Is there an amenity in Mesa County that provides more bang for the buck than a new trail on public land?

Trails are relatively inexpensive to build, thanks to heavy reliance on volunteer labor in the form “trail build days” sponsored by the Colorado Plateau Mountain Bike Trail Association. There’s no land acquisition costs — just the time and energy advocating for trails within land management plans put forth by the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service.

But every mile of trail adds to an inventory that has a sizable impact on the local economy. About five years ago, researchers with Colorado Mesa University estimated the three popular bike trail systems in Mesa County bring in nearly $14.6 million a year — a figure that logically should have grown due to the recent addition of the Palisade Plunge.

As part of that CMU study, a survey of users reflected high satisfaction with the trails — and the majority of them indicated the only thing they would change is that they want more trails.

That’s happening — with the BLM soon to begin an environmental assessment for a large expansion of trails in the recreation area located off 18 Road in the North Fruita Desert.

The number of groups involved in the process shows how much effort it takes to deliver the difference-making benefits of trail expansion to the community — more fun, more economic impact, better health.

Mesa County Public Health Trails Coordinator Ross Mittelman recently worked with the city of Fruita to apply for a small grant through Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO) to fund four weeks of trail building with a Western Colorado Conservation Corps crew.

The long-term NFD Master Plan was completed in 2018 with additional support from GOCO.

If the city wins the grant — to be announced in December — it will fund the construction of between three and four miles of new trail. Trail advocates are sizing up other funding opportunities for the remaining 28 miles of proposed new trails in the master plan.

As the Sentinel’s Dan West reported this week, partners on the project — including Mesa County Public Health, COPMOBA, the BLM and Fruita — have been discussing how to go about the construction process.

“Of those 32 miles, what percentage should be done by a contractor, what percentage can be done by COPMOBA and other volunteer groups, what percentage can be done by WCCC, what percentage can be done by Mesa County or Grand Valley Trail crew?” Mittelman said.

Once the environmental assessment is completed, Mittelman said there will be a rush to build as much trail as possible.

“Once we have this fully completed and the green light from the BLM we’re just going to try to build pulling from as many resources as possible just to get the trails on the ground that people here really want,” Mittelman said.

Anyone who wants those new trails, or plans to use them, can support the effort by making contributions — via the upcoming Grand Valley Mountain Bike Film Festival or directly to COPMOBA — or by signing up to participate in trail-building events.