The Little Park that Could (and Does)
by Ray Birks
I’ll admit I’m a cheapskate and paying more to use parks that are already supported by tax dollars, which also might financially disadvantage some potential users, has always rubbed me wrong. But I know sometimes you gotta pay to play and vote with your wallet supporting the things that make you happy. Another reason is that I never frequent state parks more than a few times a year because I’m usually happy with the free options.
Recently I’ve changed my tune and come to love a relatively little 288 acre state park nine miles outside of Wenatchee. My first experiences with Squilchuck were few and far between, an occasional snowshoe trip or a random bike excursion. We even rented out the lodge and campground for a few Ultimate Frisbee tournaments but I just wasn’t attracted to the place, even though it was somewhat remote and very beautiful. I had other options. But lately I’ve found myself drawn there as if by some smoky hand pushing me up the hill.
I borrowed a fat bike last winter and set out to see what the appeal of 4.8” tires and a groomed trail was all about. I liked it so much I rode the following day as well. I continued to like it so much that I slipped an eBay purchase into the family budget and landed a fat bike of my very own. Riding in the winter in the Wenatchee Valley was always a novel and unknown concept but all of a sudden I had another winter fix for my biking habit. The winter trails at Squilchuck are expertly groomed and one can ride for a solid hour and do a big loop of the park, soaking in the solitude. Most of the other trails users you see have the same goofy smile, like they’ve uncovered a hidden doorway into a room full of treasures.
We bought my daughter her first real mountain bike this last summer, a 27.5” with disc brakes and a front shock, and immediately took her to Squilchuck to test it out. She enjoyed the pump track, the skills park and some of the easier trails. With almost 10+ miles of meticulously built trails, most of the green circle and blue square variety, there is just enough riding to keep all levels of riders engaged and happy. Riders looking for even more mileage can climb up into the Stemilt Basin and explore the roads toward Wheeler Reservoir. When it’s hot and smoky in the valley you can usually find crisp, clear air in the parking lot at roughly 3,200 feet. You can also take part in work parties hosted by Central Washington Evergreen Mountain Association, weekly group rides in the summer hosted by local bike shops, kid’s bike camps and other cycling events like the Darkside Festival and the Squilchuck Chainsmoker. Plans are continuing to unfold that link more trails up to Mission Ridge and the Stemilt Basin.
My selfish plans include taking the whole family to the park in the winter and swapping laps on the fat bike with my wife while the kids do some serious sledding. In addition to cross country skiing and snowshoeing options there’s a 300 foot sledding hill and a smaller kiddie hill up near the lodge.
As part of the Darkside festival my family camped in the upper reaches of the park, our RV tucked nicely amongst the tall timbers. These types of places naturally bring us back together, battling with sticks, exploring the trails, riding our bikes and being outside. The campground at the top of the park has 20 wooded sites which can be rented for group events by calling Wenatchee Confluence State Park at (509) 664-6373, The quaint two-story lodge can also be used for parties, events and weddings, all for a relatively reasonable price. If park management ever becomes privatized and the sites are available for single family use, the park would be a fantastic place to escape the summer heat and spend a relaxing weekend close to home. All of the trails are multi-user and I’ll often see hikers, trail runners and dog walkers taking in the fresh air and beautiful views.
Most recently the park has been adopted by the mountain bike crowd with stacked loop trails, improvements to the parking lot, plans for a kiosk with a trail map and even a challenging 500 foot-plus log ride. A dedicated group of volunteers and trail builders, led by Travis Hornby and Matt Rose, have taken what was essentially a mothballed, deteriorating park and transformed it into a regional hub for mountain biking and outdoor recreation.
One aspect of the park’s location is you do share it with the locals, meaning the four-legged kind. I’ve seen a bear in the lower parking lot, elk in some of the upper reaches of the Stemilt Basin and even some cougar tracks.
There is a forest health plan, supported by residents of the local Forest Ridge neighborhood, that will thin a lot of the dangerous concentrations of timber in the park. You can read about the details of the state’s plan in this recent WenOut article.
One final note, although I am a proclaimed cheapskate, I now have a Discover parking pass. In fact, at last count we actually owned three due to poor familial communication and probably a general level of excitement for using the parks in all three vehicles. Purchase yours before arriving or buy one in the parking lot. One recent weekend the rangers were patrolling the parking lot, making conversation, checking passes and even selling them to those who didn’t have them yet, as well as making sure dogs were leashed. No matter your outdoor experience or reason for getting out, Squilchuck offers a multitude of opportunities for the whole family.
Also, read Andy Dappen’s excellent article about Squilchuck’s identity crisis here.
The photos in this article are from the WA State Parks website.