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Mudder founder vows to find a new venue

Robert Frey at Trustland Trails on Thursday: “Community support has made the Mudder a success.”   - Brian Kelly / The Record
Robert Frey at Trustland Trails on Thursday: “Community support has made the Mudder a success.”
— image credit: Brian Kelly / The Record

The Mudder will take the year off while organizers of the intrepid off-road bicycle race find a new place to pedal, founder Robert Frey said Thursday.

Frey said the Whidbey Island Mudder, a South End fixture for 11 years, was left high and dry after its last race this past spring when the private property it had been using became slated for development.

“The wheels of progress roll on,” he said. “We always knew from year to year that the property could be developed. That’s what happened this year.”

But it’s not the end of the Mudder, Frey insisted. His new plan is to move the race to an undeveloped section of nearby Trustland Trails, which is owned and managed by the South Whidbey Parks & Recreation District.

Parks officials appear ready to welcome the race with open arms.

“It makes sense,” Parks Director Terri Arnold said Thursday. “The Mudder’s the sort of event that aligns with our mission.”

Trustland Trails, a 200-acre preserve near Highway 525 just off Craw Road, has nearly two miles of developed trails and another 10 miles of trails planned. The two undeveloped routes are about five miles each, one called Discovery Loop, the other Challenge Loop.

Frey’s plan is to have Mudder volunteers fashion and maintain a new bicycle race course in one of the undeveloped areas of the park, in exchange for permission to use the trail once a year for the race.

Frey first approached the parks board with the idea this past October, Arnold said. Parks commissioners were enthusiastic, and urged Frey to return with a detailed proposal, she said.

Frey said he has yet to reappear before the board because he’s been too busy, but added that he still likes the idea and plans to pursue it in time for the spring 2012 race.

“Community support has made the Mudder a success,” he added. “Hopefully, that will continue when we emerge like a Phoenix from the flames.”

Frey, 44, who lives between Langley and Freeland, has been a bike enthusiast since childhood. He said that in his teens and 20s he was heavily into road racing, and later added mountain-bike competition.

An island resident since 1979, he said he’s been an electrician, arborist, sawmill operator and volunteer firefighter and emergency medical technician —- and a two-wheel connoisseur.

“I’ve always seen the beauty of Whidbey and the Pacific Northwest as a motivator for going out and riding my bike,” he said.

Frey said he can’t remember exactly how he got the original idea for the Mudder, “but at the time it seemed to be a niche that needed to be filled.”

He said that as many as 4,000 riders of all ages from Vancouver, British Columbia to Vancouver, Wash. have taken part in the race since 2000. This past year, nearly 300 participated, he said.

Frey said that putting on the race through the years has kept him so busy that he’s never competed in a Mudder himself.

“Having to be available for any detail that may come up, I’ve never been able to race in my own race,” he said.

The Mudder’s former 5.6-mile course, about a half-mile south of Highway 525 off Coles Road, featured climbs, tight single and double tracks, berms and switchbacks, sweetened by a 1,800-foot elevation change.

Frey said a new course at Trustland Trails would probably have more single tracks and tighter pathways, and probably wouldn’t be as fast as the old course.

“This would be a different venue,” he said, “but variety is the spice of life.”

Trustland Trails was transferred by the state Department of Natural Resources to the parks district in 2007.

The Whidbey Camano Land Trust helped coordinate the transfer of the $3.8 million rural parcel as part of a package of property transfers in Island County.

Trustland Trails currently features a 1.3-mile multi-use trail, a quarter-mile connector trail and a quarter-mile ADA loop trail.

The latter, which opened this past September, is a paved nature loop built to the strict specifications of the Americans Disability Act for use by people in wheelchairs, and for those who require a flat, smooth surface on which to walk.

Arnold said the recent acquisition of the former 664-acre Trillium Woods parcel north of Freeland by the Whidbey Camano Land Trust will provide plenty of trails for hiking and walking, leaving the parks district free to promote South End recreation activities such as the Mudder on its own property.

“We don’t have the funds yet to develop the other areas,” Arnold said of Trustland Trails. “The commission is fully supportive of the Mudder, if they present a proposal we can accept.”

Frey said the first Mudder was put on with the parks district, before the race struck out on its own.

“We’re excited about getting back with parks,” he said.

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