Marc and Gretchen Sehler’s efforts lift Steamboat Springs’ cycling
October 1, 2011
Steamboat Springs — Sit down at a table with Marc and Gretchen Sehler and no one is likely to call either loud.
Marc — tall, lean and athletic — attacks a mountain bike trail with a vengeance, but he chooses his words carefully and, when he has them, speaks softly.
His wife, Gretchen, lives to be outdoors, and decades of skiing and riding the toughest and best Colorado has to offer reflect in her eyes when excitement presents itself. She speaks even quieter, her voice struggling to break through the din of a busy morning in a downtown Steamboat Springs coffee shop.
Nothing about what the Sehlers have done for cycling in their two decades in Steamboat Springs has been quiet, however. With determination and grit, stubbornness and resourcefulness, they've helped remake Steamboat's gem of a city park, the treasured Emerald Mountain, into a premier mountain bike venue, one dusty, hot trail workday at a time.
For that, the couple was recognized Thursday as the recipient of the Steamboat Springs Bike Summit's Lifetime Achievement award.
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As with so many others, it was the skiing that brought the Sehlers to Steamboat, though they've long been bike aficionados. Gretchen pushed, pulled and dragged a converted cruiser anywhere she could before and after she moved to Steamboat from mountain-bike cradle Crested Butte in 1983.
Marc refined his lifelong cycling focus to mountain biking after he moved to Steamboat in 1979.
They became "Steamboat's trail builders" not by accident but not by plan, either. They were there in 1989 when the Town Challenge Mountain Bike Race Series started, the event that now defines the Sehlers as much as anything else. Marc has raced in every season of the event, which comprised just four races in the fall when the series started. Gretchen began to volunteer in the second year and was asked to take over a few years later.
Now she all but owns the event after two decades of involvement, allowing her and Marc, who still always registers as one of the top racers, to iron out every detail. The series has expanded from those four races to a biweekly event that's one of the staples of Steamboat's summers, regularly drawing more than 200 riders.
It was that involvement that led the couple to trail building, an effort that's helped turn Emerald's network from horse paths and game trails to sustainable, swooping designs that leave riders raving.
"People said we had to have better trails to race on. If we didn't, they wouldn't want to come and ride," Gretchen said. "They say, 'You build it, they will come.' That's very true."
Quiet in a coffee shop, it's the couple's vision and firm will that have defined their roles in Steamboat.
Gretchen always has been the voice, taking the lead anytime negotiations are needed and willing her projects through sometimes seemingly endless red tape and bureaucracy.
Many of her tales of getting things done involve visit after visit to whichever administrator can help.
"She's got a bit of a reputation," Jeff Nelson said with a laugh.
Nelson was the Howelsen Hill Ski Area supervisor when the Sehlers started their trail work, and his office proved a regular destination for Gretchen.
"Her reputation is of getting it done and getting it done properly," he continued. "She realized she wasn't going to get much done until she dotted the I's and crossed the T's, and she always made sure it happened.
"Gretchen refused to let things fail."
The Sehlers have their favorites away from Emerald, and they don't take summer vacations without hauling their bikes along. To be on hand to accept Thursday's award, they had to hustle back from a three-week tour of the region where they hit as many trails as possible. They've ridden across the country and love to make it to Fruita and Moab whenever they can.
They rarely ride a trail without pausing to soak up its design, admire its corners — those are the toughest part — and consider what they can incorporate.
The first Emerald trail they built was a small connecter, one that was confined to too narrow a corridor they now bemoan, but that was only one of their first lessons. They've worked on more than 25 miles of trail, rallying work crews to finish many of them but spending more time with the tools than anyone else.
They worked on bad erosion points and designed trails that fit naturally into Emerald's flowing terrain replacing steep, rutted-out paths that never were intended to serve as biking boulevards.
The community caught on.
"Back in the day, they'd get four or five people out to help, but they got a reputation and people saw what was being created," local cycling activist Robin Craigen said. "Then it got to be where they'd have to limit it to 20 people in the morning and 20 people in the afternoon."
Like true locals, the Sehlers say their favorite season is whichever one they're in. They help define summers with their mountain biking efforts and serve as ski instructors with Steamboat Ski Area.
They can't look out the back door of their Fairview home — which has access to Emerald via a trail in mere seconds — without seeing new trails to design. A pair of singletrack avenues lingers in their dreams: one that wraps around Emerald under the quarry and another that cuts into the BLM land on the backside of the mountain.
Don't worry. One is already named for them: MGM stands for Marc, Gretchen and Mica, their dog who rarely misses a Town Challenge race or trail workday.
None of them pass up days on Emerald, which, thanks in part to their constant effort, is one of the world's greatest backyards for both dog and human.
To reach Joel Reichenberger, call 970-871-4253 or e-mail jreichenberger@SteamboatToday.com
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