Who would’ve thought mountain bike destinations like Moab, Sedona, Squamish and Fruita would be closed? Most mountain bike destinations towns don’t want you there right now and are taking measures to prevent you from coming. Driving to ride is part of the reason that these destinations are closed and will remain closed longer. Stay at home orders for some states are now being lifted. The freedom to travel is slowly creeping back to the table. As a result, the opening to visitors in certain destinations may be difficult and controversial.
Flashback a couple of months to our annual pilgrimage to our previous hometown of Sedona, AZ. We were already hearing about the significance of the Coronavirus. Extra precautions were being taken despite the massive event we were about to attend.
During the festival, everyone was talking about social distancing but hugs were still given maybe more than high fives. Hand Sanitizer was the hot freebie and was used enough that you’d think you were buzzing from all the absorbed alcohol. On our way home from the festival, we heard that Moab was already shutting down to visitors, closing camping, and most of the town in the middle of March.
How are Towns Dealing with Trail Traffic?
After hearing rumors of our local Pisgah National Forest (The Pisgah Shit Down) closures coming we wondered how other mountain bike destinations were handling things. We reached out to friends in several Colorado towns, Sedona, North Vancouver and the Grand Tetons to find out what was going on. Most mountain bike communities have figured out ways to keep trails open while others have much access restricted.
How are local leaders coming to these decisions? Are they worried about maintaining social distance, the strain on medical and search and rescue teams or to prevent people from driving to the trails and congregating in packed parking lots? Thus we thought it would be interesting to see how different communities are dealing with these difficult issues and began reaching out to friends.
Scot Nicol – Founder of Ibis, Santa Rosa, Truckee and Santa Cruz, CA
California was one of the first regions to start shutting down with stay at home orders. While in Truckee, CA at their mountain escape, he and wife Chappy heard the chatter that second homeowners might be flocking to the area and potentially spreading the virus. The town shut down all lodging and AirBNB’s and asked second homeowners not to visit, so they left and went back to home in Santa Rosa.
Annadel State Park, Scots daily rider from home, has been completely closed for a number of weeks. He just informed us that they’re reopening the park to local foot and bicycle traffic tomorrow. Some of the bike paths are only open to walkers, no bikes allowed. Scot has dusted off the road bike and has been enjoying the change of pace, different scenery and fewer cars out on the road.
Down in Santa Cruz where Ibis is located parks were also closed early, but are now allowing access in a restricted manner. The popular riding area of Wilder Ranch is now open, but with this caveat: “The park remains open for locals provided they practice safe, physical distancing of 6 feet or more and are visiting parks near their primary residences. This is not the time for a road trip to a destination park or beach.”
For diehard Ibis fans don’t worry the annual Ibis Migration in Mendicino this August which is SOLD OUT is still a go! Undoubtedly, there will be some modifications made to keep everyone safe, but it will still be awesome.
Ibis Cycles, like a few other socially conscious bike companies, are pivoting to make much-needed PPE for our frontline healthcare workers. Namely, producing face shields that preserve scarce supplies of N95 masks with their carbon fiber materials cutter. Instead of producing USA made carbon frames they are saving lives. Don’t worry they will get back to producing more life-saving bikes soon.
Scot says business goes on (mostly) as usual with almost everyone working from home. There are a few lonely warehouse and shield-making employees holding down the fort in Santa Cruz, CA. Ibis has been fortunate enough to keep their entire workforce employed with medical benefits intact.
Ash and Andi – Roam Events, Grand Junction, CO
Ash and Andi are new residents to Grand Junction. They just recently bought a house and moved out of Nancy, their converted school bus. Life has changed dramatically for these two with the recent Pandemic. They are no longer operating gatherings through at least June when they hope that they are back open and able to figure out a way to offer hugs and high fives in a safe way.
None of the trails in their town have been closed, although there might be more traffic on the trails. They’ve been doing their best to not be part of an overcrowding problem. Riding during non-busy times, taking their Ebikes out to Rabbit Valley and encouraging friends not to visit or ride in groups are their strategies. Incidentally, they have noticed some of their more popular trails around the Lunch Loops getting wider. People are taking social distancing seriously and it is seriously busting the crust. They hope that people are more thoughtful of how and when they pass to keep this to a minimum, as it takes years to repair.
Nearby Fruita, CO
This mountain bike mecca is usually flooded with early season riders escaping unrideable thawing ground still under snow. They are following many other destination towns that rely on tourism dollars in asking that people DO NOT visit right now.
Here is what the city of Fruita is saying: “Visitors stay home. Do your part to keep public lands open. Spread-out, take out the trash, obey rules of public lands, don’t congregate and don’t test your skills- be safe.”
Karen Jarchow – Ergon Marketing, Eagle, CO (Vail Valley)
We caught up with Karen for a FaceTime Coffee date just as she was starting her day rehabbing from recent hip surgery. Reminding us that the Vail Valley was mostly still under snow, her hometown of Eagle had the earliest dry open MTB trails in the area. Consequently, folks were flocking there to ride and with the increase in “new” adventurers who normally are not out recreating. The parking lots were full. The Town of Eagle had an early response, in part due to one of the earliest and unfortunate deaths in the region and they quickly realized the issue of overcrowding. They shut down all playgrounds, trailhead parking, campgrounds, BMX and the pump track in town as well as other areas conducive to gathering.
