Trail Name: Skyline
Forest Service Designation:
Trail Type: 100% singletrack.
Possible Loops / Variations:
Trailhead and Parking:
Trail Etiquette: Always be courteous to other trail users. All users yield to equestrians, with cyclists also yielding to hikers. Travel only at safe speeds, and stay on designated trails to protect our fragile mountain environment.
For Your Safety: Notify someone of your planned route and estimated time of return. Outdoor activities can be dangerous; use caution at all times and be prepared with water, food, and adequate equipment and knowledge. The Big Bear Valley Trails Foundation provides this description as a courtesy, and does not guarantee the accuracy of the information. You accept all responsibility for your outdoor activities.
How long is Skyline? A little over 15 miles; we’ve GPS’d the route and walked a hand wheel over the entire thing, and the GPS actually shortens the real route by almost a mile because of all the twists and turns.
Is Skyline finished? As of 9/27/2014, the trail is complete and 100% usable. However, there are still sections that require some fine tuning and maintenance.
How was Skyline built? Upper and Western Skyline was rough cut by machines with finishing by volunteer hand crews. The 2 1/2 miles of Eastern Skyline was built by a paid hand crew with finishing by volunteers.
What is a machine rough cut? The builder of upper Skyline, Bellfree, was contracted to provide only this initial rough cut of the trail construction. When the excavators from Bellfree first finish a section, it is rough, loose, and difficult to traverse. The machines have gone over the trail twice, and a motorcycle with a weighted trailer has established an initial travel line. As people start to ride and hike upon it, the trail begins to pack down and we can see the formation of narrower lines within the 4-5 foot machine path. Once the lines have been a little established, we’ve got the opportunity to come back through each section with hand crews and finish the trail.
Hand crews transform the trail from “ridable” into “fun”. Until hand crews come through each section; narrowing the trail, adjusting corners and turns, reinforcing water drains, and in general cleaning it up; the trail will not be finished. So, while it’s possible to ride or hike the opened sections of the Skyline Trail right now, it’s far from complete and you should adjust your expectations accordingly.
How does moisture and use help the trail? Another area of trail building to consider is the necessity of moisture for proper trail compaction. While we’re getting more compaction on each segment of the Skyline Trail, it’s easy to tell a difference between the recently completed sections and the older sections. The first sections had all winter to sit under a light bed of snow, and our spring travels upon it helped to compact the trail. Our newer sections desperately need water and use to firmly solidify into a trail.
Compounding this moisture and compaction dilemma is the slippery and unstable decomposed granite that we’ve unearthed in several recent trail sections. Until we get this moisture, the new sections of trail will be loose and often difficult to ride.
What were the design limitations? Unlike a lot of other trails, we have had some very specific limitations as we build the Skyline Trail. We’re building within a firebreak that ranges from 20-300 feet wide. Years ago, after the Old Fire, the Forest Service came through and cleared this area of land south of 2N10 as a means to halt any future fire progress. By staying within this firebreak, the Skyline Trail was able to bypass quite a few environmental considerations that new trails normally must overcome. On one side of this firebreak is the road 2N10, and on the other side is virgin forest, untouched by the large masticating machines that created the firebreak.
What this means for us is that we’ve got a narrow ribbon of land in which to design a trail. If we go too far in one direction, we dip into the virgin forest and must be able to resolutely defend this action with the Forest Service as absolutely necessary. If we go too far in the other direction, we are right next to the road 2N10, which significantly detracts from the wilderness and secluded feeling that trails are designed to provide.
As such, much of the path of Skyline was chosen before we started. We can’t contour along the land as much as we would like in many places, and instead are forced to travel up and down the many short, tough hills of the ridgeline. The “glass half empty” part about this is that there are often turns and switchbacks that can potentially disturb the flow of a mountain biking trail. The “glass half full” tells us that the views from the top of the ridgeline (it is called Skyline…) are incredible, and that because of this firebreak and environmental exclusions, we’re actually building this trail instead of waiting for the years of paperwork that a project like this traditionally requires. For hikers, another added bonus is that we’ve found that this up and down landscape slows down the overall speed of a mountain bike, which greatly reduces the likelihood of user conflict. Skyline is not a fire road climb and singletrack descent; it’s a cross country ride on a high mountain ridge with few sustained up or downhill grades.
We’ve also worked hard to keep the overall grade of the trail at a low, 7-8% grade. This low grade will help in overall erosion control and aid in making most of the trail usable for riders of all fitness levels. Skyline is designed to be ridden in both directions, so that twisty turn that seems unnecessary on the downhill may be your saving grace on the return trip as it becomes an uphill climb. Of course, right now even slight grades are difficult when the terrain is loose, uncompacted, and full of decomposed granite. Time, moisture, compaction and hand work will address these issues and make the entire trail both ridable and fun.
Who designed the trail? Once inside the firebreak, the design of the Skyline Trail has had quite a few different contributors. Siri Eggebraten and Randall Putz were the initial driving force behind making things happen behind the scenes and getting IMBA on board. IMBA went through and flagged trees, indicating a general route for the trail. Once this was done, several members of the Trails Foundation board of directors (and friends) walked the line and placed flags along a proposed route.
As we started to firm things up, three different people worked the trail. Our goal has been to design a fun, multi-use trail, with a lot of variety and a little something for everyone, that takes full advantage of the terrain and views of the Skyline Ridge. Driz Cook (Trails Foundation volunteer/board member/mountain biker) walked and scouted the firebreak extensively, and using the initial proposed route as a base, reworked the trail line with a solid string of pin flags. Jeanette Granger, our US Forest Service liaison, walked the line next and adjusted the trail route based upon her 23 years of experience building trails with the Forest Service. The final step of upper Skyline involved Hans Kiefer, trail builder and owner of Bellfree Contractors, reviewing the line and making adjustments based upon his experience. Western Skyline was built inhouse with both machine and volunteer labor from the Trails Foundation.
Eastern Skyline was the brainchild of USFS employee Dave Kotlarski, who designed the 2 1/2 mile section and oversaw the handcrews. Gavin Burke (Southern California Mountains Foundation) and Jeanette Granger (USFS) aided greatly in this section.
While there is always room for reinterpretation of the landscape after the trail has been cut, a large amount of time was spent, by individuals with a wide variety of experience, in the design of the Skyline Trail.
How can I help? Join the Big Bear Valley Trails Foundation. Your money helps. Pay attention to our facebook page and this website for Skyline Build Days. Without volunteer labor this trail won’t ever be finished…