Mirror Lake singletrack provides a new mountain-biking destination in Southcentral

For years, mountain bikers in the Eagle River and Chugiak areas have been stuck in a Twilight Zone between the trails of Anchorage and Mat-Su. Whether they headed north or south for recreation, a half-hour of driving was required before any pedaling could start.

But by early this winter — perhaps sooner — those days should be over.

Work began last month on three miles of new trail connecting to about four miles of existing skijoring trails between Mirror and Edmonds lakes that will become a unified loop. When done, Chugiak and Eagle River riders will have new terrain in their backyard to explore.

"We get tired of always driving places," said Adam Muggli of Chugach Mountain Bike Riders. "After work, if you hit the traffic wrong, getting out to the Valley to ride the Kepler-Bradley trails can be a horrendous drive. Sometimes from my house to Kincaid is a little over 45 minutes."

‘Like skiing on bikes’

Much of the Mirror Lake Singletrack Trail sits atop a layer of granite bedrock that can furnish technical challenges to the loop with rock outcroppings, cliff gullies and the like. Atop the bedrock sits glaciated terrain largely composed of gravelly mountain clays.

"Riders will travel along sinewy flowing singletrack over bedrock slabs, on trail that dances through stands of birch with open sightlines and little understory," said Edward Kessler, president and CEO of Ptarmigan Ptrails of Palmer, the company designing and building the trail.

"It's kind of like skiing on bikes. There's nothing like that bedrock in the Southcentral bike-specific trails built since 2007, except up in the Valley.

"The terrain is similar to what you'd see in the Pacific Northwest. I walk around and get all googley-eyed."

By and large, beginning mountain bikers should be able to handle much of the trail's seven miles, which, Kessler said, "feels longer because you're going up and down and around a lot."

But there are technical challenges that appeal to more skilled riders. "It can go from very rooty, very technical track to a nice four-foot-wide track," Kessler said.

As the colors of autumn splash across the landscape, the long contour trails resemble what mountain bikers might find in the lower part of Resurrection Trail. Particularly scenic are views of Edmonds Lake, which also attracts rainbow trout anglers.

"It's beautiful," Kessler said. "Especially when you have that nice sunlight shining through the birch forest."

Funded by $50,000 grant

"We're real excited about it," said Steve Cleary, executive director of Alaska Trails, which has been the fiscal sponsor and administrator of the project.

The linchpin that triggered trail work was a successful application for a Recreational Trails Program grant of $50,000 awarded to Alaska Trails, federal money administered by the Alaska Department of Natural Resources that should be sufficient to build three to five miles of singletrack.

Chugach Mountain Bike Riders aims to use the money, administered by AK Trails, for the current phase of construction and raise more money next year to extend the trails farther.

The organization adapted a model used by the Anchorage-based advocacy group Singletrack Advocates, in which an experienced contractor does about 80 percent of the work, with volunteers chipping in on hand-clearing and other tasks.

"I live in the area and can't wait to have some good local trails so I don't have to drive to Palmer (Crevasse-Moraine) or Anchorage (Kincaid/Hillside) for some flowy single track," cyclist Brandon Hoxie wrote on the Chugach Mountain Bike Riders' website. "Would love to see some banked turns, step ups/step downs, and boardwalks if possible."

Hoxie should get his wish.

"Mirror Lake will be a unique mountain bike experience for Southcentral riders," Kessler told volunteers who came out in early August to lend a hand. Some 20 to 30 people turned out during August work sessions, despite rain early in the month. Those sessions will continue at 6:30 p.m. every Wednesday until the trail is done.

‘This place has magic soil’

"This place has magic soil," Kessler said. "There's a lot of gravel in there and it drains pretty well. Even during the heavy rains there was dry dirt in there. The nice thing about all those roots is that they suck the water right up."

All that soil is on Municipality of Anchorage land, with the trailhead at the south end of the Mirror Lake parking lot, near the nordic ski trail entry point. Signs will point the way.

Contact reporter Mike Campbell at mcampbell@alaskadispatch.com