Updating leisure trails in rural Wyoming: a solution to spur tourism or construct area people?

0
20

On a recent weekday evening, some members of the Sublette County Trails Association updated some old mountain bike trails outside of Pinedale.

“Try bending it back and just sneak in,” Ryan Grove explained to Paul Swenson. “So it’s not a fall line all the way, and then we’re going to put some drains in there.”

They considered how best to restore a path that had partially given way to Mother Nature with overgrown foliage.

These special trails were built for downhill mountain biking in the late 90’s.

“Maybe a little early for downhill mountain biking in the West, which is now gaining popularity,” said member Alex Artz. “These trails are still used and usable, but they definitely need a lot of improvement.”

Caitlin Tan

/

Public media in Wyoming

Sublette Trails Association member Alex Artz digs in an old mountain bike trail.

In places like Jackson or Laramie, there are many purpose-built trails for activities like biking and hiking, and while there are endless trails in the more rural parts of Wyoming, many of them are cattle, wildlife, logging roads, or just plain rugged.

As such, the goal of the Sublette County Trail Group is to make these ancient, steep trails more user-friendly for biking, hiking, and horseback riding.

According to Grove, well-maintained trails with switchbacks and water runoff can make a big difference in an outdoor adventure.

“A lot of people get hurt just coming down trails that are too steep, and whether they’re stepping on a rock or rocks come loose because the trail is eroding,” he said. “It’s more fun, accessible and safer for everyone.”

Tim Farris, Jackson Ranger District trail and wilderness specialist for the US Forest Service, said the agency oversees about 750 miles of trails in the Pinedale area.

“A lot of the paths just weren’t designed, you know, they were basically the shortest distance between two points,” he said.

Farris added that working with trail organizations is helpful.

“We don’t have the manpower to really fix all these tracks,” he said.

Two people are digging a path in a wooded area.

Caitlin Tan

/

Public media in Wyoming

Trail group members Paul Swenson (right) and Alex Artz work trails outside of Pinedale.

Even at the state level, Pinedale is recognized as a place ripe for updated trails.

“Pinedale is that semi-undiscovered outdoor recreation heaven,” said Patrick Harrington, manager of the Wyoming Office of Outdoor Recreation.

Harrington said his office hopes to work with Pinedale locals on trail development in the near future, adding that trail systems and tourism go hand in hand.

In recent years, a record number of visitors have explored Wyoming’s public lands.

“I think my office is coming of age at a really important time in Wyoming’s history, and we’re looking at big-scale development and the future of our state,” he said.

Harrington’s office has formed “collaborations” with seven different communities in the state. They are focused on making outdoor recreation more accessible.

Harrington said building and updating trails for newcomers is critical to sustainability.

“The option is to act now in a way that doesn’t damage resources, doesn’t hurt wildlife and is considerate of the community that it’s in,” he said.

Harrington said he recognizes that many locals in Pinedale live there because it’s remote and the mountains and trails are rugged.

“My office is very mindful of that perspective,” he said. “And if we don’t get in with that, we’ve got a boiled idea that we want you to do in your community. Instead, we want to hear what’s important to you from all of you.”

It seems rural places like Pinedale are at a crossroads. The state is striving for economic growth as its main industry, coal mining, is in decline and tourism continues to grow.

While members of the Trails group have expressed that they know growth is inevitable in Pinedale, they are more interested in updating the trails for the local community, not really to boost tourism.

Alex Artz said they’re just trying to improve on what’s already there and make replicating more fun.

“We don’t want to turn into Jackson Hole. We don’t want to be anyone else,” Artz said. “We just want to be Pinedale.”