By Renée Jean, Business and Tourism Reporter
When Rio Rose came to Lander in 2003, it was for the climbing community. But, over the years, a new adventure beckoned. An adventure on two wheels that can take you up and down Wyoming’s hilly terrain in all sorts of weather. Even winter.
“It started as transportation for me,” Rose said. “Living 5 miles from town, it was how I got around. These days, for me mountain biking is an awesome way to get out into nature. The bikes these days are so capable, that they are an incredibly fun way to cover a lot of ground quietly in the mountains.”
He’s not the only one. Mountain biking is trending once again across the nation, partially spurred by the pandemic, when people were looking for outdoor activities away from crowds, and partially spurred by the outdoor sport’s recent development into a coed sport through the National Interscholastic Cycling Association, launched in 2009.
“When I moved here, at least in Lander, there was very little mountain bike scene,” Rose recalled. “And now I mean Lander is supporting two bike shops, and we’ve got a ton of trails, a huge riding community, and you see high-end bikes on the back of just about every car. Things have changed significantly.”
Cowboy State Has Big Mountain Biking Advantages
Wyoming has wide open spaces and lots of public land with varied terrain, which leaves it primed to capitalize on the national trend toward mountain bikes in a big way.
Grass roots groups across the state, meanwhile, are already working on it.
Wyoming Pathways, for example, worked on three trails in the Cowboy State last year, including a downhill mountain bike slope in Lander, designed to separate mountain bikers from other trail users.
“That’s the first of its kind on public lands in the region,” Wyoming Pathways Director Michael Kusiek told Cowboy State Daily. “We did that for safety concerns. Often times, trail conflict is one of the things that challenges multi-user trails. A hiker or a horse and a bike sometimes just don’t mix. So, to pull people off a multi-user downhill trail, we have one that’s optimized for bikes.”
It also helps restore some of the more challenging opportunities for mountain biking experiences that have been lost over the years.
New Trails In Thermopolis, Laramie
The group also partnered with Bureau of Land Management, Hot City Outdoor Alliance and Thermopolis to build out a soft-surface, multi-use trail that leads from the city to an outlook known as Round Top, as well as to the ever-popular Hot Springs. The trail is designed for mountain bikes, horses, and hikers alike, but Kusiek thinks it’s particularly attractive to the mountain biking set.
“You could be staying at your house or hotel and just leave from town and be on your trail experience right away, which is kind of nice for the economy,” Kusiek said.
Often, visitors staying in a town leave after completing an experience, Kusiek said, but “if your car’s already in Thermop, and you go up and ride, you come back and you might grab a lunch or whatever, decide to stay for the hot spring. So, it’s another mechanism to grow the economy.”
Trail Building Across Cowboy State
For now, there are no stats being collected on the rising popularity of mountain biking in Wyoming, but Office of Outdoor Recreation Executive Director Patrick Harrington told Cowboy State Daily he has heard anecdotal evidence that mountain biking and trail use is growing in various communities across the state.
“There’s a group called Sprocket at Newcastle that’s developing some trails with partners in the northeast corner of the state,” he said. “There’s a project that our office has been involved with at Cody called the Outlaw Trail, which was initially a mountain bike-centered project and still is to some degree.”
The Buffalo Bill State Park masterplan, meanwhile, includes general multi-use trail development, as do other state parks.
“I think there’s a ton of opportunity,” Harrington said. “And I think one of the great things of Wyoming is that we have access to public lands in many towns, in any direction you drive.”
Trails in the neighborhood also don’t hurt property values, Harrington added.
“Some larger, national studies — not necessarily Wyoming specific studies — (show) that being within a quarter mile of a trail system increases your home value by 2 percent,” he said. “And that 85 percent of the people in those areas who live in that quarter mile radius use those trails.
“So I think there’s an economic impact. And there’s a public health impact. So there’s a lot of great opportunities coming out of that.”