SALIDA, CO – It’s mid-summer and the trails above downtown Salida are bustling with hikers, dog walkers, trail runners and mountain bikers.
It’s a rewarding sight for the board members and supporters of Salida Mountain Trails. Since it’s formation in 2004, Salida Mountain Trails, working cooperatively with the City of Salida, Chaffee County, and local offices of the US Bureau of Land Management and the US Forest Service have created 23 miles of new trail for the enjoyment of locals and visitors alike.
BLM statistics point to impressive growth in usage on the Arkansas Hills Trail System. In 2010 BLM monitoring devices counted more than 10,000 users passing a single trail junction on this system. By 2013, that number had increased to 17,286.
Statistics from bike and outdoor industry organizations and advocacy groups point to the economic benefits of so many folks enjoying trails. As an example, an Outdoor Foundation study in 2010 found that biking alone contributes $6.2 million to the eight-state Rocky Mountain region by supporting jobs, increasing state and federal tax revenues, and boosting sales at bike shops, other retail stores, restaurant and lodging properties. A 2013 City of Salida survey found that 59 percent of Salida lodging operators agree non-motorized trails are important to attracting guests.
Boathouse Cantina owner Ray Kitson gets the math and says that’s part of why he supports SMT: it’s simply good for business. To that end, earlier this year, Kitson created a voluntary one-percent donation program at the Cantina that is soon to be replicated at Kitson’s other restaurant, River’s Edge. Diners can opt out of the tax but so far, few have. In fact, on July 17, Kitson wrote a check to SMT for just over $5,000, the amount of money raised by the program in May and June.
The Run Through Time Marathon, which uses local singletrack trails for its running event, also recently gave SMT a check for $6,000 from proceeds from the race held in March. The race also benefits the Chaffee County Running Club, a group that works closely with Salida Mountain trails to plan, build and maintain in-town trails.
One of the biggest examples of SMT’s commitment to putting donations to work is the progress made this summer on a re-route and improvement to the upper stretches of the Cottonwood Trail. With a projected total price tag of $205,000, the project will provide 6.1 miles of new trail and provide a critical link to the 17-mile loop beginning and ending in downtown Salida and the Arkansas Hills Trail System. Progress on the trail is moving quickly thanks to monthly volunteer trail work days hosted by SMT on the second Saturday of each month that attract 20 – 40 local trail enthusiasts each session. SMT funds also pay for contracts with professional trail builders – Arrowhead Trails Inc. and Tony Boone Trails LLC – to bring crews and mini-dozers to help etch in new tread, especially on some of the more challenging reaches of the new trail. The Southwest Conservation Corps and Volunteers for Outdoor Colorado are also contributing human-powered muscle to build the trail in concentrated work weekends attracting upwards of 50 volunteers each. While weather creates uncertainty in the completion of any trail building project, the Cottonwood project appears likely to be completed in advance of its projected opening next spring.