When John Gallagher moved to Cody in 1993 there weren’t any mountain biking trails in or near town. An avid rider, he took to riding the cow trails. He joined several other enthusiasts to construct the first purpose-built — meaning it was designed specifically for biking — trails in the community.
Riders like Gallagher have been adding to the trail system ever since, logging more than 600 hours of volunteer labor and finishing 8 miles of trail this summer.
Cody isn’t alone. Communities across the state are adding to mountain bike trail systems.
“Mountain biking is growing tremendously,” said Linda Merigliano, recreation program manager with the Bridger-Teton National Forest.
Chris Owen, the trails program manager for Friends of Pathways in Jackson, used to work on a trail crew for the Forest Service. He estimates about 20 new miles of trail have been added to the Jackson area in the past 10 years. There’s about 125 miles of trail in the front country, which includes Munger Mountain, Teton Pass and Snow King.
The increased popularity in mountain biking is likely in part attributable to changes in technology; bikes are simply better and more comfortable, Owen said. But it’s also the trails. The more accessible trails there are the more people pick up the sport.
While biking in Jackson isn’t new, there has been a significant increase in demand for more trails closer to town, which puts pressure on specific areas, Merigliano said. There’s also more people in general getting out on trails, and not everyone wants to share. In some places designating trails for specific activities makes sense. “But you cannot provide a separate trail system for every use,” she said. “You would just overwhelm the system.”
The proposed Skyline Trail near Cache Creek became a source of controversy in 2011, due to worries of wildlife impacts and concerns that mountain biking was already overwhelming hiking and horseback riding. The Forest Service paused planning and conducted a district-wide trail assessment.
The Skyline Trail is expected to be completed in a couple of years, however the Forest Service isn’t planning any other new trails in the area, instead focusing on repairing existing ones.
“We’re pretty darn close to building-out on our trail system here,” Merigliano said.
Other communities, such as Cody, are just starting to create what they hope will become larger trail systems. This year, trail builders in Cody added a downhill riding trail and a climbing trail. There are plans for a mountain bike park in town, Gallagher said.
He’d love to see the trails system one day reach about 30 miles of interconnected routes easily accessible from town. But more important to Gallagher than the mileage is the trail design.
“It’s more about quality of riding than quantity of riding,” he said. “There’s a bit of engineering and science and a lot of art that goes into designing these trails.”
While Gallagher is loving the trails in Cody, when he wants something new he doesn’t have to go far.
“There’s people building trails all over the place,” he said.
The Dubois Association for Recreation and Trails opened the multi-use Dubois Overlook Trail at the end of May. The association is also planning non-motorized trails on Togwotee Pass and a network of multi-use trails on Bureau of Land Management land near Dubois.
The Sheridan Community Land Trust is working on 34 miles of non-motorized trails for hiking, biking and horseback riding. Within that trail system some sections will be designated for specific use, said Colin Betzler, executive director. The Forest Service and BLM still have to approve the trail proposed on their land near Red Grade Road in Big Horn.
Meantime, work is underway on a section of the trail on state land, and by the end of September there should be two miles finished and ready for use, he said. The organization worked with a trail designer from the International Mountain Bicycling Association to design fun trails that have options for all abilities and also are sustainable, Betzler said.
The Red Grade trail complements the 4 mile Soldier Ridge Trail adjacent to Sheridan, which opened a couple of years ago on a donated private-land conservation easement.
With more options across the state, there’s always some place to ride, said Brent Skorcz, president of the Sweetwater Mountain Bike Association.
In Green River, where they added a mountain bike skills park in town as well as 25 miles of trails, Skorcz sees people visiting from other Wyoming towns who are looking to ride something new. People also stop on their way to better-known mountain biking destinations, such as Utah.
The Green River trails are so popular the bike club mapped out possible expansions, but it might be a while until there is funding, Skorcz said. In the meantime, if he ever tires of the trails in Green River there’s no shortage of options in other Wyoming towns to explore.