The Trailblazer

Founder, Gunnison Trails

Feb 25, 2009
Outside Magazine

In the 1980s, the lands southwest of Gunnison, Colorado, weren't being used for anything except party spots and dumping grounds for furniture and appliances. Back then, the BLM policy was simply "There will be no new trails." No explanation. So we just started going out and building trails. We'd push one of the braided, very faint cow trails in, do a little work with a shovel. There weren't any laws on the books that said you couldn't. It took us seven years of cleanup days before we got on top of the trash. A new trail or two was popping up every year.

The last of the pirate trails got built in the late nineties, when we realized the livestock trails we were "improving" were unsustainable. So my thought was, Let's put some high-quality trails that drain properly on the ground and get rid of the rest. That's when I started Gunnison Trails, in August 2006. I just chose a name and registered it as a nonprofit online.

Still, you walk into the Forest Service and tell them you'd like to propose a new singletrack, like our most ambitious, a trail between Crested Butte and Gunnison, and they look at you like you're Looney Tunes. But you keep going back. Now our district ranger knows my name.

There are wildlife and route-density issues, of course. So you pack a meeting room with 50 passionate trail users and find common ground with the land managers, county commissioners, etc. Sage grouse brood rearing is a springtime activity? No problem; we can close the trails during the spring. To make it happen, I have to sell it locally as an economic driver, even though overcrowding is the last thing I want to have happen.

All 30 miles of trails we've built so far have been made by a core group of about 25 volunteers. I'm more passionate about trail advocacy than racing mountain bikes. Competing in Leadville against an icon like Lance Armstrong is a special experience, no doubt, but winning is just a cherry on top of the training I was doing anyway. And sure, I'm a little bit selfish in that I ride all the trails we build. But they're not just Dave's trails. We built them for theentire community.