Cycling the new East Lake Sammamish Trail near Seattle

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There's nothing like being one of the first cyclists on a new bike path to instill that pioneering spirit.

After hearing from the Cascade Bicycle Club that the 11-mile East Lake Sammamish Trail between Issaquah and Remond was set for an opening ceremony Tuesday, I thought I'd bicycle out there ahead of time.

I found a packed gravel trail — I'd call it a bike path but walkers and joggers were using it too — that had very few tires mark running through it. The 12-foot-wide, rail-to-trail route skirts the east side of Lake Sammamish, passing within sight of the water for most of its length, and past many homes that overlook the lake.

As an abandoned section of the old Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad, the route is nearly level. There are straight sections near Issaquah, but the path curves back and forth past properties and becomes a much more interesting ride north of Issaquah.

The route is definitely for the fat tire crowd, though. I borrowed my son's smallish mountain bike with city slick tires and got along fine. A hybrid might do OK, but a ride on 700X25 or 23C tires would definitely be dicey.

As the County Executive for King County is coming out Tuesday for a ribbon cutting, there were several utility trucks putting up finishing touches along the route. A utility truck sporting wide mirrors parked in the center of the trail doesn't leave much room for passing.

The trail is — how do I say this? — marred by stop signs in several locations. In one location bicyclists are told to dismount. I didn't encounter one car at any of these locations; most are just access roads to a group of four of five waterfront homes.

Trail history

The road from railroad right of way to hiking and biking trail has been controversial. The Seattle Times on Saturday published a timeline for the route. The railroad quite the right-of-way inn 1996, 10 years ago, and in 1998 King County announced plans to lay gravel for a public hike and bike path.

Opponents, mainly adjoining property owners, sued in 2000 to block the efforts. Eventually, trail sections are opened in Redmond and Issaquah, but the town of Sammamish, in the center, is a hold out. Eventually a federal judge rules a trail is an appropriate use, the residents don't appeal, and the county goes in to finish the job.

The big picture

The path cost $1.6 million so far. There are plans to go back and pave it with asphalt.

Many sections of the gravel trail are flanked by fences. The trail looks like it could serve many users — cyclists, walkers, joggers, strollers, people with dogs. The major drawback is that there's nowhere to bail out into the grass in an emergency; a sudden swerve and you'll be into, or over, a fence.

The cool thing about this is how it fits into the far-reaching biking and hiking trail networks in western Washington state.

The East Lake Sammamish Trail connects to a system that now runs from Issaquah in the east, north to Redmond, Bothell and Kenmore, then south along the Burke-Gilman Trail to the vicinity of the Ballard Locks at the Puget Sound, a distance of about 40 miles.

The announcement from Cascade Bicycle Club:

Tuesday, March 21, 1 p.m.

Please join King County Executive Ron Sims, Sammamish Mayor Michelle Petitti, Cascade Land Conservancy, Friends of Eastlake Sammamish Trail, Cascade Bicycle Club and a distinguished list of trail supporters to celebrate the Grand Opening of the final link of the East Lake Sammamish Trail.

Curbside parking is available on 187th NE. Follow signs along the East Lake Sammamish Parkway to the event.

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