Joel Reichenberger: Questions remain, but biking projects belong in Steamboat

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Joel Reichenberger

Steamboat Pilot & Today sports reporter and photographer Joel Reichenberger can be reached at 871-4253 or jreichenberger@SteamboatToday.com.

Find more columns by Joel here.

— I spent a fair portion of the past month and a massive amount of the past two weeks digging into bicycling, Steamboat Springs and the way those two have, and can, interact for economic development.

My conclusion — after eight rough drafts, dozens of interviews and more than 7,000 words in print — was that this is complicated stuff.

My big takeaway may seem obvious, but it’s actually something important for our town to remember as we move forward with cycling projects.

It’s easy to make it seem simple, and many in town do. Most of my interview subjects were quick to wave the flag for anything and everything cycling.

The broad support of cycling initiatives — from the bigger-picture problems Bike Town USA is focused on to the many and varied projects of Routt County Riders and the collaborative effort of the Trails Alliance — is certainly easy to understand.

Still, there is skepticism out there.

“I don’t want to put my foot in my mouth and be the person who comes out against all of this in the newspaper,” one prominent member of the local cycling world said.

Only after a little more digging did my sources offer up some of their reservations, and that’s too bad, because it was in those reservations that important questions about Steamboat Springs’ viability as a bike tourism magnet surfaced.

Some worried the dreamers were thinking too big and that more focus on smaller projects would do more to improve Steamboat’s cycling stock.

Fair enough.

In my stories, local economist Scott Ford put voice to many of the concerns, casting him as the enemy in the minds of some cyclists.

Ford questioned Steamboat’s ability to differentiate itself from its cycling rivals in the summer the way deep, light snow allows it stand apart from its skiing rivals in the winter.

That’s a fair question, and it may well have an answer. It’s something Steamboat Ski Area officials will certainly consider as they move forward with its downhill mountain bike park, and something that should be on trail designers’ minds as they plot out Steamboat’s next step.

Ford argued Steamboat only truly distinguishes itself with the variety of summer fun that’s offered here, not in any of the specific activities that make up that variety.

Maybe he can be proven wrong on some of his points. It’s a debate I think he’d love to have. Either way, he’s not wrong to raise those points, and brushing aside his comments as those of an enemy, or an old guy who just doesn’t understand, is a mistake.

The most powerful message he left with me concerned the tendency to see our potential through our own eyes. The most realistic impression we can get of our town when it comes to improving it, the better we can make it.

The ink wasn’t even dry on the second part of my two-part series when very good comments popped up under it on SteamboatToday.com. Some of those commenters mentioned the excellent bike paths, not necessarily dirt trails, that have been built in other parts of the state, primarily Summit County.

That’s something I didn’t tackle, but I wish I had, because it’s something that does appeal to me as a rider.

I ride downhill on a mountain bike like a sickly child, squeezing the brakes so hard my fingers hurt. I will never travel to ride a gravity trail. I did recently stumble across a mention of the Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail, which stretches 106.5 miles from Key Largo to Key West, however, and I’d love to spend a week riding that.

I can’t help but wish Steamboat had such a massive destination-worthy ride that didn’t involve climbing a mountain or riding exclusively on the highway.

Of course, that’s a far bigger project than anything anyone is proposing.

In the end, as a resident of this town, I’m supportive of the Trails Alliance in its effort to secure the lodging tax and build out Steamboat Springs’ trail system. Bicycling potential in Steamboat as a tourism driver is a very interesting and complex topic. The over-the-top predictions by some of those involved can be frustrating, but optimism isn’t much of a sin, and the roots of the effort are sound and strong.

Improving and expanding Steamboat’s trails the way the Trails Alliance hopes to, and moving the city the way Bike Town USA wants to, are all great things for Steamboat. These are passion projects that have been conceived and executed almost exclusively by local volunteers, and they’ll improve the town even for those who have never ridden a bike. Even if they never draw a single tourist — and I’m sure that won’t be the case — Steamboat will be a better place.

There are important discussions we should have, but there is no reason to stand in the way of bicycling’s progress here.

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