Organizers for the first-ever Willapa Hills Trail Fat Tire Ride & Festival coming up June 25 and 26 in Chehalis can breathe a sigh of relief.
For the first time in 9 years, all the old railroad trestles along the 23-mile route between Chehalis and Pe Ell are open and ready for bicycle riding. The last trestle was repaired and opened earlier this month.
As a bonus, the state parks department is resurfacing a rocky section of trail between Doty and Pe Ell with a smoother surface of crushed stone that will be ready in time for the ride.
Bike ride and festival
Wider tires are recommended for the trail route, which includes about 5 miles of asphalt and the rest packed, crushed stone.
Along the way, bicyclists can stop at the Rainbow Falls State Park for full restroom facilities, including a visit to the falls.
You also can visit one of five organic and historic farms and creameries along the trail that created a Tour de Farms to coincide with the trail event.
Volunteers will load camping gear onto a truck in Chehalis for transport to Pe Ell, where the festival features camping, gold panning, a horseshoe tournament and live music. Food will be offered by vendors and local restaurants.
While the first and last five miles were a breeze on asphalt pavement, the miles in between were marked by detours for missing and dilapidated trestles or miles of teeth-jarring rough trail surfaces.
When I returned recently, I found dramatic improvements in the eastern section.
This is definitely Willapa Hills Trail 2.0
Two new bridges, missing since the devastating 2007 floods, were completed. And a 900-foot trestle near Adna was open after the state replaced the rotting cross-ties with a cement deck. No more detours on roads and highways.
I was impressed by the upgrades and thoroughly enjoyed the out-and-back bike ride from Chehalis to Doty, about 2/3 the distance to Pe Ell.
The old Northern Pacific Railway line rolls through scenic agricultural land here. Some sections curve along the Chehalis River and its tributaries, while others are dead straight. The route is essentially flat.
Much of the way is screened by marsh and riverfront vegetation or trees growing along the rail bed.
The trail surface is asphalt for the five miles west of Chehalis. The remainder is crushed rock that forms a solid footing most of the way.
If you enjoy riding rail-trails, you’ll have to add this to your itinerary.
The state parks commission says it’s making more improvements to the trail in Lewis County, which should be complete in 2017. Renovation of the other half of the trail in Pacific County will begin when funding is secured.