A very approximate rendering of the area covered by the proposed expansion of the Gateway Trail.
On Monday, January 29th, the US Forest Service hosted an informational meeting at the Mount Shasta City Park. The subject of the meeting was the proposed expansion of the Gateway Trail. Located on the southwestern flank of Mount Shasta, the Gateway Trail is an 11 mile network of mixed-use trails that wind through lower elevation areas just outside of Mount Shasta City. Developed by a collection of different groups that include hikers, mountain bikers and government agencies, the trail system has been a popular addition to the recreational opportunities in the Mount Shasta area. Though it is enjoyed by hikers and other users, the Gateway Trail has been particularly embraced by mountain bikers. Having a multi-season, trail network that offers a series of loop possibilities in beautiful and varied terrain so close to town has begun to put Mount Shasta on the mountain biking map. When completed, the Gateway Trail Phase II expansion will solidify Mount Shasta as a premier mountain biking destination.
The expansion is ambitious. In addition to the original 11 miles of existing trails, it will increase the system by 47.5 miles, bringing the total to 58.5 miles. As the miles would indicate, this new phase of development will cover an extensive area on the lower flanks of Mount Shasta. The terrain here is varied. There are creeks and springs, hills and large flat areas, gullies, rock outcroppings, and forests, both natural and plantations. And, any many parts of the trail, there are views that include the upper slopes of Mount Shasta, the Strawberry Valley and the high peaks of the Trinity Divide. In short, the proposed expansion involves beautiful scenery and miles and miles of trail from which to explore it.
At the meeting, the Forest Service provided a number of maps to show where the trails will be located. Based on those, I drew a rough sketch to give a broader view of where the Gateway Phase II will be located. Please excuse the crudity of the model:
Existing Gateway area is marked yellow. Phase II expansion area is red.
Phase II expansion is ambitious and exciting.
The majority of the trails in the expansion will be mixed-use, available for hikers, equestrians and mountain bikers. Though all these groups are welcome, the last is the true target for most of the project. Several trails are included in the proposal to ease flow of bikers in certain loops, provide for multiple levels of biking difficulty and to provide a variety of terrain types. While this particular form of trail use is in primary focus, there are still plenty of opportunities for other users like hikers to get out and enjoy what this new trail system will offer.
Existing trails are gold. Black, blue and green are proposed trails.
A short study of the proposed trail network, as well as corresponding topographic maps, reveals a well thought out series of routes that are both environmentally sensitive and maximizes the best features of the terrain. Wherever possible, the trails avoid dirt roads. However, when crossing ravines, gullies or small canyons, the trails briefly rejoin roads to utilize existing bridges. They then quickly dive back into undeveloped terrain. The map also reveals another excellent feature included in the project: 4 new trailheads in addition to the existing one on Everitt Memorial Highway. Three of the new ones will be higher up on the highway, at McBride Springs, Ten Gallon Plantation and at the Everitt Memorial Vista. This last is an already existing access point that is quite underutilized due to the forest overgrowth. The fourth trailhead is to be developed at the Nordic Center on the Ski Park Highway. The trails also connect to the Ski Park itself, which could also function as a trailhead. Additionally, another trailhead is planned at the south end of Mount Shasta City, near the old mill site. However, the this would be on city property and is, thus, not a part of the Forest Service project.
Another huge feature of this plan is the expansion of the McBride Spring Campground. This site is already heavily utilized and the plan is to double or nearly triple its capacity. The planned McBride trailhead would be directly across the street from the campground and would make a fantastic basecamp from which to explore this vast trail complex.
The entirety of the Phase II expansion is broken up into 3 sections (see above map). They have been dubbed the Community Zone, the Big Mountain Zone and the Learning Zone (with the possible renaming as the Discovery Center). Each of these areas has a different emphasis on use. I have broken out some of the slides from the presentation. A summary of each area as well as the proposed trails are present on each.
The Community Zone is so named because it is close to town but also because this is the place most likely to be used by a wide community of recreators. The anticipation is that the paths here will be used heavily by both hikers and bikers. It is, in many ways, an expansion of the already existing Gateway Trail network. This fills in a lot of unused areas and more than doubles the miles of trails available here. It also explores some interesting features like Morning Star Knoll (aka Rooster Rock) and the lower reaches of Cascade Gulch. It also has some pretty grand vistas of Mount Shasta itself. This section alone would be an incredible trail addition to the Mount Shasta area.
The Big Mountain area is broken into upper and lower sections. Taken together, these areas are envisioned as the most heavily used by mountain bikers. Consequently, much of their design has this use specifically in mind. This is not to say that hikers can’t or won’t venture into this area, but there simply won’t be as much to offer that use here. The Upper section of the Big Mountain Zone would be accessed via the Everitt Memorial Vista and from the planned Ten Gallon Plantation trailhead. This area explores steep terrain, would have difficult trails and travels rarely visited parts of Mount Shasta.
In some ways, this is the most fascinating part of the Phase II expansion. Accessed via trails in the Upper Big Mountain Zone as well as the planned trailhead at the southern end of Mount Shasta City, this is trail network would explore some pretty remote areas. The possibility of hiking or biking this as a lollipop, as well as access from the south end of town present some intriguing adventures.
