HAILEY • Ten years ago you had to ride old mountain and logging roads if you wanted to mountain bike in Hailey.
Now there are 22 miles of trails specifically designed for mountain biking and more on the drawing boards.
Bureau of Land Management Idaho State Director Steve Ellis marked the completion of the initial phase of the Croy Creek trail system this past weekend by leading two dozen mountain bike fans on a ride beginning at the trailhead west of Hailey and ending with a run down the new Punchline flow trail.
“It all started in 1998 when we contacted the Shoshone Field office requesting some trails in Hailey. Bill Baker, who’s now the BLM Twin Falls district manager, agreed to help and we were off and running,” said Chris Leman, who at the time headed up a grassroots organization called Big Wood Backcountry Bicyclists.
The BLM worked with Blaine County Recreation District and the county to cobble together a $80,000 grant that the Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation collected from offroad vehicle gas taxes with another $10,000 from Big Wood Backcountry Bicyclists and yet another $10,000 from a memorial fund honoring Whit Henry, an avid bicyclist who was killed in an automobile accident.
It then used some of President Barack Obama’s stimulus money this summer to build a new flow trail crammed with roller coaster-like dips, drops and berms that bicyclists can bank off.
The trails have made a huge impact on the recreational scene in the Wood River Valley, said Leman. They allow Hailey and residents to access bikes from home without having to drive to Ketchum and Sun Valley to access trails. And they provide early and late season biking when trails to the north are still covered with snow.
“They’re hugely popular,” Leman said. “The BLM estimates they had 5,000 visitors their first year of operation. You can go out on a spring afternoon and see 50 other people riding.”
In addition, the trails have attracted people from out of town who then visit Hailey’s restaurants and bike shops, said Billy Olson, who owns the Powerhouse bicycle shop and café in Hailey.
Chip Deffe, who owns Sun Summit South bicycle shop, says he’s seen a resurgence in mountain biking among Hailey residents who had given up mountain biking after moving from Ketchum where they could swing one leg over their bike in their driveway and be on a trail in 10 minutes. And those people are buying new bikes to replace their antiquated equipment.
A Wall Street Journal article on flow trails brought additional riders from all over the country to Hailey to try the Punchline this summer, he added.
“There’s a reason there’s 13 cycling shops in this valley,” he said. “We’re on the radar. We have people come from all over the world to ride here.”
The International Mountain Biking Association has designed additional trails for the Quigley Canyon area, dependent on whether a proposed housing development there moves forward. And the BLM has announced plans to put in a couple more flow trails in the Croy Trail Network.
The BLM is also considering a trail that would go from the Hidden Valley Trail in the Croy Trail Network to the old Red Elephant mine site up to Wolftone where it would connect to Forest Service trails in the Deer Creek area.
“What we’re missing in the Croy Trail Network is longer rides. That eight-mile connector trail would offer that capability and it would provide a useful connection to other trails for both bikers and motorized users,” said Leman.
Ellis pointed to a recent Interior Department study that shows recreation in Idaho now accounts for more public land-associated jobs than other major uses of those lands combined.
“Folks increasingly choose to live in places like the Wood River Valley because they want to be close to recreational opportunities,” he said. “This trail project is a great example of how the BLM can navigate the changes that can accompany that fact.”
Deffe noted that there’s plenty of room in Croy Canyon to build more trails. But he’d like to concentrate more on hand-built and cross-country trails, rather than the wider bull-dozed and flow trails.
“For every dollar you put into building a cross-country trail, it costs $3 to build a flow trail,” he said. “And the cross-country trails honor our tradition of multi-use trails open to horseback riders and hikers as well as mountain bikers.”