Steamboat celebrates completion of Beall Trail on Emerald Mountain
August 21, 2011
Steamboat Springs — The Beall Trail is 6.63 miles of singletrack that, in its first summer of existence, has left mountain bikers raving.
Riders love its variety, 6.63 miles so diverse its designer said it runs through each type of terrain available on Emerald Mountain. And they love its smooth, swooping nature, even the mere mention of which causes riders to squint their eyes, crouch down low, throw their hands atop pretend handlebars and imagine coasting down the route with the ease of water down a river.
"It's just beautiful, miles and miles of it," Diane Mitsch Bush said.
The first flag went into the trail's soil slightly more than a year ago, July 1, 2010. The first riders — Beall Trail masterminds Gretchen Sehler, and her husband, Marc Sehler — rode its entire length Oct. 14 and finished beaming, according to everyone who saw them that day.
So, in a sense, it took 102 days to build.
That, of course, is laughable to anyone who had a hand in it, and plenty of good chuckles were had at the thought of it Saturday afternoon as a group of those who helped guide the project — only the most prominent of an expansive list — gathered to dedicate the trail, to toast the hard work they'd invested in it and to celebrate bicycling in Steamboat Springs.
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Pulling it together
Excitement continued to build Saturday for this week's USA Pro Cycling Challenge, which will bring most of the best road cyclists in the world to Steamboat Springs for two stages of the weeklong Colorado event. That anticipation is just the most obvious evidence of cycling that has seized control of Steamboat's summer conversation, particularly in the past two years.
Saturday's dedicators were quick to remember a time when that wasn't the case, however.
The Beall Trail isn't the end result of more than two decades of work. It's a spot along the way. It is, however, representative of visions from people in the city, state and region who joined forces for a unified purpose 20 years ago and many of whom joined forces again Saturday to eat barbecue, pop champagne and cut a ribbon.
The trail is officially named after Ben Beall, a longtime Routt County commissioner who in the early 1990s found himself at the head of a joint coalition.
The point of that group, the Emerald Mountain Partnership, was to preserve Emerald Mountain. Real estate development pressure was mounting one of Steamboat's signature land tracts, and the reason for the group's action was obvious.
"If you're skiing on the mountain, when you look up and look this way, what do you see?" said John Husband, field manager of the BLM Little Snake Field Office in Craig. "You see Emerald Mountain. We thought it was pretty important."
The cause got its start in 1990 when Gretchen Sehler said she took offense to being yelled at for trespassing while riding in the area.
She got on the phone that summer to decipher what her rights on the state-owned land were and then went to speak with Chris Wilson, of Steamboat's Parks, Open Space and Recreational Services Department, moves which eventually began to open doors.
Preventing the state from selling the land for development cost money, of course — money the public made clear it wasn't willing to provide in the way of a tax. The land on Emerald was valued at $17.6 million in 1995. Beall, Husband and Susan Dorsey said Saturday that they'll never forget when that problem was solved, crediting yet another person for the trail.
"Fred Conrath, he comes into my office and he says, 'I want to talk to you about this idea,'" Husband said. "He said, 'Maybe we could do a land exchange.' So we got out the map."
"We thought that was a great idea," Beall added.
The land swap plan worked. Beall, with plenty of allies, led the way through the long fight and eventually helped scoop up 4,600 acres.
"Ben Beall is one of my heroes," Gretchen Sehler said simply, glancing over at the completed trail. "This has been a dream of mine since that day I got yelled at."
Finding a way
The land swap came packaged with so many headaches it took 13 years to iron them all out. Remote and landlocked BLM land — inaccessible by the public — was sold to adjacent landowners, and that money was in turn put into the Emerald piggy bank.
No part of the process that led to Saturday's ceremony was without hurdles, not even once the Beall Trail was approved on land otherwise set aside for horseback riding and wildlife. Much of the funds, $35,000, was provided by a Great Outdoors Colorado grant, and the remaining $45,000 mostly came from the BLM, much of it in the form of work crews that helped haul away and clear a seemingly endless supply of logs and debris. The GOCo grant allowed a two-year window, but the BLM side would have expired in 2011, a fact that pushed the builders last summer.
"I wasn't about to build a trail to nowhere," said Roy McKinstry, who works with the BLM and guided the bureau's crews in front of D.J. Winter's trail bulldozer. "When the dozer got right to the end last year, Marc and Gretchen rode up right behind it, and I've never seen a bigger smile."
Saturday wasn't all about tourism or Tour de France winners, economic benefit or even what is to come bike-wise in Steamboat Springs or on Emerald Mountain.
It was about what the group had accomplished, and with an applause-inspired scissors snip of a ribbon, they celebrated their achievement, a preserved mountainside summed up in a singletrack trail.
"It was the commitment from all these people," Beall said. "We never hit a dead end, and we just kept pushing, pushing and pushing.
"It was a good project, and we stuck with it."
— To reach Joel Reichenberger, call 970-871-4253 or email jreichenberger@SteamboatToday.com
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