In praise of Leavenworth’s trail architect

Written on Nov 29th, 2014 by , Category Marlene Farrell Blog

Members of a Wenatchee Skills Source class work on a new trail this fall near Leavenworth. The trail was designed by Leavenworth's James Munly.


By Marlene Farrell

LEAVENWORTH — In November I never know which trail run will be my last until next spring. I am thankful for all the beautiful places to which trails have led me. And I am thankful for those whose labors have built the trails for all of us.

James Munly

James Munly is high on my list to thank. If you haven’t been to Ski Hill and Freund Canyon in Leavenworth recently, you are in for a surprise. Go and see new and better trails, the result of thousands of volunteer hours. More than anyone, Munly has been there, on the ground, turning a wishful vision into reality with his five-ton excavator. He is the architect of swoops and climbs that trail runners and mountain bikers alike can enjoy.

Munly, himself, has put in hundreds of unpaid hours because he wants this trail for himself and for his community.

“I am super passionate about riding trails,” he says. “I want to ride with my kids and be able ride right from my house.”

For Leavenworth trail enthusiasts, the Ski Hill trails and Freund Canyon trail have long been a part of our weekly regimens. Now with connections (4 the Boys Memorial trail and a renovated Rosy Boa trail — please see the map below) sprouting up between the two, new life has been breathed into this trail network and the unrepeatable miles have quadrupled. This is the fruition of negotiations with the U.S. Forest Service that began more than 25 years ago. Munly has been patiently, doggedly involved for nearly 20 of those years.

Freund Canyon trail, an eight-mile loop, has long been the hot spot of cross-country mountain biking in Leavenworth. Other trails are off limits, illegal or only appropriate for downhill experts wearing full protection. So it was tough on local bikers when Freund underwent a major thinning operation last year and the downhill portion was replaced with a logging road.

The tribulations of a trail builder.

If you were to run or bike the Freund loop today, the recent logging would still be obvious. But, as if by magic, Munly and other volunteers have erased most of the road. In only two months, they have transformed it into a sinuous trail. Give it a little more time and the forest will insinuate itself right up to where the tires roll. Wildflowers, ferns, and saplings will push up and lean toward the riders and runners, and the trail will feel natural and timeless.

The trail will also be safer and more resilient thanks to Munly’s design to bank and undulate the steep sections and add drainage every 50 to 100 feet instead of the road’s drainage every 300 feet.

I saw Munly out there on drizzly October mornings, walking the road bed to get an image in his mind, then using the excavator to move dirt and even plant little trees. It is slow work, but Munly is in his element.

These days, he says, “I am a trail builder with a small mountain biking habit.”

Mountain biking certainly is in his blood. He’s the owner of Das Rad Haus, a Leavenworth bike shop, and director of Bike N’ Brews, the biggest annual mountain bike race in Washington. His wife, Christine, and two sons, Ryder and Dylan, are all avid riders. But his work as a trail builder is a boon to all trail users, no matter their M.O.

James Munly provides tips to a group of trail builders from the Wenatchee Skills Source class.

Some of Munly’s work is funded through his position as volunteer coordinator of the Central Washington Chapter of the Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance’s (EMBA). A nonprofit organization, EMBA seeks to protect, maintain and create trails for the mountain bike community. In addition to EMBA, major local donors — including Leavenworth Winter Sports Club, Das Rad Haus, Der Sportsmann, Eurosports, Fallon Technology, Munchen Haus, Icicle Brewing Co., South restaurant and Idlewild Pizza — have provided other critical funds and help for the project.

These front-country trails are desperately needed. Some community members are deterred by the fact that most trails require a long drive up a dirt road and a special parking permit. The new trails out of Ski Hill help people get out regularly. Once a 75-year-old woman hiked by Munly while he was working and told him, “I walk my dog every day here now.”

Munly's machine

For mountain bikers, these intermediate trails are stepping stones to learn and practice good technique so they can then venture on the area’s expert trails. This should decrease the number of biker injuries as they can incrementally increase their level of risk.

The benefits are staggering and earned Munly and EMBA’s Central Washington chapter a prestigious Regional Volunteer Award from the Forest Service in 2013. The work of EMBA in the Leavenworth, Wenatchee and Chelan areas has been so well received, in fact, that the group is inundated with trail project proposals, enough to keep it busy for years, if not decades.

A lot of people have given a few hours of time, a weekend or two, or even more, to help build these trails. I realize that the trail construction and maintenance could use all of our help. I plan to get out there next year, to wield a shovel and get dirty. Please look for RunWenatchee postings of trail work parties in 2015 in Leavenworth. I hope to see you there, too.

Other ways to help EMBA in this important work are through memberships and donations. Any contribution to their projects can be leveraged to earn matching grant monies to help cover the costs. For more information on the Central Washington chapter of Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance, check out their website:

Marlene Farrell, a Leavenworth resident and long-distance runner, helps coach the Peshastin-Dryden Striders kids running club. If you are interested in helping out the Striders in some fashion, email her at

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