For much of the 1990s, Moab’s world-famous Slickrock Trail was the place to be.
Over time, though, the novelty wore off for many mountain bikers, and their attention turned to Fruita, Colorado, and other emerging mountain bike hotspots around North America.
A volunteer-driven group took note of the potential loss of visitors, and over the years, it worked to keep Moab on the map by expanding opportunities for mountain biking.
Grand County Trail Mix took shape in 2000, and since 2005, it has added more than 200 miles of mountain bike trails around Moab, according to Trail Mix Committee chair Sandy Freethey.
“In 10 years, that’s a lot of change,” she told the Grand County Council March 3.
Last year, volunteers contributed 6,600 hours of their time to Trail Mix projects. That’s more work than three full-time employees could perform on their own, according to Freethey.
Many of them are “casual” visitors who pass through town, and step up to help out for a day or a week. Efforts to recruit new volunteers at the local level have turned out to be more challenging, according to Freethey.
“One thing we haven’t been good at … is bringing on the new blood,” she said.
However, it has forged partnerships with Canyonlands Natural History Association, Moab Trails Alliance, Moab Friends-For-Wheelin’ and numerous other private entities, as well as government agencies.
Their combined efforts help Trail Mix keep its construction costs down. By Freethey’s estimates, Trail Mix spent about $1,500 to $2,000 per mile of trail last year, depending on construction-related difficulties.
In comparison, Freethey noted that Duluth, Minnesota, crews spend as much as $40,000 per mile of trail, while Moab’s nearest competitors in Fruita spend an estimated $28,000 per mile.
“We are a real bargain in trail building,” she said.
Project funds come from a variety of sources, including Grand County tax revenues, Utah State Parks and Recreation grant money, U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) cost-sharing program funds and private donations.
Increasingly, trail map sales have turned out to be an important source of project funding.
“Last year, it was $20,000 worth of $2 maps,” Freethey said.
Grand County Council Administrator Ruth Dillon noted that visitors can now go online to download a Trail Mix smartphone app.
According to Dillon, a local resident designed the app, which is available to Apple or Android smartphone users through iTunes and Google Play.
It shows users many of the local trail tracks, including elevation profiles, against their GPS positions and road or satellite images. Profits from app sales benefit trail projects around Moab.
Over the years, Trail Mix has actively developed the Moab Brands and North Klondike Bluffs areas near Arches National Park, as well as the Mag 7, Gemini Bridges and 7-Up trail systems west of U.S. Highway 191.
Grand County Council member Jaylyn Hawks and her mountain bike ventured onto one of those new trails in the North Klondike Bluffs area, and that ride turned out to be “very brutal,” in her words.
The good news for mountain bikers like Hawks is that there are more beginner-level trails than ever before, as well as a growing number of nonmotorized trails for hikers and equestrians.
Altogether, the new trails cater to a wider variety of skill sets, and with more opportunities out there now, Freethey has found that visitors are spending more time in the area.
“We feel that we really have changed mountain biking tourism in this town a lot,” Freethey said. “Now, we have people staying for a week.”
Grand County Council member Ken Ballantyne, for one, was happy to hear the news about Trail Mix’s recent work.
“I think this is fantastic,” he said.
Other communities are also paying attention to the group’s efforts, according to Freethey: Trail Mix representatives have even advised Fruita’s neighbors in Grand Junction, Colorado.
The future is not without its challenges, though.
Up until recently, there was very little industrial activity in the Big Flat or Gemini Bridges areas, but oil and natural gas development there has taken off in recent years.
“Oil got to be really popular, so here came all of the trucks,” Freethey said.
Today, trail users are contending with heavier traffic and speeding vehicles along State Route 313.
However, Freethey said that Trail Mix is working with Fidelity Exploration & Production to mitigate future impacts.
The group is also dealing with the sheer number of local events that make use of the area’s expanding network of trails. In some cases, Trail Mix will follow up with event organizers to perform trail maintenance work after an event.
“It’s working out pretty well,” Freethey said.
Volunteers help Trail Mix expand routes around Moab
“We are a real bargain in trail building.”
For a detailed list of local mountain bike trails, go to discovermoab.com/biking.htm.