks giving cyclists “the look,” as we ride the trails. In the past, the trail users have been very good about self-governance and have been friendly about passing. Since many of the trails on the High Drive system are narrow single track that cut across steep slopes, it’s really most efficient for walkers to step up or down off the trail and let the cyclist past. When two reasonable people that are each enjoying being out- doors on a beautiful trail encounter each other, this process just happens naturally with smiles and “how are you’s?” all around.

But recently, with more trail users of varying levels of reasonableness and experience, this process is becoming less friendly and often downright icy. Hence, “the look.”

This is a bummer, because as all experienced trail users know, there is a widely-accepted and well-understood yield hierarchy which can be summed up as, “cyclists must yield to everyone.” So, in theory, I suppose this means when a cyclist rides up to a trail user on single track, the cyclist should dismount, stand aside, and let the walker pass. Yikes. Is that where this is heading?

I’m hoping with lots of courtesy and smiles, new users (both cyclists and walkers) to the High Drive trails will continue the tradition of reasonable and efficient passing. While we’re at it, new users should know that the vast majority of people walking their dogs without a leash on these trails have pretty obedient dogs. I’m guessing “the rules” say this area is an on-leash area, but almost no dog walkers I encounter have their dogs on leashes. But like the bike yield rule, leash rules were created because not everyone is reasonable and courteous. If you bring your dog, kick his turds off the trail and make sure he really obeys when you tell him to heel.

The High Drive trails should be enjoyed by all and hopefully they’ll continue to be a pleasant experience for all users as more people discover the trails.

John Speare grew up and lives in Spokane. He rides his bike everywhere. Check out his blog at http://cyclingspokane.blogspot.com.

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