Why aren’t our trails here at HOME more like a ski resort?

Colorado Springs and the Pikes Peak region has a fantastic mountain bike trail network – despite barriers that other riding locations don’t face – including economy and population.

In our previous article, we showed that Colorado Springs’ trail system compares favorably when measured objectively against the top rated riding destinations in the country. Creating a trail system on par with the best in the nation is a tremendous accomplishment that we should take pride in, because Colorado Springs faces significant challenges compared to resort towns and other riding destinations. 

Below, we have expanded the chart from our previous article and re-sorted by population, to analyze some factors that impact trail system development. When looking at our original list of 16 top mountain bike destinations.

Tourism

Riding destination communities’ economies are most often driven by tourism as a replacement for older industries, especially extractive industries (mining, petroleum, forestry etc), agriculture, or along transportation routes (trains). One indicator that these communities invest in outdoor sports tourism is the presence of ski resorts. Twelve of the 16 top-rated MTB destinations (please refer to our previous article to see how these were chosen) are located within 50 miles of a ski resort. Tourism in most of these communities is the prime driver of their economies, and therefore these small towns have wisely chosen to invest in trail systems to attract visitors in the summer to balance winter visitation, often with little political opposition or competing interests.

Colorado Springs has a large, diverse economy. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in June 2023, tourism comprised only 13%* of the total economy – while Government, Professional & business services, Trade, transportation & utilities, Education and Healthcare services are all more significant sectors of our economy. Some estimates of the contribution of tourism in our region are as high as 20% – however, while tourism can be a significant and important consideration, it is far from our primary driver. Attracting mountain bikers (one of the many reasons that ‘recreation tourists’ visit our community) can make a measurable difference in the economy of a small tourist economies, whereas Colorado Springs has far more significant economic drivers, including military, high tech, churches, and construction.

* Calculated from this data as the employment related to Leisure and Hospitality as a fraction of total non-farming employment

Population

Barriers to expanding a high-quality mountain bike trail system are also demographic, in addition to economic. Colorado Springs is the second largest city in Colorado, with a diverse population. Colorado Springs (pop. 486,248) is far larger than the median size of the destination communities (13,531) on the list, and is projected to exceed Denver’s population in ~2050. The second most populous city on the list, Boulder (pop. 105,485), has a population less than a quarter that of Colorado Springs. 12 out of 16 of the communities have populations under 20,000 people.

Why does population matter? It is far easier in a small, homogenous community dependent on  tourism for an organized group to demonstrate a significant economic impact specifically from development of trails for mountain bikers. Is COS there are many more competing interests that must be balanced, even amongst recreation interests in our public spaces. 

As an example – the owners of the 13 bikes shops and 11 breweries in Fruita, CO (pop. 13,760) or the 10 bike shops and 2 breweries in Park City, UT (pop. 8,374) have a relatively large voice to advocate for mountain bike trails as part of an economic development strategy, compared to our 18 shops and 32 brewers in Colorado Springs. When put into perspective, it is already an accomplishment that we have directional, mountain bike only trails in our city Parks system, given the competition for investments and for outdoor experiences. Note that directional MTB trails have been a part of every new city open space master planning process since the 2014 system master plan – which calls for more gravity oriented trails in our community. Learn more about how MedWheel engages (and how you can engage) in master planning processes here and here.

For over 30 years MedWheel has had an active hand in the development of our local trail system, and we consistently challenge ourselves and our land manager partners to improve trail experiences to make the most of our area’s amazing terrain, scenery, and potential. Without MedWheel’s constant advocacy and the countless volunteer hours that YOU have invested in our public spaces, we would not have a trail system that competes with the highest rated riding locations in the country, despite the many advantages those locations enjoy.

To learn more about MedWheel’s trail construction, maintenance and advocacy accomplishments in the Pikes Peak region, check out the work we have done on this interactive map

In our next article, we examine an often-heard claim that Denver is a better city for mountain biking – stay tuned!