Connecting a Town with Singletrack Sidewalks
What one town's quest to replace pavement with dirt trails means for the rest of the country.
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Some towns aim to become more “walkable.” One Colorado town has gone the two-wheeled route by becoming more “mountain bike-able.”
Eagle, Colorado, a 7,000-person town between Vail and Aspen, already has its share of walking paths and bike lanes, but its newest project will allow mountain bikers to ride from their driveways to the trails, and for kids to ride from their homes to school—all on singletrack. The town unanimously approved the project, called Singletrack Sidewalks, in November, and organizers have started preliminary work for the first part of the network, which will lead from a neighborhood to an elementary school. The new trail addition is only half a mile, but connects an existing network of organic trails that have popped up in a neighboring 1,900-acre plot adjacent to the school.
After the first section is completed this spring, other connectors will follow, the town hopes. The finished project will allow bikers to ride from trailhead to trailhead, or for runners to run from one corner of the town to the other, all on a dirt network. The end goal: to add about 10 miles of free-to-use trail.
The concept for the trail began when Eagle resident Mike McCormack noticed how many kids rode their bikes to school past his house using the rec path. As the father of a 6-year-old and an 8-year-old, he saw how kids created offshoots into the dirt from the paved path, and how they’d line up four or five deep to take turns hitting a natural feature. “We thought, ‘What if you could connect these existing paths and make little trails that connected all the different neighborhoods and to all the schools?’” says McCormack.
“You should go to the local elementary school and see the bike rack—it’s completely full. We’ll be able to give kids a little mini adrenaline rush on the way to class.
He rallied support from the local trails group, Hardscrabble Trails Coalition, the mayor of Eagle, and professional trail builders, Momentum Trail Concepts. They worked with the town and local homeowners for permission to use the land.
“As far as I know, we’re the first community to do something like this. I think there have been other towns that have trails that connect here and there, but we’re the first to have a planned focus on it,” McCormack says.
The benefits may go beyond the trail and into the classroom, said Eagle Mayor Yuri Kostick. He lives in McCormack’s neighborhood and said he sees how many kids ride to school every morning. “You should go to [the local elementary school] and see the bike rack—it’s completely full,” he says. “We’ll be able to give kids a little mini adrenaline rush on the way to school…When you talk about a few million dollars to build a highway interchange, or thousands to put into trails, that investment is a pretty good deal. I think this project could be a model for other communities.”
Mark Eller, communications director of the International Mountain Bicycling Association, agrees, adding that including kids in the equation has resonated within the mountain biking community. “Kids have been riding their bikes to school for a long time, but to create routes from communities and schools and especially getting kids involved in the building process is pretty unique in focus,” he said. “I think it’s a great fit for Eagle, and it could be a fit for other communities as well.”
Eller prediected that soon bike-friendly communities won’t just be rated on their bike lanes and paths, but also on their mountain-bike friendliness. “I think towns will be paying a lot more attention to it in the future. For places that invest in a lot of singletrack, it could be a major asset, and if you don’t have much singletrack, that can be a knock for you,” said Eller. “Portland comes to mind—it’s rated a platinum-level bicycle friendly community [by the League of American Cyclists]. But some people ask, “How can it platinum level if there’s not much of a mountain biking experience?”
Admittedly, not every town has the ability to connect all its schools with singletrack, but the idea of getting kids to school on bikes is one that can be rallied around, said Dan Grunig, executive director of Bicycle Colorado.
“I think it’s feasible as long as you have the right kind of topography. It’d be a challenge through an urban network, but if you have a path along the river or through a park, it’s certainly feasible. Getting kids to bike instead of ride in the car, you get handlebar time instead of screen time, and that’s a good thing,” Grunig said.