I love my mountain bike. It gets me into the woods in the most dynamic way, with silence, speed and fun. It carries me over rocks, roots, jumps and gets me pitted in banked turns with thrilling G-forces.
Yet it’s the trails that show me how awesome my bike really is. Trails that are designed and built for bikes, or at least with bikes in mind, provide a rollercoaster like thrill while flowing through the forest in a quiet and sustainable manner.
There was a time when all we could ride were fire roads, animal trails and old hiking trails designed to go from A to B. There was a lot of bushwhacking, hike-a-biking, and blood. Our bikes had no suspension, our handlebars were narrow and our stems were long making “Over The Bars” a regular experience. We wore tennis or hiking shoes with toe clips, no pads, and our helmets more resembled Styrofoam cups than bike helmets of today. We thought our 1.75 tires were fat and we had these dangerous brush hooks on our handlebars we called “bar ends”. That was before we realized that, like a motocross rider, our bars should be wider than our shoulders.
Welcome now to this fresh brave world where mountain bikers are pioneering new styles of trail designed for fun and sustainability. The huge majority of public trail maintenance and new trail construction in the US is being done by mountain bikers. It can be argued that mountain bikers are creating the most sustainable trails ever seen in the forest and are the least intrusive of the human forest users. Nonetheless, we are the newcomers to forest recreation and are held to a higher standard than others. And that’s OK, we can (and do) set the bar to higher standards of sustainability.
Here in Routt County the riders have been working closely with the USFS for years to develop new legal trails for all users. The local forest service department has been cooperating with RCR to keep existing trails open and develop new ones. Recognizing that there was a clear need for more progressive trails for advanced riders, the unauthorized trails on Buff Pass were left open for over ten years after USFS discovered them. We should be thankful that our local USFS took a route similar to the approach taken on Teton Pass, as opposed to other areas like Sedona where there is more disagreement than cohesion between local riders, builders and the USFS.
Those unauthorized trails were originally created by animals, hikers and equestrians, then many years later when our bikes got super rad, the trails needed to match, so riders enhanced trails making them more fun and sustainable at the same time. Although riding these unauthorized trails is legal, building them is not. We have been benefitting from the USFS’ wait and see stance for many years.
In cooperation with the USFS, RCR is now constructing miles of new, legal trails for users of all abilities, and the building of unauthorized trails on public land is threatening the future of legal trail construction in the valley.
Less than two months ago the first advanced trails of the Trails Alliance proposal were opened. These are not entirely new trails but adoption of old unauthorized trails with major reroutes, avoiding unsustainable sections of trail and adding fun, flow and features that make the trails even more bike friendly. The USFS is now allowing progressive trails and features for advanced riders, and this is just the beginning. With local support we will get bigger, better and more of the advanced trails most riders are seeking and are so sparse in our local trail system.
There are many people to thank for the trail system we have now, including the illegal builders and the USFS. However it is now time for the illegal building to stop. The USFS needs cooperation from the riding community to halt the illegal building of unauthorized trails in order for them to continue to endorse the construction of new, legal, progressive trails. RCR is a local non-profit organization that will accept (almost) anyone’s input and help in any part of the process. Want to help design the next trail? We welcome your input. Want to build and learn the craft of sustainable trail construction? Come join us, we welcome your assistance. With RCR you have unlimited access, your voice and passion will be heard and embraced.
Aryeh Copa is President of Routt County Riders Trail Builders