Last week two great things happened in Carson City. First, we were designated a bronze-level Bicycle Friendly Community by the League of American Bicyclists. Second, the 7-mile-long Ash to Kings Canyon mountain biking and hiking trail was brought a significant step closer to completion with the installation of a bridge, by hand and by volunteers, over North Kings Canyon Creek.
As a member of the board of directors of Muscle Powered, our local bicycle-and-pedestrian advocacy group, I gave an interview to CCTV about the bike-friendly designation and the trail project.
Preparing for the interview, I asked myself, so what? Why should anyone in Carson City care we’re getting to be a better community for bicycling? Why should anyone care volunteer trail builders have pretty much completed a first-class single-track mountain biking and hiking trail in the mountains west of town?
A lot came to mind, but the two ideas I talked about in the interview were economic development and quality of life. That good bicycling conditions and good trails lead to a better quality of life is pretty easy to understand. But economic development? Do trails really make any difference economically in a town?
Apparently, they do.
A study by the University of Vermont in 2008 estimated expenditures by visitors to the Burlington Waterfront Path as $1 million to $2.5 million over a 5-month period. And this is a conservative estimate, it says, because it does not include expenditures by local path users. Moreover, it only measures tourism spending and does not include public health and quality of life benefits.
The Rails to Trails Conservancy reports trail-based tourism is a major economic driver in many small communities.
In Billings, Mon., trails are integral to the town’s economic development strategy. One in four businesses in Billings started after the owner had visited as a tourist. Billings Chamber of Commerce CEO John Brewer says, “Talented people move to Billings in large part because our trail system creates the quality of life they are expecting.
“A healthy trail system is vital to a healthy community.”
The Billings Chamber calls trails, “essential infrastructure for business recruitment.”
Muscle Powered’s master trail builder Jeff Potter started the trail project because he wanted good trails to ride, now it turns out we may be contributing “essential infrastructure” for business recruitment.
Jeff says Muscle Powered, close to completing the Ash-to-Kings trail (a second bridge, over Ash Canyon Creek, is going in next spring to complete the trail), is now looking at connecting to the Tahoe Rim Trail to the west and to the Clear Creek Trail to the south. They’re also looking at connecting Carson City to Dayton through the Carson River Canyon, and working on trail maintenance and new trail opportunities on Prison Hill once the city completes its acquisition of that property.
In yet another piece of good bicycling news for our town, Brent Ruybalid and other mountain biking advocates are working to start a competitive youth mountain biking league in Northern Nevada, including Carson City. The plan in Carson is to start the program at the middle school level; it’s also going to eventually include high school athletes.
The Nevada High School Cycling League is hosting a screening of “Singletrack High” — a heartwarming and inspiring hour-long documentary about high school racers in northern California — on Wednesday, Dec. 3 at the Brewery Arts Center (Doors open at 6 p.m., the show is at 7 p.m. with a Q&A session and raffle afterward. Admission is $5; teachers and students under 18 get in free).
I asked Brent why he thinks a youth mountain bike team is a good idea:
“In my opinion, cycling is a life changing sport,” he said. “A bike equals freedom, it can give you a way to escape, you can ride alone or in a group with male and female riders. You can ride for fun or be competitive and the only equipment you need is a bike and a helmet. Cycling promotes a healthy lifestyle, and getting young people off the couch and outside can change the way they see life. Kids who don’t play a conventional school sport will have the opportunity to represent their school in a fun and healthy way.
“The best way to see why it’s a good idea is to watch the film and see how it has changed those boys and girls lives! In my personal experience, I’ve seen cycling turn a criminal into an athlete and when he lost his way again... he turned back to cycling to correct his life.”
Anne Macquarie blogs about clean energy and climate change in Nevada at nevadanscleanenergy.org.