Last week members of the Colorado cycling industry, including retailers, government agencies, and journalists, attended the first Trinidad-Las Animas County Off-Road Cycling Symposium hosted by the City of Trinidad and Trinidad State Jr. College. It was a chance to share and learn more about the emerging southern Front Range cycling scene. Attendees heard from speakers like Troy Rarick and Paul Aieta of Over the Edge Sports in Fruita and Tony Boone of Timberline TrailCraft, and myself discussing gravel+mountain bike destination development in the region. Fueling the two days of discussion was the new Fisher Peak State Park and TSJC Trail Maintenance and Construction program. Most agreed that Trinidad’s historic setting on the tail end of the old west provides a unique platform to discuss the future of sustainable bike destination town development. A number of innovative ideas were shared around transportation, hospitality, and what a gravel+mountain bike destination could look like in SE Colorado and NE New Mexico. Many are already looking forward to continuing the conversation at next year’s symposium.
In many ways, a number of things taking place in Trinidad can be classified as “firsts.” Fisher Peak State Park is the first project where The Nature Conservancy and Trust For Public Lands came together to purchase a property with the explicit aim of balancing conservation and recreation for the benefit of a local economy. This leading-edge experiment is likely to be replicated in other parts of the west in the future. Supporting trail development on the property will be the partnership between Trinidad State and the Professional Trail Builders Association that creates the first two-year college trail building program designed to address the current employment gap in the global trail building industry. This program will not only help Trinidad build a trail, but also seed talent around the world with the same mission.
Troy Rarick stressing the importance of designing a mountain bike trail system with an end in mind, connecting to the downtown.
Add an extensive county road system of 1,600+ miles with routes that start and end downtown, have little to no traffic, through scenic Colorado terrain, and the region is poised to become one of the first iconic gravel bike destinations in the world. Backshop Bikes provided attendees with insights gained from the first gravel cycling tourism campaign created in 2019 in collaboration with the Colorado Tourism Office. While the “gravel bike destination” model is not a proven concept yet, a strong argument can be made that Trinidad is helping to lead the conversation and is positioned to quickly become a go-to destination for gravel bike enthusiasts. As the gravel category continues to expand in the years ahead, innovation in events and hospitality will be a natural side effect of the process. The 2020 symposium initiated a healthy discussion around what that may look like in a rural community.
City of Trinidad open space bike tour
While a strange time to host a cycling tourism symposium, the timing of it is significant. Trinidad, like many rural towns across America, is at a crossroads. The pandemic has sharply influenced, even expedited, an urban to rural migration pattern that can positively affect our society. A couple of years ago at the Mountain Ventures Summit, Stephen Glickman with the Economic Innovation Group shared a noteworthy statistic. One in six Americans lives in an economic distressed zip code. Economic inequality has created a schism in America that translates into opportunity gaps impacting countless rural communities. New residents and visitors in rural towns are in a position to counter the weight of inequality in meaningful ways. Innovations around a proven economic model like cycling can help reverse the downward spiral decline of resource extraction industries. In places like Trinidad, the bicycle, or rather recreation in general, has become the tool for breaking the malaise found in the repetitive patterns of a legacy with boom and bust cycles. Simply put. We want more people on bikes in rural towns.
Tony Boone sharing details on the TSJC Trail Maintenance and Construction Program and an update on the trails being built at Fisher Peak State Park
Looking ahead to 2021, the hope is the Trinidad-Las Animas County Off-Road Cycling Symposium will turn into an event that embraces and promotes the best practices for creating a sustainable bike destination. Trinidad’s slow evolution within the greater Front Range megaregion is a blessing in disguise. It is what will allow the community to address and plan against issues many other towns have already faced as they became popular places for people to live, work, and play. Things like job creation, affordable housing, traffic congestion, and access to open space all need to be thoughtfully approached. We have the chance to create the first sustainably designed and built bike destination environment. An example of this thinking was the healthy conversation around the integration of the SW Chief Amtrak train into the Trinidad gravel+mountain bike experience. Product innovation is defined as “the development and market introduction of a new, redesigned, or substantially improved good or service. However, it’s not only about developing something new and original, but also about taking what’s already there and making it much better. The “bike destination” product holds valuable socio-economic currency and thus is worthy of being improved.
Juan DelaRoca providing an overview of the 2019 Explore Las Animas gravel cycling tourism campaign
Attendees were invited to the A.R. Mitchell Museum of Western Art for dinner and comedy show.
Wally Wallace with the City of Trinidad Economic Development gave attendees a tour of the Fox West Theater and demonstrated the venue’s acoustic qualities with a couple of songs.