Dirt Work: Trail building efforts expand mountain biking in Lander

When Tony Ferlisi thinks about his favorite mountain biking areas, he thinks of the forests of Sun Valley, Idaho, and the high desert of Fruita, Colorado. He also thinks about his home, Lander, where perhaps the dirt tracks aren’t yet as plentiful or developed, but where he can ride 10 months out of the year. He can spend the summers in the shade on the Shoshone National Forest, the spring and fall on about 14 miles of desert-like terrain of an area south east of town called Johnny Behind the Rocks. He can take laps at lunch on the about eight miles of trail in town known as the Bus. For family outings, parents and kids can hit the jumps at a dirt park in town.

Kelsey Dayton

Lander has long been known as a climbing destination. But with efforts from local riders and new partnerships with the Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service, its mountain bike trail system is expanding. Biking enthusiasts hope that, soon, people will also come to Lander for the dirt.

The Lander Cycling club recently hosted its first mountain bike race in at least a decade. The Jurassic Classic drew almost 50 riders from throughout the region, racing in men’s and women’s, beginner, intermediate and advanced classes.

One racer, from Victor, Idaho, blogged about the race.

“When did Lander, Wyoming join the world of kick-ass singletrack mountain biking?” he wrote. “ … I was pleasantly shocked this weekend by the awesome dirt riding that has been quietly developed by the cycling community over here in the last few years. Really damn fun.”

That is the kind of endorsement Ferlisi hopes will continue.

Ferlisi moved to Lander last year, unsure what he’d find in terms of mountain biking. What he discovered was the Lander Cycling Club and a new energy to expand mountain biking opportunities.

It started with a small group of mountain bikers, sitting in a garage, looking at topographic maps and dreaming up trails they’d love to ride and how could they be built.

Growth was slow at first, but in the last year new government partnerships have helped invigorate efforts.

There used to be a lot of illegal trail building in the area. A big part of Lander’s recent growth in trails and the mountain biking scene is due to partnerships with the BLM and Forest Service developing trails and making sure mountain biking is part of the forest service’s forest management plan for the Shoshone National Forest and the BLM’s Resource Management Plan for the Lander regional office.

In June 2010 the cycling club approached the BLM about new trail development, said Jared Oakleaf, outdoor recreation planner with the BLM. Work involved designing and building new trails and maintaining and rerouting existing trails. People started riding cow trails on unstable soil that didn’t shed water. Those trails needed rebuilding.

The BLM worked through plans for trail development, maintenance and rerouting of existing trails, while the club gave perspective on what people want to ride. The BLM plans the trails to minimize impact on vegetation and for sustainability, the riders bring the “wow factor” to the design, Oakleaf said.

Community involvement created a sense of ownership amongst those who came out to community trail days and also sped up planned work.

It hasn’t been only riders involved, but others in the community, as well as businesses stepping up, Oakleaf said. More than 80 people helped with trails at the beginning of the summer, and logged more than 2,000 hours since October 2010 — not counting trail building days held in August and September. The community and Lander Cycling are expected to give more than $75,000 total to trail work by the end of 2012, he said. Efforts have included three miles of re-routed trails and maintenance on another 11 miles.

Rio Rose started mountain biking in the area about eight years ago when there weren’t organized trail building efforts, so he built unauthorized trails. There was a small group that would build trails and ride, but they saw the potential in the vastness of the land and the mix of rock and dirt to offer technical riding, with on the path.

Focus on new trails has been mostly beginner and intermediate, an effort to get more people in the community involved in the sport and create the next generation of riders, he said. That doesn’t mean in the future he doesn’t envision some harder trails.

“It’s still a pretty young scene,” he said.

Ferlisi doesn’t expect mountain biking to ever compete with climbing in drawing people to Lander. He hopes people will come to Lander to climb and toss their bikes in the car, too.

Most of the trails in the area are intermediate. Eventually the cycling club wants to offer a variety of terrain, so people can try and learn how to mountain bike, and experienced riders can challenge themselves.

Work this year has primarily focused on Johnny Behind the Rocks where the race was held, Ferlisi said.

There are plans to develop the Bus, which is mostly cow trails people have started to ride and run on. Next year efforts will focus on forest service land, where there will be more technical trails designed and Ferlisi envisions epic loops.

“That area is really going to take off,” he said. Eventually Lander will have it all in terms of terrain, with riding comparable to some of the best, but with its own unique twist — people in Lander don’t have to drive far from town.

For information on Lander’s mountain bike trails, visit the Lander Cycling Club web page at http://landercycling.org/.

— “Peaks to Plains” is a blog focusing on Wyoming’s outdoors and communities. Kelsey Dayton is a freelance writer based in Lander. She has been a journalist in Wyoming for seven years, reporting for the Jackson Hole News & Guide, Casper Star-Tribune and the Gillette News-Record. Contact Kelsey at kelsey.dayton@gmail.com.

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Kelsey Dayton

Kelsey Dayton is a freelancer and the editor of Outdoors Unlimited, the magazine of the Outdoor Writers Association of America. She has worked as a reporter for the Gillette News-Record, Jackson Hole News&Guide...

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  1. Hats off to the hard working trail volunteers. Mountain bike trails are a great addition to Lander’s outdoor options. Its great the BLM land managers are supporting the trails. Well designed trails are fun, sustainable, connect people with nature, and generate economic benefits for Lander as well.