By Beau Eastes

The Bulletin

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Printable map of the Tumalo Canal Historic Area:

TUMALO — There is a lot to like about the new pedestrian-only trail system in the Tumalo Canal Historic Area between Tumalo and Redmond.

Nearly 9 miles of wide singletrack works its way through Juniper trees in and around 100-year-old canals, remains of a failed reservoir project from the early 1900s. Trail runners and walkers do not have to worry about mountain bikes or horses sneaking up on them, and the views showcase Cline Buttes and the Cascades.

All good stuff.

But the solitude found on the trails trumps everything.

Located in the Bureau of Land Management’s evolving 32,000-acre Cline Buttes Recreation Area, the Tumalo Canal Historic Area (TCHA) is a sister project of the Maston area that has quickly become one of the more popular winter and spring mountain bike areas in Central Oregon. While Maston was designed with bikers, trail runners and equestrian riders in mind, the TCHA was created as a pedestrian-only network to help preserve the historic canals. (There is also a smaller equestrian-only network within the TCHA and a mountain bike and shared trail that both link the TCHA to Maston.)

“The Tumalo Canal Historic Area, that’s been set up to recognize and acknowledge the canal system and the history there,” says Bill Dean, a natural resource specialist with the BLM. “That area had some of the best remnants of the canal system, some of the most obvious canals.”

While friends of mine found the trailhead and network a bit confusing earlier in the year, everything seemed to be in order and was well marked as of last week. Traveling from Bend on U.S. Highway 20, head to Tumalo and turn north on the Cline Falls Highway as if you were going to Maston or Eagle Crest Resort. About 5 miles north of Tumalo turn left on Barr Road — a sharp left about half a mile before Newcomb Road and the impossible-to-miss Maston Trailhead sign. Do not be alarmed as Barr Road turns to dirt as it curves north. Stay on Barr until you reach the bright yellow cattle guard. I parked in a small pullout right before the cattle guard, but there is also a good-sized open dirt area just past it that is the official TCHA trailhead. (The BLM expects to build a parking area similar to Maston’s at the TCHA this summer.)

The benefits of driving a short distance north from Bend for a late-winter run were immediately obvious. I had left a classic Bend rain/snow March shower, but I was greeted by one of those 300 days of sunshine that Visit Bend likes to boast about when I got out of my car at the TCHA trailhead. Starting on the southernmost part of the trail network, I opted for a counterclockwise loop of about 5 miles.

My first thought while jogging north at a blistering 10-minute-mile (or so) pace was how the area reminded me of the Badlands east of Bend. If you do not appreciate the rugged beauty of juniper trees and lava rocks, the TCHA pedestrian trails probably are not for you. Most of the trails at the TCHA are in canal remains, which gives the paths a meandering riverlike flow that makes for easy running. On my jog, I trekked north about 2 miles to a remnant the BLM labeled “Canal Raceway Structure,” which turned out to be probably the best-preserved canal section in the trail network. From there I continued my loop back toward the trailhead, using a section of connector trails that were built specifically to unite the old canals for hikers and joggers. Where the canal trails are fairly straight with gradual turns, perfect for making good time and really striding out, the connector trails feature sharper angles, more inclines, and are more of the true singletrack Central Oregon runners have come to love. (The old canals are about as wide as a classic doubletrack or old jeep trail, just without the two tracks.) The contrasting trails mix well, and joggers and hikers can easily design loops that highlight either style.

Heading south on the second half of my jog I climbed a few hundred feet in elevation, which opened up some gorgeous views of the Cascade Range. Visibility was a bit limited when I was at the TCHA, but I imagine a bluebird day would showcase the Three Sisters, Broken Top and other mountain peaks nicely. An added bonus on the way back to my car was some kind of former structure made entirely of lava rock — House? Fire lookout? Irrigation office? — along a small ridge. The inner 12-year-old in me could not stop thinking about how this would be the greatest fort of all time. (The super fort sits about halfway between trail markers No. 4 and No. 5.)

In all, I spent almost two hours running, taking photos and exploring side trails in the new Tumalo Canal Historic Area and did not see another soul. Having spent too many late evenings trying to jam in a run on the Deschutes River Trail with the rest of Bend, this trip was a welcome respite, well worth the 20-minute drive from town.

If you go, though, do it soon, as the TCHA is ideal for cooler temperatures but probably will not be so fun during warmer weather as the trail becomes dustier. Even last week, parts of the trail were fairly sandy.

That being said, the Tumalo Canal Historic Area seems destined to become a winter trail running gem, similar to what Horse Butte and Horse Ridge have grown into for local mountain bikers.

—Reporter: 541-383-0305; .