Skyline Forest: 'It's best to take it in small doses'

BEND, Ore. (AP) Bend mountain bikers Bob Woodward and Terry Foley have been on a mission the past few months in Skyline Forest: ride as much singletrack as they can in the remote 50 square miles of woods between Bend and Sisters.

When I phoned Woodward recently, he said he and Foley had ridden there 55 out of the past 65 days. Woodward, a longtime outdoors enthusiast who has lived in Bend for 35 years, was interested in mountain biking in areas that "don't get a lot of traffic."

Skyline was just the ticket. In all those days of riding, he said, he and Foley encountered five people.

"I've been riding out there for about 10 years at Skyline, but I've never put it all together," said Woodward, 73. "We just got together, did one trip, and started to put it together. It's like a jigsaw puzzle."

Woodward said he and Foley have discovered 20 or 30 different rides in Skyline Forest.

"It's easy to get lost, and it's best to take it in small doses, like we've done," he said. "You do a quadrant, and then find another trail that links up."

With a vast network of singletrack and dirt roads, Skyline Forest holds unlimited potential for bikers, hikers, runners and equestrians.

Brad Chalfant, executive director of the Deschutes Land Trust, and others envision a regional trail system in Skyline that would one day connect Bend and Sisters.

The land trust is hoping to eventually acquire the 33,000 acres from the landowner Fidelity National Financial, a Fortune 500 company based in Florida and protect it for "wildlife, scenic views, recreation, educational opportunities, and productive timberland," according to Chalfant.

Meanwhile, the trust has helped pass legislation that allows for public access to Skyline for the next several years as the acquisition of the land is settled.

For now, exploring Skyline Forest is just the kind of adventure no signs, no maps that bikers like Woodward, Foley and Chalfant seek.

Woodward was an integral part of the early days of mountain biking in Central Oregon, along with Phil Meglasson, of Phil's Trail fame. Woodward compared Skyline Forest now to the Phil's Trail area, also west of Bend, in 1990.

"It's sort of undiscovered, moderate terrain," Woodward said of Skyline Forest. "Most of the rides are doable by anybody who is experienced, and I don't mean expert, but experienced mountain bikers will find it classic gold cross-country stuff. It's not for the enduro rider or the downhiller. It's just for people who like the classic cross-country, and a mix of trail and road."

I met up with Chalfant for a mountain bike ride in Skyline. The area can be accessed just northwest of Shevlin Park off Shevlin Park Road west of Bend. A gravel road to the west just north of the park entrance leads to a gate. Folks can park at the gate and walk or ride their bikes to the trails from there.

When Chalfant and I arrived, Woodward was just leaving, as the Skyline ride has become a morning routine for him.

As we started out on the ride, the first thing I noticed was the dust, which no doubt has since been quelled by recent rainfall. More bikers will also help with the dust, Chalfant said.

"That's the way Phil's was in the early days, so it'll ride in," Chalfant said. "It'll always be dusty during the late summer, but that'll change once we start to get a little bit of moisture."

We rolled through pine forest, with no significant climbs or downhill stretches, just steady, rolling singletrack through the woods. Some areas where recent logging had taken place were more open, allowing for views of the surrounding hills.

The elevation in Skyline Forest ranges from about that of Bend (3,600 feet) to nearly 6,000 feet. Much of Skyline consists of the treed hills in front of the Three Sisters visible to the southwest when driving from Bend to Sisters along U.S. Highway 20.

Each May for the past 15 years, the annual Cascade Chainbreaker mountain bike race has been staged on trails in Skyline Forest. Some singletrack in the area was built specifically for that race, but more has been formed by horseback riders, and more recently, by motorcycle riders and mountain bikers. Motorized vehicles, however, are only permitted on dirt roads and not on singletrack, according to Chalfant.

We rode one section that took us along a now dry canal and through an old tunnel. A particularly fun section included several tight, swooping up-and-down turns.

Another portion of singletrack paralleled a towering rock outcropping, which Chalfant and others call "Easter Island." If you look closely, you can see "faces" in the rock, including a dead-ringer profile of Richard Nixon.

Chalfant and I rode about 13 miles in about two hours.

"I think the potential is really unlimited for a really neat system," Woodward said. "There's so much good terrain that has yet to be explored. You could have 20 to 30 miles of trail out there eventually and it would just kind of pull some of the traffic off Phil's and other places and disperse it more."

Chalfant calls Skyline Forest "one of Bend's best-kept secrets," but he is trying to make the public more aware of the recreational opportunities there, so when the time comes for Fidelity National Financial to sell the property, the public will support the Deschutes Land Trust's purchase of it.

"It's one of those things that those in the know would probably rather keep it secret, but the reality is, if the public doesn't know about it the public's not going to be interested and engaged in support of an acquisition," Chalfant said. "We kind of have to bring it to people's attention."

Woodward, a former member of the Deschutes Land Trust board, is ambivalent. He said he likes the fact that he has only seen five people in 50-some days of riding, but at the same time he knows the potential for a trail system if the public is on board and the land trust can acquire the property.

"It's hard to come down on either side strongly," Woodward said.

For now, Woodward and Foley will keep riding in Skyline, finding new routes and rarely encountering anybody else, fulfilling that desire for adventure that cannot be satisfied on other, more crowded trails.

The original story can be found on The Bulletin's website.

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