Envisioning Steamboat as a bike hub
Group hope to create Bike Town USA
July 1, 2010
For more information
To make a donation to the bicycling task force, visit http://www.routtcountyriders.org. For more information about donating or helping out with the cause, the fall’s biking summit or the position to organize the town’s biking efforts, contact Grant Fenton at 970-846-1560 or Rich Lowe at 970-367-6083.
Steamboat Springs — What Bike Town USA is depends on whom you ask.
It's either a community cycling growth initiative captained by an outdoors magazine publishing company, a bike shop in the Atlanta suburbs, or one in Walled Lake, Mich., a town of fewer than 7,000.
Whatever it is, even Steamboat Springs' most ardent cycling supporters say Bike Town USA isn't located in the Yampa Valley.
That's something they're set on changing, in both actions and eventually in name.
Adopting the summer version of Ski Town USA is only one part of a plan local power brokers are pursuing. If they have their way, Steamboat will host a cycling summit late in the fall. The city's scattered and in some cases poorly marked bike trails will be linked, mapped and signed, and its vast natural resources will be realized to make the town as popular in the summer as it is in the winter.
"We have got the mountains and the resort, the gondola and Howelsen," said Grant Fenton, one of the people helping to pull the plan together. "All of this stuff is here for the winter, and a very easy, adjacent market to that would be cycling."
Earning, not just using, the name Bike Town USA has become a pet project for the community in the past 12 months and began to pick up steam when many of Steamboat's leaders sat down at the table.
The Bike Town USA task force, the group leading the charge, includes Routt County Commissioner Diane Mitsch Bush and Steamboat Springs City Council member Scott Myller. Jim Schneider, vice president of skier services for Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp., is there, as are representatives from Moots and Routt County Riders, the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association and the U.S. Forest Service.
"There have been a number of entities that have done this work for cycling in the past, but they have never sat at the table together," Fenton said. "Now all of our goals are tied up together in one cohesive effort. We think all of this would happen eventually, but maybe it will happen a lot faster this way."
The group laid out goals at a meeting in May that include the creation of what will at first be a paid temporary position to do what the all-volunteer committee has been doing to this point, to pull together the city's various entities to reach cycling-related goals. There's hope of hosting a bicycle summit in the fall that would bring in speakers from cycling-friendly companies or other communities.
Planners envision creating "two perfect routes," paths from one end of town to the other that are well marked and safe to encourage two-wheeled commuting.
"People should be given a bicycle map when they check in to their hotel that they can look at and see, 'OK, this is how you ride downtown or to the mountain. This is how far it is and where you have to go,'" said Rich Lowe, another of the committee's volunteers. "Right now it's kind of a secret handshake kind of deal. It's not always obvious how to get from here to there."
The potential economic benefits of these endeavors are what brought many people to the table.
Even the best month of the summer of 2008 — July — fell short of the worst month of that winter's ski season, 11,800 occupied pillows to 11,500. July was significantly better than June or August, both of which had about 60 percent of the traffic the winter months brought in.
"We asked, 'Is there an opportunity to close that gap?'" Lowe said. "Maybe. … No one is suggesting this is the silver bullet to close the economic gap. There is no silver bullet in business or in life. This is one piece of the puzzle, and we think it can be an important one."
But like a new chairlift at the mountain, the drive may be to entice tourists, but locals will appreciate the benefits.
"There is a great community enhancement side of this," Fenton said. "It can be a better place to live with safer routes, a better place to live if you have really efficient ways for people to commute with bikes."
Finding the money
Those plans may all be fantastic, but fantastic doesn't equal funded.
First on the list of things the task force would like to accomplish is the filling of a position to organize its efforts.
The initial goals would be short term: work on a mapping project with Routt County Riders, coordinate the cycling summit potentially to be held in September or October, and marshal support from community members, organizations and businesses for the city's efforts.
"The summit is the big Kahuna for what we would want to get accomplished," Lowe said. "In doing that, one of the other things we're trying to do is fundraise and get money."
The group estimates that it might take $25,000 for the position and the year's first summit. The task force is open to suggestions about how to make that money and is certainly eager to take donations.
It did secure ski chairs from the old Christie II chairlift, retired and replaced by the Christie Peak Express. Organizers hope to start selling the chairs immediately on the Routt County Riders membership page, http://www.routtcountryriders.org.
That money will be a start, but the rest must be raised, mostly from donations.
"That will go a long way to the $25,000 we need, and we're pursuing other business and individuals to contribute," Lowe said.
Earning the letters
Bike Town USA, as envisioned by the task force that bears its name, isn't here yet. The city and the trails aren't worthy of the name, its members acknowledge.
But if Steamboat's movers and shakers have their ways, it will be. Bike Town is used by Rodale Publishing, which produces magazines such as Men's Health, Runner's World and Bicycling; recognizes bicycle-friendly communities around the country; and has donated bikes to towns in the United States and around the world.
Steamboat organizers hope their mission is different enough that they'll be able to secure use of the name by the end of this month. Better branded signage around town and a few revisions or additions to trails — helping local users and tourists bridge the gaps in the current system — could be close behind.
Soon, Bike Town USA could be a name Steamboat could actually live up to.
"People travel all over the world to cycling destinations," Fenton said. "Why not Steamboat?"