The Fourth Annual Epic Rides Carson City Off-Road is dedicated to Carson City native and trails community leader, Joel Dunn. Born and raised in Carson City, Dunn hasn’t only witnessed the evolution of Nevada’s state capital but has also been a driving force in its transition into a recreation-focused community.
Dunn started his journey at 14, dragging baseball fields for Carson City Parks and Recreation. After a short stint with Nevada Tourism, Dunn worked in marketing for Western Nevada College for more than a decade before coming back to Parks and Recreation where he spent the better part of 17 years developing group events — particularly softball tournaments — that brought thousands of people from around the country to Carson City.
“Between 1998 and 2013, the economic impact of sports tournaments was significant,” said Dunn. “During my time with Parks and Recreation, we increased the economic impact of tournaments from $3 million to $17 million.”
Dunn and his wife Sheri consider themselves a softball family, with a daughter who competed at the national level and Dunn himself a coach for three national championship teams. But Dunn realized sports tournaments aren’t enough to sustain Carson City tourism economically.
The catalyst for change came in 2013 when the Wall Street Journal published an article stating Carson City was one of the least likely communities to recover from the recession. When the Carson City Board of Supervisors saw this article, it set off a recreation movement changing the future of Carson City for the better, and Dunn has played an instrumental part.
But the big question is when it comes to rebranding a community to attract a younger generation of residents and visitors, why make trails the focus?
“While working for Parks and Recreation, I was aware Carson City acquired a significant amount of open space through a tax measure the city had adopted,” said Dunn. “I sat down with the open space advisory board and Juan Guzman to develop a plan around trails and recreation.”
Dunn saw the impact mountain biking had on other American West communities like Prescott, Moab, Sedona, and Park City, and thought it might work for Carson City as well. Carson had the land and the trails, now it just needed the people and a way to bring them in. In 2013, Dunn became executive director of the Carson City Visitors Bureau (now known as the Culture and Tourism Authority) and began efforts around rebranding Carson City as an outdoor recreation destination. Dunn didn’t waste any time, and within two years attracted Epic Rides and the Carson City Off-Road, putting the community in the national spotlight for mountain biking.
“Bringing Todd Sadow and the Epic Rides crew to Carson City was the showcase we needed to solidify our town as a recreation-focused community,” said Dunn. “But for us, it’s not as much about the event as it is about driving the culture change in our community. Who are the next 15,000 people moving to Carson City going to be? We want those who value and appreciate outdoor recreation.”
Since 2013, thanks to efforts around outdoor recreation, trails and well executed social media marketing, Dunn and his team at the Carson City Culture and Tourism Authority (CTA) have largely driven the generational shift that’s happening in the community. Not only are more families moving to Carson City, but transient occupancy tax revenue from hotels has doubled since 2013 from $1.2 million to $2.4 million. And since the redevelopment of Carson City’s downtown in 2016, vacant storefronts have dropped from 19 to only two on West Carson Street. But what Dunn is most proud about is what the CTA has been able to give back to the community financially.
“Since our rebranding in 2013, the CTA has been able to give $80,000 to our local trails organization, Muscle Powered, to use for environmental studies in building new trails,” said Dunn.
After retiring from the CTA in 2017, Dunn is still busy leaving his mark on the community in the form of a custom furniture business — Reclaimed NV — made from reclaimed steel and wood. His latest handmade creations are two massive outdoor benches at the Fox Brewpub thousands of visitors will gather around after an amazing day out on the trails — trails he helped create — bringing Dunn’s impact on the community full circle.
For information on the Off-Road Series, visit epicrides.com or follow @epicrides, @whiskeyoffroad, @carsoncityoffroad, @grandjunctionoffroad and @oztrailsoffroad on social media.