‘A good change’

Growth of 18 Road mountain bike trails a positive for economy

Tim Bovee and Rick Haddock ride on a trail in the 18 Road mountain bike system on Saturday. The popular mountain biking area north of Fruita has seen an increase in visitors in the past 10 years, more than doubling from an estimated 33,000 visitors in 2005 to an estimated 77,000 in 2015. The popularity of the trails draws riders from all over the state, including western Colorado.



Andy Finley, yellow, looks at the trail map at the 18 Road trail system Saturday. The popular mountain biking area north of Fruita has seen an increase in visitors in the past 10 years, more than doubling from an estimated 33,000 visitors in 2005 to an estimated 77,000 in 2015. The popularity of the trails draws riders from all over the state, including western Colorado.



Andy Finley, yellow, leads Tim Bovee and Rick Haddock on a trail at the 18 Road trail system on Saturday. The popular mountain biking area north of Fruita has seen an increase in visitors in the past 10 years, more than doubling from an estimated 33,000 visitors in 2005 to an estimated 77,000 in 2015. The popularity of the trails draws riders from all over the state, including western Colorado.



QUICKREAD

ON THE WEB

Websites that provide a full map of the 18 Road mountain bike trail system, along with others in the Grand Valley and beyond:

Colorado Plateau Mountain Bike Trail Association: http://www.copmoba.org

Bureau of Land Management: http://www.blm.gov

Mountain Bike Project: http://www.mtbproject.com



The 18 Road mountain bike trails north of Fruita have gotten a lot more attention over the years.

Back in 2005, according to Chris Pipkin of the Bureau of Land Management, an estimated 33,000 annual visitors came to the trails. Ten years later, that number has more than doubled to 77,000.

“Anymore, it’s really hard to tell the difference between a holiday weekend and a regular weekend out there,” Pipkin said.

The 18 Road trails now serve as a boon to the city’s tourism industry and economy as opposed to more than a decade ago, when only a handful of trails graced the area that expands all the way to the Bookcliffs and beyond. In the past five years, the numbers boom has come thanks to the diversity of the trails, which draws mountain bikers of all ages and abilities.

But even with the diversity of riders who make their way to 18 Road to fill their mountain-biking fix, regular riders feel secure knowing the trails are being taken care of even after heavy usage.

“There’s a lot of trails out there where the term ‘loving it to death’ could totally be put into play,” said Landon Monholland, general manager of the popular Fruita bike shop Over the Edge Sports. “There’s (trails) that are wider than they’ve been in the past, but they’re not terrible and they’re still just as fun as they were a long time ago.”

ROOTS AND CULTURE

Dani Weigand has been riding the trails at 18 Road since, as she put it, there were only two or three established trails.

Weigand, a Fruita native and Colorado Mesa University graduate who now lives in Salt Lake City, makes it a point to hit the trails whenever she comes home to visit family. She reaffirmed Monholland’s point, how some of the trails she has ridden recently in her early 40s are just as fun as when she started riding them as a Fruita Monument High School student.

What she’s most impressed by are the droves of people who have discovered what she considered to be the diamond in the rough of mountain biking.

“I’ve literally seen it go from being just a dirt-pad parking lot with only a few trails out there to a conga line of people jonesing to get out there,” she said. “It’s been a huge change, but it’s been a good change.”

The good is because of the exposure and business the bike trails have brought to the area. The parking lots and camping areas can become very crowded, but with the trail system spread out enough, any sense of claustrophobia can be remedied by an off-the-beaten-path ride in the area, she said.

Monholland said much of area’s current popularity stems from an article about Fruita’s 18 Road trail system in the 2013 January/February edition of “Bike Magazine,” which put Fruita on the cover of its annual Bible of Bike Tests gear-guide issue.

“I still lave a copy of that issue,” Monholland said. “Everyone really started flocking here after that.”

The crowds of riders who come to 18 Road have made it appealing. The families who have recently begun to frequent the campsites have intermingled with the regular mountain bikers and their typical low-key temperament, which all falls in line with the diverse levels of difficulty within the trail system.

“In the grand scheme of things, mountain bikers have become more and more recreational,” Monholland said. “In the past, they were crazy hard-core adventure seekers who weren’t afraid of insane challenges. Now, the average mountain biker wants less and less of a challenge, and you’re starting to see a lot more families involved. The 18 Road trails play into all of that.”

NEARING CAPACITY

The 18 Road system is full of trails that range from easy to difficult, with some not spanning more than two miles, with all of it detailed on trail maps provided by the BLM and the Colorado Plateau Mountain Bike Trail Association. Kessel Run is regarded as the one of the oldest and easiest of the nine trails in the system.

Not included in the primary trail system is Edge Loop, which extends 28 miles from the northern part of the trails into the Bookcliffs north of Fruita. That trail is seasonally closed from Dec. 1 to April 1 because of snow and mud conditions.

Right next to Kessel Run is the BLM’s established campground, which holds 58 campsites. According to Pipkin, plenty of people go the dispersed camping route because the other campsites are often full or they simply want to avoid the BLM’s $10 per night camping fee.

That can present a problem, he added, since rest room facilities were built only to accommodate those who stay in established campsites.

“We have had issues with unkept fires and human waste,” he said, adding that campsite trash has also been a problem. “We do have requirements put in place that those people who do dispersed camping are supposed to follow, but compliance has been an issue with some.”

Trail maintenance, however, has not been an issue since the BLM and COPMOBA each help repair and maintain the trails. This year has been a little easier, Monholland said, thanks in part to the wet spring that helped compact the dirt on the trails to make them less susceptible to erosion.

COPMOBA is broken into five chapters, with the Grand Valley Canyons Chapter helping to oversee trails in Palisade, Grand Junction, Fruita, Loma and Mack.

“The last time I went there, I took the opportunity to ride on a weekday,” Weigand said. “(Trail work is) pretty noticeable, but they’ll tape up sections of the trails to allow for more growth. I know I took the time to thank them for their work because, if something was wrong, it would be a lot more noticeable.”

EXPANSION ON THE HORIZON

With all of the trail traffic and the area’s increase in popularity, the BLM is aggressively seeking ways to expand the parking area and trail system at 18 Road. That’s easier said than done, Pipkin said.

The BLM worked in conjunction with Mesa County to submit a grant application through the Federal Lands Access Program to improve and expand facilities and trails in the area surrounding 18 Road.

Proposed improvements include paving 18 Road closer to the bike trails, expanding the parking area at the trail head, adding more restroom facilities and, of course, adding more bike trails to accommodate the ever-growing crowds of riders. Pipkin said they should find out in early August if the 18 Road proposal made the short list of possible approvals.

Pipkin added the improvements not only would improve the quality of the site, but could open the door for the area to host some large-scale mountain biking events.

The area already hosts the popular springtime race Rumble at 18 Road, which annually draws more than 100 riders.

Some mountain-bike enthusiasts passionately feel there’s room for growth in the area.

“If you take a look down on the 18 Road system from the top of the Bookcliffs, you can visibly see at least six more places where new biking trails could go in,” Monholland said.

The BLM is going beyond the bike trails. Pipkin said grant funding would also be used to build more established campgrounds as a revenue generator, with potential money from those campsites going toward more maintenance and upkeep of the entire 18 Road trail system.

It could only benefit a trail system that, by many accounts, has become mountain biking destination rivaling Moab, Utah. That potential growth is something longtime riders like Weigand look forward to.

“I love Fruita,” she said. “It’s still a place where, when I pull up into the parking lot and unload my bike, I get a little giddy. So anything that will help reasonably sustain growth is something I’m all for. And I’m probably not the only one.”


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