The final section of the Gateway Phase II expansion is the Learning Zone. This area is located just west of Ski Park Highway and around the large, rounded summit of Everitt Hill. The routes basically connect the Nordic Center to a series of trails that explore the flanks and summit of the hill. Trails also connect to the nearby Ski Park. All the trails in this area are easier and are therefore lend themselves more to beginner and lower intermediate use. This is an area where families with small kids would thrive on the trails. Its proximity to McCloud would also be a huge asset for that community, allowing people to access the entire network from the east, rather than through Mount Shasta City.
The scope and nature of this project is impressive. When completed, this will be an incredible resource for all of southern Siskiyou County. Although already a destination for outdoor enthusiasts, this trail network will likely significantly increase the number of people coming to this area to enjoy the recreational opportunities. For locals, who already have an abundance of riches when it comes to trails and things to do in the outdoors, this will be an over-the-top opportunity that will change the nature of hiking and biking in Mount Shasta. It is exciting to contemplate all the possibilities. All those who have been involved in the planning are to be highly commended!
So where do things stand now? It is my understanding that a significant amount of the funding has already been obtained but more most be secured going forward. For now, the Forest Service is going through the EIR and NEPA (I really dislike NEPA). This will likely take a year or so to complete. When that is done, assuming the findings are appropriate, construction of the whole network and the trailheads is expected to take 3 years. Realistically, this is likely to be done around 2022 or 2023. I imagine, though, that it is possible that one of the zones could be completed in 2 years time and folks are riding and hiking trails by sometime in 2020 (pure speculation on my part).
I initially thought about including a pros & cons section in this review but, honestly, I don’t think there are any significant drawbacks to this project. What issues there are tend to be more subjective in nature. Some folks might not like the increase of people coming from out of town to enjoy the trails. Other might not like informal trails being decommissioned. There can be complaints around numerous points of the project but overall, this is a well thought out and exciting opportunity for Mount Shasta. I, for one, am excited to explore the new trails as they are constructed.
That being said, I do have a few suggestions that I think would significantly enhance the Gateway Phase II expansion:
- The additions to the McBride Springs Campground are essential, but I think they may not be enough. I think increasing the enlargement would be helpful. However, an even better option would be to build an all new campground a little northwest of the current campground. This would be in plantation land but could host a lot more campers. A trail could connect the campgrounds and would facilitate campers accessing the McBride trailhead across the road. As it is now, with such great access to the network, the additions to the current campground could be quickly outpaced by the number of mountain bikers wanting to camp and then hit the trail.
- It would also be a neat feature to include one or two backcountry campgrounds. This could be placed at the upper end of the Lower Big Mountain Zone (as well as other spots) and allow mountain bikers or hikers to camp in remote areas while enjoying the trails. The lower elevation of these areas would also mean that early season overnighters would be possible right outside of town.
- As noted there are a lot trails specifically designed for mountain bikers. I have no problem with this for a variety of reasons. However even just a couple of hiker-only trails would be a nice feature. One particularly good option would be to have a path travel the length of Cascade Gulch in the Community Zone. This would allow hikers to make a great loop and would include a beautiful, interesting area to the hike. Of course, bikers who ride the informal trail through there might object…
- In a similar vein, there has been some discussion of incorporating the South Sisson Trail into the Gateway Phase II expansion. This route was the original trail by which climbers would ascend from Mount Shasta City to Horse Camp and then to the summit beyond. This trail was abandoned after the construction and paving of the Everitt Memorial Highway. However, much of the trail was still extant. It remained dormant until motivated hikers have improved the trail and it can once again be hiked up to connect to the Sand Flat trailhead and then on to Horse Camp.
The South Sisson Trail, highlighted on the 1935 USGS topo map for Mount Shasta.
What is proposed now is including the already (unofficially) restored trail in the EIR and NEPA process and then including it in the Phase II expansion as an official part of the trail network on Mount Shasta. I am completely in favor of this. This would effectively link the entire Gateway network, as well as the town of Mount Shasta City, to many of the trails that lie high up at the treeline. My proposed (and also unofficially constructed) addition of a trail connecting Bunny Flat with the Old Ski Bowl would further link the whole area. It would be an incredible set of trails, of true national park caliber scope and scenery!
In summary, I think the Gateway Phase II expansion project is an incredible addition to the Mount Shasta area. It will benefit the community though an increase in tourism and will likely put the area “on the map” as far as mountain biking goes. Even if no new hiker-specific trails are constructed, it will serve to shift mountain biking use off of trails like the Sisson-Callahan and McCloud River Trails and onto the Gateway network. For hikers, it still holds some excellent opportunities to enjoy the lower slopes of Mount Shasta.
For those looking to comment on this project, Comments can be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org
I am also very interested to see everyone’s thoughts on this project. Please feel free to leave comments on this review!
Lastly, I want to close with a few images of vistas found around the proposed areas of the Phase II expansion. It is exciting to contemplate…
Click to enlarge: