For many years, cyclists riding along Merced Falls Road looked up at Barrett Summit and thought “That would be a great place to ride mountain bikes.”
Starting Saturday, that dream is going to become reality. If you’ve got a bike and the $8 car entry fee, you will be able to enjoy the new Exchequer Mountain Bike Park at Lake McClure. That’s all that it will take.
The Merced Irrigation District inaugurated the project by contacting local cyclists. The cyclists have been working on developing the vision for the project and identifying some preliminary routes. Over the next couple of years, additional routes will be created by riders at the 800-acre park.
Working with what is essentially a blank canvas, they will be designing their own trails. The result will be something that you currently can’t find anywhere in our giant state: a mountain bike park where you will be able to ride from your campsite directly onto a network of trails that will encompass all difficulty levels. Unlike most places where mountain biking is allowed, there won’t be any competition with hikers and equestrians – Exchequer Mountain Bike Park will be a “bikes only” zone.
Although the trails have a near wilderness feel to them, riders will be close to amenities: clean restrooms with flush toilets, drinking fountains, hot showers, a restaurant, and the marina store. On top of that, affordable cabins are now available for rent in the campground – perfect for families or anyone who prefers a soft bed and air conditioning after their ride. This combination of great terrain, no route restrictions within the park, and extensive amenities is something that just isn’t available anywhere else in California.
Trails start in what used to be the “I loop” of the Barrett Cove Campground and climb up to the top of Barrett Summit.
At just over 1,700 feet, the summit commands an outstanding view stretching from the Diablo Range on the western edge of our Valley all the way across its floor up through the foothills and the lower mountains. When I got a chance to visit the park last Thursday, some of the highest snow-capped peaks of the Sierra loomed over the green ridges to the east.
Riding downhill from the summit, there will be several options with a range of difficulty levels for riders to explore – sort of like the slopes of a ski resort where the options range from the gentle bunny hill to challenging vertical descents. When you’ve reached the bottom, you’ll be able to ride back up to the top and do it again or try another route. The Exchequer Mountain Bike Park also plans to hold race events in the future.
In addition to mountain biking, Lakes McClure and McSwain currently offer fishing, water skiing and wakeboarding, campsites with full hookups, cabin rentals, boat and kayak rentals, houseboat rentals, marina stores and cafes at Barrett Cove and Lake McSwain. Over the next couple of years the recreation opportunities will continue to expand. It’s all part of the MID’s goal to make the McClure and McSwain recreation areas a place where families can spend an entire week, enjoying a broad range of outdoor activities throughout the seasons. MID general manager John Sweigard stated his vision this way: “We intend to offer the best family outdoor recreation destination in Central California – and nothing less.”
The five existing recreation areas are being refurbished. Some of the new recreational opportunities to be developed will include a 14-mile hiking and biking trail between Lake McSwain and Exchequer Dam, swim platforms with waterslides, larger group campsites, primitive camping on Mac Island, and at the swim lagoons, sand beaches, volleyball courts and shade.
As I approach the five-year anniversary of writing this weekly column, I’ve been reflecting on some of the highlights of my experiences, and being able to explore and announce new recreation opportunities is by far one of the greatest. We are lucky to have so many new places to enjoy the outdoors. One of the best things about these developments at McClure and McSwain is that they are less than an hour’s drive from Merced.
On Saturday, the Exchequer Mountain Bike Park’s grand opening will be part of the MID’s SpringFest Celebration. A car show and Cinco de Mayo festivities (including music, food and activities) will also be a part of the day. The events will take place from 1 to 6 p.m.
The Exchequer Mountain Bike Park is located at Lake McClure’s Barrett Cove Recreation Area. To get there, take G Street/Snelling Road or Highway 59 from Merced to Snelling. Proceed through Snelling and continue east as the road becomes Merced Falls Road. Follow Merced Falls Road along the Merced River to the community of Merced Falls.
When the road makes a sharp turn northward, ignore the turn and signs that point toward Lakes McSwain and Lake McClure and continue north for 9 miles to Barrett Cove Road. Turn right (east) and in about a mile you’ll find the entrance gate to the Barrett Cove Recreation Area.
For more information about lakes McClure and McSwain, go to www.lakemcclure.com or call (209) 354-2960.
Updates about the bike park (including GoPro footage of riding the terrain) and other developments are regularly posted on the MID’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com/MercedIrrigationDistrict.