Key Pen Parks’ 360 Trails is well-known among local hiking and mountain biking crowds for its 9 miles of well-maintained, secluded trails and sometimes flat, sometimes rolling terrain. A third group enjoys the trails from a loftier elevation: Horses and their riders have been welcome at 360 Trails since day one.
“The geology of the site is a sand-and-gravel deposit from the last ice age. Because it drains so well, it’s rideable 365 days a year,” said Key Pen Parks Commissioner Kip Clinton.
Located less than 4 miles from the Purdy bridge, 360 Trails draws horseback riding enthusiasts from throughout the Key Peninsula, as well as Gig Harbor and Kitsap County. “I expect, as word gets out in the horse community that Gateway Park/360 Trails has officially opened as a public park with parking for horse trailers, it will become a regional draw,” Clinton said.
360 Trails was carved out of miles of old logging trails crisscrossing Department of Natural Resources land. The trails’ poor condition as DNR land once rendered them only accessible by horse. “The park district got the property on a 50-year lease through a state trust land transfer,” Clinton said. “It’s morphed into more mountain-bike-accessible trail mileage and less horse-accessible trail mileage. Some separation between cyclists and equestrians has been necessary to prevent collisions and spooks.”
Scott Gallacher, executive director of Key Pen Parks, said the vast majority of the trails are open to horses. “Only one trail is for mountain biking only. Everything else is multiuser,” Gallacher said, adding that some trails are bikers and hikers only, while others are hikers and horses only. “We’re a small agency. We don’t have the resources and staff to build trails for one specific user group,” he said.
Over the past few years, dedicated mountain bikers have volunteered much of the time and effort required to expand and maintain 360 Trails. As a result, Gallacher estimates that 80 percent of current trail users are mountain bikers and hikers, while the remaining 20 percent are equestrians.
As part of the 360 Trails expansion, the former trailhead and parking lot on Powerline Road are now closed to all but emergency vehicles, and a large paved area at Gateway Park holds cars, trucks and trailers for horseback riders and mountain bikers alike. The latticework is evidence that horses were prominently in mind while the trails were being developed. “From a horseman’s point of view, asphalt is slippery for steel horseshoes and the lattice pavers with gravel infill provide better traction when loading and unloading from a trailer,” Clinton said.
Mark and Deanna Hunter live in neighboring Kitsap County, about 5 miles from the park. Mark is an avid mountain biker and Deanna loves riding the trails atop her horse, Taffy. “We call this horse-bike riding,” Deanna said. “We used to come out here when it was just 360, but now together with Gateway Park, it’s so beautiful. The new trailer parking makes getting in and out with horses so easy.”
“We’ve been riding out here about four years now,” Mark said. “We like to come out during the week, as weekends can get really busy.”
A need for equestrian-friendly trails has increased as property development has rendered many former horseback riding locations unusable. “Most horse people live in semi-rural or suburban areas and lack nearby horse-accessible trails. There may have been real trails when they got the property, but sprawl happened,” Clinton said. Recognizing a need, Key Pen Parks has leased another 480-acre parcel of land from DNR in the hopes of one day providing trails geared primarily to equestrians.
With the Key Peninsula’s water-bound geography restricting major commercial development, Clinton views access to nature as an important and sustainable draw for tourists. “I see park and trail development as an economic development tool for the KP,” she said. “This area is rural, with a few commercial centers. It has a limited ‘carrying capacity’ due to environmental constraints. However, it is within easy driving and cycling distance from cities. I believe recreational tourism is the economic future of the KP.”