Karen says she is just happy to be able to get outside and says she moves on if an area looks crowded. She has taken the stance to not drive to recreate and just ride from home alone. With muddy trails drying out, regular Wildlife closures expiring and snow melting in the backcountry she is hopeful this will help to disperse people and make it easier to follow the guidelines and keep everyone safe.
Tony Ferlisi – Executive Director of Mountain Bike the Tetons
Most of the trails in the Teton Valley are still under quite a bit of snow, but Tony is confident that by the time trails are ready to ride, there will not be closures. The local officials in the Whydaho region have been providing some great information for its residents and potential travelers. The message is clear and asks folks not to travel at this time. There is a lot of social pressure not to travel to ride and with the backcountry still open, people are still getting out and social distancing carefully on their skis. For Tony, this means no annual pilgrimage down to the desert for a much needed warm and sunny riding trip.
With their MTB season quickly approaching, the 4 staff trail crew will be out clearing trees and drains as soon as they can to get the trails ready. Mountain Bike The Tetons has 2 big projects happening this summer. Understandably, Tony is worried about managing the volunteer crew needed for these. Thus, he is dreaming up ways to keep people 6 ft apart, disinfecting tools and organizing the work. Currently, his days are spent in virtual meetings as opposed to the regular face to face fundraising that usually happens this time of year.
For the most part, people are excited about the recent increased interest in trails and outdoor places. Compared to last year at this time shops around the country are experiencing a “Mini Bike Boom” due to the stay-at-home orders in many states. Tony is already scheming ways to work collaboratively to leverage these new riders and turn them into trail stewards and advocates. In other words, teach responsible trail use and make sure people understand there are no trail fairies.
Penny Deck, NSMBA Trailbuilder, North Vancouver, BC and Operations Manager / Fraser Valley Mountain Bikers Association
British Columbia Provincial Parks, much like state parks in the US are all closed. What this means for locals to the famous North Shore like Penny is that it limits one climb trail and road access to the ski area. Most trails in North Van are open and she hopes it stays that way. Local leaders realized quickly that the trails were getting very crowded and offered up some good – “STAY LOCAL” guidelines:
We would ask everyone to ride, rather than drive, to the trails and stay local.
If you must drive please:
Do not travel outside of your immediate region (ex. North Shore residents should not recreate in Squamish at this time etc.)
Follow all parking regulations – illegal parking will result in ticketing and the closure of the trails
Respect the neighbourhood’s residents
Park in a way to maintain the minimum 2 meters of physical distancing.
There is high traffic on the trails with increased usage as people are understandably getting tired of being inside. Penny suggests getting out early or riding later in the afternoon to spread users out. When the trails are too busy she just gets out on the gravel bike.
Trail work for volunteer groups and group rides have all been canceled until further notice. Work on the shore will continue due to the paid trail crew staff, but Penny has voiced some concern about trail funding. She says that cuts from the municipalities for trail work is happening all over BC. Being the Operations Manager for FVBMA she is hoping to secure a couple of grants for 2 student trail crew summer positions.
There was some early chatter about people from Vancouver going to ride up in Squamish but one Facebook group showed some trail forks data that it was increased traffic from Squamish locals clogging up the trails there. The interesting question that everyone wants to be answered is – When will Whistler Bike Park Open? Usually set to open in mid-May the park is not selling passes and does not have an opening date set yet.
Mike Raney, Sedona MTB Festival and Over the Edge Sports Sedona
Running the most successful early season MTB Festival right before the world shut down could not have been any more stressful, said Mike. He’s still hoping it was the right thing to do and is concerned already about the planning for next year. We feel like it was the first and maybe only big bike party of the year, but let’s hope not.
Compared to recent calls to the shop, which is open with limitations, late March they were flooded with inquiries from folks wanting to travel and rent bikes. After many stay at home orders began most of these requests have stopped. Besides being an amazing MTB destination Sedona is also a beautiful place to day hike. Consequently, the Forest Service had to close not only certain trailhead parking, but some very popular trails, as well as people, were not able to maintain proper social distancing. Attendants at the closures educate and inform trail users to recreate responsibly so there will not be further closures.
It seems as though folks are listening and abiding by the closures too. Mike says his safe-solo rides have been pretty solitary and the trails are not too busy. It will be interesting to see what happens in the future weeks as Phoenix starts to heat up and riders head north to get out of the furnace. Confident that things will pick up when allowed to open, Mike is having strange quarantine dreams – waking up in a tomb buried under hundreds of 2020 hydration packs!
Should you Travel to Mountain Bike?
Driving a vehicle to a crowded parking lot is part of the problem. As much as anyone we love to explore different places to ride our bikes. Now is not the time to do that at least till stay at home orders are lifted. Many locals are growing quite angry at people driving in from out of town. We’ve heard of confrontations and nasty letters being left on cars as well as lots of tickets. Here in Pisgah, many roads and trails aren’t clearly marked as closed and might catch visitors off guard.
How can we be better prepared for situations like this in the future?
A lot more went into making the decisions to close trails and parking lots than most of us realize. Many did a great job while others need a little help. Now is a good time for your advocacy groups to reach out to land managers. If you have suggestions make sure you voice them locally to help improve future responses.
Chances are that local trail advocacy is impacted or stressed during these times. Many volunteer organizations are not allowed to even do trail work. So now the typical spring cleaning of down trees and drain cleaning work is now piling up. If you can help out now your time would likely be much appreciated for upcoming trail workdays.