Black Rock in the distance. Photo by Ray Birks.

The Jacobson Preserve is a 35 acre parcel of land situated on the northern flank of Saddle Rock that was donated to the Chelan Douglas Land Trust (CDLT) in 2000 by local doctor, John Jacobson, who lived in the valley from 1970 to 1978. In a Wenatchee World article from 2009, Dr. Jacobson was quoted about the preserve, 

“I always enjoyed walking on that hillside. To know that I can go back and walk on the hillside and that my family can — it’s just a good feeling.”

It’s one of those rare pieces of property so close to neighborhoods that it seems to rise out of people’s backyards.

Located in the western foothills near the Wenatchee Racquet and Athletic Club (WRAC), the Jacobson Preserve is protected for future generations for hiking and biking. Access to the iconic fixture of our valley, Saddle Rock Natural Area, has always been a plus for our community but the trail system to the summit has always been steep and steeper, with unsustainable trails that get hammered and muddied by use in the shoulder seasons and are overly sweat-inducing in the summer months. At times, the old trail had to be closed in the winter due to erosion and safety concerns. The WRAC side does have designated hiking and biking trails while access from the Appleatchee is an old road that is equally challenging to ascend.

Photo by Jesse Livingston, trail builder.

Riding a bike to the top of Saddle Rock has always been a dreadful experience for most mortals since it involves a few insanely steep stretches of trail that are rutted and rocky and not at all user-friendly. A few times a year, for reasons unknown, maybe hubris or perhaps boredom, I would attempt to drag my carcass to the top, mashing the lowest gear possible, and straining my leg muscles to turn the pedals. If I was lucky and in as good of shape as can be expected, I could ride the entire trail without putting my foot down.

More often than not a wayward rock, deep rut, or steep slope would derail my efforts and I’d be off the bike, walking, pushing, muttering. In addition, I’d have to navigate getting started again on grades that frequently pushed 20%. It was always a nightmare and usually left me cursing and flustered, rethinking my life choices.

But all that has changed with the recent completion of the Saddle Rock-Jacobson Traverse Trail. The new trail starts at the same location by the WRAC and shares the first half mile of the old trail until it eventually gives way to an old double track road to the water tower. The new stretch of trail starts halfway up the double track and zigs and zags its way up the steep hillside, shadowing the now old, decommissioned trail, making the ascent easier on the legs and much more of a reward than a punishment.

Photo by Jesse Livingston, trail builder.

My favorite part of the new trail is where it wraps around the hillside and separates from the old route just past Black Rock and trends towards Pitcher Peak. The views of the city subside, and a sense of solitude takes over as well as a new perspective on an old area that was once familiar takes its place.

Chelan Douglas Land Trust secured grant funds to build the new trail in March to May of 2024 and it was constructed by Central Washington Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance. The trail was designed to meet the guidelines outlined for trail pathways by the City of Wenatchee Park Design Standards (2021). It The new trail route was designed to mitigate erosion and remove steep, unsustainable sections that even made hiking and trail running a chore. Improving trails for sustainability often results in more inclusive trail access. Trails that are at least 36” wide, have a firm surface, less than 20% slope, and have proper drainage are typically more accessible to a greater range of visitors.

Looking back towards Twin Peaks and Canyon 2 from the trail. Photo by Ray Birks.

The project was the first implementation project based on the results from the Saddle Rock Natural Area Recreation and Access Plan. Ryan Graig from CDLT noted,

“The new alignment was very challenging to design. We had many restrictions to work around and many elements to balance in the design including the following: steep terrain, sensitive plant habitat, private land boundaries, old road infrastructure, cultural clearance limitations, trail user experience, public input data, previous soil contamination sites (mitigated by the City of Wenatchee in previous projects), and budget limitations. 

One of our primary goals was to design sustainable trail alignments that used as much of the old trail as possible, minimized impact, while providing an improved trail user experience and fitting in with all of the restrictions we were working around.”

The Land Trust is currently working on restoration efforts for the disturbed soils on the trail edges and the decommissioned trail. They are seeding soils with a native seed mix designed by Derby Canyon Nursery and applying native wood chip mulch to the raw soil areas. Biodegradable erosion control netting will also be installed on steep soil areas and crushed rock will improve drainages and areas that may see more water in the winter season. Signage will be added to the trails in the Saddle Rock Natural Area in the future after a signage plan is completed.

This restoration and maintenance work will continue in early Summer 2024, Fall 2024, and Spring 2025 to ensure the project area recovers with native plant growth and minimal erosion. They will also install some sections of fence to protect switchbacks from being cut.

Please remember that the Saddle Rock Traverse Trail is a non-motorized, multi-use trail, for hikers and bikers. Trail users should follow trail etiquette rules and control their speed, allow for safe passing, and be courteous to fellow trail users.

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