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The Duthie Hill Story: a Public-private Partnership for Trails

Duthie Hill Park: A Partnership between King County Parks and Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance

The King County Parks-EMBA partnership is an excellent example of how a public-private partnership can leverage funds in tight fiscal times to create, maintain, and program a unique, world-class trails system that is open and accessible for all to enjoy.

by King County Parks and Recreation

photo credit: Evergreen Bike Alliance

EMBA presents King County executive Dow Constantine with a check representing EMBA's match for the trails project

More than ten years ago, when mountain biking began to gain popularity in the Pacific Northwest and unauthorized trails started popping up on public lands throughout the county, King County Parks and EMBA came together to discuss mountain biking trail concerns, such as unauthorized trails, competing trail uses, lack of dedicated space for mountain biking, and the largely negative view of mountain biking held by many outdoor enthusiasts.

With so many acres of open space accessible year-round to King County’s growing population, King County Parks recognized the importance of working to meet the needs of this recreational group. Following an inventory analysis, King County Parks and EMBA selected the 120-acre Duthie Hill Park as the ideal location for a mountain bike-oriented park. Duthie Hill Park is located on the edge of the greater Seattle metropolitan area, just a short 30 minute drive from downtown, and features a mature second-growth forest of fir, hemlock, and cedar that provides an excellent “Pacific Northwest” outdoor experience.

In 2008, King County Parks awarded EMBA a $220,000 CPG grant, which provided seed funding for initial design and construction costs. EMBA was empowered to lead the project, from initial design and on-the-ground trail building to engaging volunteers and securing additional funding. King County Parks provided project oversight, general support, and coordination on larger issues such as permitting, risk management, and signage. Over the course of the project, EMBA provided more than 6,000 hours of volunteer labor to build the trails, and donations of cash and equipment, conservatively totaling $140,000 in match contribution.

photo credit: Evergreen Bike Alliance
Elevated boardwalks are part of the experience at Duthie Hill

Elevated boardwalks are part of the experience at Duthie Hill

The trails at Duthie Hill were built using best mountain bike trail practices, which is especially important for the long-term sustainability of the trails in the rainy Pacific Northwest. The trails build on the park’s naturally beautiful forest setting of tall trees and lush ferns, and fallen trees at the site were salvaged and incorporated into trail construction. The park features a progressive design, with over 6 miles of free ride and cross country trails, building from beginner trails to double black diamond ones. There are also special technical features such as jumps, elevated boardwalks, banked turns, and drops reflecting all skill levels, which help learners build confidence and provide challenges to experienced riders.

At a recent International Mountain Biking Association conference, Duthie Hill Park was referred to as the new standard for mountain biking trails, and the partnership between King County Parks and EMBA as the best approach in getting it done.

Officially opened on May 22, 2010, the park has experienced a tremendous amount of use already, drawing riders from all over the state and nation. In addition to regular drop-in riders, the Subway Games mountain bike race was held in June 19, 2010, and EMBA and the Cascade Bicycle Club are hosting summer bike camps all summer for kids and adults.

King County Parks partnership programs

Located on Puget Sound in Washington State and covering 2,134 square miles, King County has nearly twice the land area as the average county in the United States. With more than 1.9 million residents, King County (which includes Seattle and 38 other cities) also ranks as the 14th most populous county in the nation. In 2002, King County government experienced severe budget challenges that threatened the future of the county parks system. In response, King County Parks underwent a major transition, focusing on our role as a major land manager and implementing a new way of doing business that revolved around public-private partnerships and entrepreneurial initiatives.

A key program launched at that time was the Community Partnerships and Grants Program (CPG), a public- private partnership initiative that empowers user groups, sports associations, recreation clubs, and other non-profit organizations to construct, develop, program, and/or maintain new or enhanced public recreation facilities on King County land in a manner that does not result in new publicly funded operations and maintenance costs.

In short, King County Parks contributes use of land and capital improvement seed grants to community partners, who then leverage the county’s investment and contribute the necessary additional capital and in-kind resources to develop the new or enhanced facility. The community partner also provides for most of the operations, maintenance and programming at the new or enhanced facility, which is typically accomplished through volunteers and/or revenue-based programs or other resources.

photo credit: Evergreen Bike Alliance

About Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance

Founded in 1989, Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance (EMBA) is a growing 5,000-member, volunteer-powered 501(c) (3) nonprofit organization whose mission is to create and protect sustainable mountain biking trails in Washington. EMBA focuses on education, advocacy and recreation and believes in building common ground and fostering a culture that gives back to the communities and special places loved by EMBA members.

In addition to providing 7,000 volunteer hours annually, EMBA graduates 200 “Mountain Bike Bootcamp” participants per year and leads 700 rides throughout the state.

For more information

Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance -

Published May 2010

About the Author

King County Parks’ mission is to steward, enhance and acquire parks to inspire healthy communities, and with 28,000 acres of open space, King County Parks offers close-to-home recreational experiences for everyone. In our 200 parks, you’ll find ballfields, playgrounds and pools, as well as lush forests, quiet meadows, and sweeping vistas of mountains, rivers and Puget Sound.

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