In trial run, new Kenai Peninsula trail proves smashing success

In the fall of 2012 when contractors cleared dead spruce trees from the Diamond Creek State Recreation Area, they not only provided firewood for local residents and mitigated fire danger, they also opened up land for possible future trails. A gravel road already exists from the Sterling Highway down to the trailhead for a path to the Diamond Creek beach, but a non-motorized trail could expand the system on state land along the road.

The Kachemak Nordic Ski Club had plenty of work just keeping up on its own trails at Baycrest Hill and McNeil Canyon, so Alaska State Parks officials approached the Homer Cycling Club. Would it be willing to put in a demonstration trail?

Heck yeah.

"This is what we can do, what we're willing to do," said Derek Reynolds, club secretary and lead organizer of the trail effort.

The cycling club will sign a memorandum of understanding with Alaska State Parks once it gets nonprofit status. Since February, volunteers have worked more than 200 hours building a 0.7-mile trail in the area.

"We built this to show we're serious, and hopefully we can build more," Reynolds said.

On Sunday, after heavy rain turned the trails into just enough of a muddy slog to make the route interesting, the Homer Cycling Club and the Kachemak Bay Running Club held the first race on the trail, the Halloween Hustle. In separate and joint running and biking events, athletes christened the trails with shoes and tires -- and broken bikes and dirty backs.

The Diamond Creek State Recreation Area is one of the gems of the lower Kenai Peninsula's state park lands. Created from a former subdivision, the recreation area starts at the Sterling Highway just across from Diamond Ridge Road. The cycling club trail begins just off the first bend in the gravel road at a small parking area and an old road. The double-track trail goes back up along the old road toward the highway and then downhill to the gravel road, with plenty of dips, turns and twists along the way. For the Halloween Hustle, racers used the demonstration trail and the gravel road to make about a 1-mile loop. The races included events of one- to four-loops.

Lance Williamson won the 3-lap run with a time of 25 minutes and 22 seconds. In the 4-lap bike event, Anchorage racer Clinton Hodges, riding a fat tire bike, stayed just behind Marc Romano on a mountain bike throughout most of the race, bursting ahead at the finish line to win by one second with a time of 32:17 to Romano's 32:18. Michael McGuire, wearing an orange pumpkin jumpsuit, showed how tough the muddy course could be when he twisted a derailleur part way through. McGuire finished on a borrowed bike.

In the 1-lap run and bike event, Laura Fox from Anchorage, wearing a cheetah outfit, lived up to her costume, winning with a time of 17:59. Fox and Hodges also won in the 2-lap team run-and-bike event with a combined time of 34:05. In the individual 2-lap run-bike event, Jason Herreman won with a time of 34:06.

The collaboration between the cycling and running clubs also demonstrated another aspect of the Diamond Creek trail -- that it's intended to be a multi-use trail. When the snow falls, the club will pack the trail by pulling tires behind snowshoers. The winter trail will be open for snowshoers, bikers and runners. To help set the trail, snowshoers are especially encouraged to use it, Reynolds said. With the popularity of fat tire bicycles, or fat bikes, winter off-road trail riding on snow has become not only possible, but popular.

Eventually, Reynolds said the Homer Cycling Club hopes to build a 5-mile trail to the footpath trailhead at the end of the gravel road. The current footpath from the trailhead to the beach has become washed out in places by mudslides and is too narrow or treacherous to build a bike trail.

For more information, visit the Homer Cycling Club website.

This story first appeared in the Homer News. Michael Armstrong can be reached at michael.armstrong(at)homernews.com.