A handful of volunteers have turned 80 acres of city-owned property off University Avenue in Bethel into a haunt for mountain bikers, hikers and trail runners.
Bethel Haunted Forest is a new single-track trail featuring about 5 miles of natural-surface paths on land once used for the Fire Department’s haunted trail event.
Bethel City Council Member Richard Boe Wiitala came up with the idea after the COVID-19 pandemic hit and he began working from home. Without a commute, he suddenly had time on his hands.
“I was just literally looking for things to do,” he said.
Wiitala had started mountain biking about five years ago and noticed a lack of trails in the north metro. He also knew the 80 acres of land had been sitting unused for a few years and had potential. He put out a call, and four or five volunteers expressed interest in helping.
When Wiitala presented his idea to the rest of the City Council, they supported the idea and agreed the city would pitch in funds for some expenses, such as signs. So Wiitala and his crew went to work.
“We took our own time and equipment and went out and started building trails,” Wiitala said. “We’d go out there, a few of us, many nights, and even some lunch breaks we’d sneak out there.”
Using rakes, chainsaws and leaf blowers, the volunteers cleared the existing paths and cut a few miles of new trail as well.
The narrow, one-way trails are divided into three loops of increasing in difficulty. The first and easiest loop is about a mile long, and the medium loop is about 2.5 miles, followed by the advanced loop of roughly a mile. Signs mark where the trails diverge so you can choose whether to exit or branch off to the next loop.
The design embraces the remnants of the Fire Department’s haunted trail set scattered along the route to create a spooky theme.
Wiitala said the trail was finished around the beginning of June, and he has enjoyed seeing it grow in popularity.
“I love the exposure it’s bringing our small town,” he said.
There is state land nearby, and Wiitala is exploring the idea of expanding the trails further to make Bethel a nature trail destination in the north metro.
Wiitala said visitors should remember to bring good bug spray when they visit Bethel Haunted Forest. The trails are located at 23249 University Ave. Learn more at facebook.com/bethelhauntedforest and download the official trail map from the city’s website at tinyurl.com/y5lkt4zf.