Preserving the trails in Cle Elum


Aug 12, 2004
Cle Elum
As most of you know shuttle access to Rat Pac was almost non-existent with the gate being locked all summer. A group of citizens over here is trying to preserve the trails and access to Cle Elum Ridge. In the November election we will have the chance to vote on a Park Distict which would be set up to maintain trails and access to the ridge. Its hard to say what the access might look like right now but its possible that the gate could be open with access to Rat Pac during the summer. The land owners are looking for a formal group to take responsibility for maintaining trails, trash, gates etc. So far its been pretty informal with the Snowmobile clubs doing most of the cleanup of the ridge and loose volunteers doing whatever trail maintenance. Heres an article from the Ellensburg Daily Record.

CLE ELUM -- Years ago, before the days of houses on the hill, locals took their bikes, horses, snowshoes, skis and hiking shoes to the thousands of forested acres surrounding this town. There were no fences, signs telling them to stay out or invisible boundaries that cut up the terrain.

That's how the locals remember it.

Over time, as the population grew, more homes were built and land was sold, access to areas once open to the public declined, and something locals consider extremely important to their quality of life began to dwindle.

"All the trails we were using all our lives right along the ridge here are disappearing. Who wants to drive 40 or 60 miles to go mountain biking when we can do it in our own back yard?" asked Mike Kidder, long-time owner of Cle Elum's Bike & Board.

One group of local people decided access for recreation was essential. Waiting was not an option.

So they put their heads together, gathered hundreds of signatures and got an initiative on the November ballot for an Upper Kittitas County parks and recreation district. If voted in, they will immediately begin the process of obtaining land, building and maintaining several trails. All the potential district needs are enough votes and landowners willing to put acres for trails in the public's hands. It's the last part of that equation they worry about most.

How it used to be

The locals remember a time of nearly complete freedom to roam the hills surrounding Cle Elum and Roslyn. Trails built by their own hands wound through the area and lead to U.S. Forest Service land.

The land they used was owned primarily by Plum Creek Timber Co. Hundreds of thousands of acres were open for camping, hiking and other recreational activities.

Up until the late 1990s, when big changes came to the area, Plum Creek and its predecessor companies managed the land for more than a century. Local people were accustomed to nothing other than nearly-ideal recreational opportunities. They could literally hike into nature from their own back yards.

Because of those freedoms, Cle Elum, Roslyn and other areas became filled with generations of avid outdoors people. One is hard-pressed to even find a person from these towns who can't tell a story about a childhood filled with outdoor explorations, a perfect camping trip or memories of hunting with Dad.

It's not just a weekend of outdoor fun for the locals. It's a way of life.

"I was raised here. I remember what it was like," said Gary Kurtz, a parks district commissioner candidate.

When Kurtz was a young Boy Scout, he and other scouts would hike the Cle Elum Ridge with their scoutmaster, Syke Bresko. It was on that land where Kurtz learned about nature and earned his Eagle Scout.

"(Bresko) he'd point out the flora and fauna, animals and birds. And he could even talk like some of them. I had great learning experiences up in Cle Elum Ridge," Kurtz recalled.

But like the rest of the American West, Kittitas County was going to change.

The land changes

Kittitas County has always been used by out-of-towners for weekend recreation. But the area managed to stay otherwise rural and filled with forest.

Changes became slowly apparent in 1997 when Plum Creek sold about 7,000 acres of land to Jeld-Wen of Klamath Falls, Ore., for development of a master planned resort. A few years later 10,000 acres were sold to Cle Elum's Sapphire Skies, which sells land to developers. In the past several years, land sold by Sapphire Skies has been subdivided for development by private purchasers. The Jeld-Wen land, now Suncadia, is the site of golf courses and resort homes.

The acres sold were lands used by generations of local people. But in reality that land was always private and that made it a temporary situation.

Development didn't happen right away, but boundaries did. Eventually homes cropped up on ridges and in the forest. Fences were built. Signs were posted and lines were drawn.

Locals began to wonder -- would their outdoor freedoms disappear?

