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Spence Mountain trail system keeps growing

New trails just keep coming — and getting better — at Spence Mountain.

It’s not finished yet, but the under-construction Queen of the Lake Trail offers sumptuous views of Upper Klamath Lake as it gently meanders through forestlands, past lichen-colored boulders, and over and around rocky outcrops.

Construction began earlier this month by crews from Dirt Mechanics of Bend to build another link in the expanding network of Spence Mountain trails off Highway 140. When completed in late May or early June, the 2-plus-mile Queen of the Lake will feature expansive lake views not seen on other trails. Because it is steep, narrow and at times along drop-offs, the route is rated black, or most difficult, for mountain bikers, while poles are recommended for hikers.

The Queen will connect with an existing and recently built section of the Winema Trail to give hikers and bikers even more choices for navigating nearly 30 miles of trails, including connections to the Shoalwater Bay Trailhead and its network of trails.

“I’ll be on this until it’s done,” Dirt Mechanics’ Paul Thomasberg said while taking a break from trail construction on the Queen of the Lake earlier this week. He and Derek Bell were moving rocks and boulders, clearing layers of duff, chopping off roots and stamping out a three-foot-wide trail along a route laid out last year.

Thomasberg and Bell said the Queen was deliberately laid out above the lake to provide broader views and was designed to follow a slightly weaving route.

“It makes it more interesting,” Bell said.

Interesting it is. The Queen of the Lake begins from the Spence Mountain Trailhead off Highway 140, sometimes nearing the highway as it dips downhill before heading nearly due north and paralleling Howard Bay and Upper Klamath Lake to its eventual junction with the Winema Trail. Along the way, the Queen weaves through stands of Ponderosa pine, Douglas and white fir and cedars. An immature bald eagle occasionally soared overhead, seemingly scoping out the activity.

Because of the terrain, the Queen is being hand-built with an array of saws, McLeods, hoes and axes. Up to seven people, along with occasional Klamath Trails Alliance volunteers, are working both ends of the Queen-Winema loop.

“The first three hours of the day your muscles aren’t sore yet,” said Bell, noting trail building has been slow but steady. He encourages people to see the Queen’s open section, about three-quarters of a mile one-way from the main Spence Mountain Trailhead, urging, “People should check it out and enjoy the view.”

Drew Honzel, KTA’s board secretary, said the Queen of the Lake is the latest in the group’s ongoing Spence Mountain development. So far, 28 miles of trails and two trailheads have been completed. Of the $400,000 invested, $99,500 came from five Klamath County Tourism grants, $70,000 from two Travel Oregon grants, plus numerous donations from businesses and individuals.

A recently approved Spence Master Plan envisions more than 60 miles of trails on the 7,400-acre area owned by JWTR, a timberland management company. Long-range plans include expanding the two trailheads to accommodate more vehicles. The existing system includes a 10-mile beginners loops with Old Eagle, Shoalwater, Modoc and North Star. This year’s trail work, including the Queen of the Lake and Winema extension, will add four to eight miles of trails at a cost of $132,000.

For more information, visit the Klamath Trails Alliance Facebook page and the group’s website at www.klamathtrails.com.

The second annual Spence Mountain Trail Run, with distances of 30 and 50 kilometers (about 18 and 32 miles, respectively), is Saturday, May 18. For information, see www.linkvillelopers.org.

Reach freelance writer Lee Juillerat at 337lee337@charter.net or 541-880-4139.

Drew Honzel hikes a section of the partially completed Queen of the Lake Trail. Photo by Lee Juillerat