Over time, as land was parceled, open spaces were closed. What was happening here was a classic story of what's happened across the face of America. But those who'd been here for years, mined in the nearby hills and watched their families grow weren't about to let their recreational opportunities fade away.

Taking action

The Upper County, now in a state of continual growth, has seen a recent increase in groups poised to make changes of their own. About a year ago a group known as the Upper County Regional Land-Use Advisory Committee spent a good deal of time discussing what was important to them in maintaining quality of life. They took notes, held meetings, asked questions and eventually came up with a vision plan that they submitted to the Kittitas County commissioners.

In the vision plan, many issues were written in detail, including access to recreation. Members asked officials to identify corridors and trails, permit commercial recreation facilities through a conditional use Permit process and map public land for access points.

County officials vowed to use the vision plan in the future.

Another step, to form a parks and recreation district, actually began years before as casual conversations between residents. Those conversations eventually turned into informal promises. Developers told residents there was little hope of obtaining trails through private land unless there was a governing board that could maintain them.

Louis Musso and Sean Northrop were two of those involved in the conversations.

Musso, a Northern Kittitas County Outdoor Recreation Coalition member, and Northrop, owner of Cle Elum Sapphire Skies, began to talk about what land owners could do to maintain recreation. Northrop, raised in Port Angeles, said he's no stranger to development and knows what it's like to watch your giant playground disappear.

"I grew up on five acres with the woods all around us. It happened in my own back yard when I was a kid. Here I am building (bicycle) tracks and all of a sudden people come in and build homes," he said.

Land management companies and developers told Musso and others if they could organize an official body to maintain trails, they would help find the land for it.

"On one property we kept an easement right through it to grant that for the future," Northrop said. "But it really does no good unless landowners on either side say yeah, we want to do that as well. When we sold the property, we kept a route and we will assign that property to the public."

Those types of attitudes encouraged Musso and others to form a district. Residents pounded the pavement and got 900 signatures -- about 300 more than they needed to get the district on the Nov. 8 ballot.

Four people came forward and filed for district commissioner spots. One is still open and will be voted on after the district's passed. Kurtz, Jason Blake, Howard Carlin and Mary Ann Reason are running for the spots.

The district hopes to create three to five trails that will start at different spots near Cle Elum, Roslyn and Ronald. The trails would be used for hiking, mountain biking, snow shoeing, cross-country skiing and snowmobiling. Organizers hope to have about 15 to 20 miles of trails. They say many land owners have already expressed an eagerness to participate.

The potential district's got a lot cut out for itself. Specific areas have yet to be mapped out and landowners have yet to say yes to trails. But the group understands the urgency.

"What we're doing is very important. We need some close trails," said Howard Carlin, a district commissioner candidate. "We need to get these easements now. They will not be available in the future."


Turbo Monkey
Mar 22, 2004
Sadly, I don't really see much help from this side of the mountains. Karen has posted please for the past few years for saving Rat Pac with hardly any help.
What's really needed is an IMBA affiliated club in the area that can try to save what they can. But, it's probably too late for a lot of it.

You know my thoughts on that area. Screw Bend, (sorry Heidi) Cle Elum/Roslyn could be all that and more. Just not a real core local group there that I think can get it done at this point.
If I win the lotto, I promise to move over there and bust ass for legal singletrack of all kinds though.
With Grrgrrl and FTTRC on the East Side and BBTC on the West, it only makes sense to get something going in central WA.

Watching and hoping.


Aug 12, 2004
Cle Elum
There are signs of hope over here. The Cascade Land Conservancy has set up shop in Ellensburg and if the Park District goes through it will be a start. Rat Pac is a tough one because it goes through several different pieces of private property and last I heard one of the owners doesnt want to discuss access. I am sure the first thing the district will look at is gate access and access to the ridge road which is a public road. If their is a list of interest groups its probably snowmobile-atv, hikers, horse and then bike. I know bikers have been involved in a couple of meetings over here.


Aug 9, 2005
Watch out with the CLC. They're very effective and they get deals done, but they only care about locking up land to avoid development. They don't negotiate for recreation access or write it into the deal. It's not that they're anti, I think, it's just not what they care about.

If you have any ins with local honchos, keep an ear to the ground about what's being negotiated.