Updating recreational trails in rural Wyoming: a way to boost tourism or build local community?

On a recent weekday evening, some members of the Sublette County Trail Association were updating some old mountain bike trails just outside of Pinedale.

“Try it and reverse it, and just sneak in,” Ryan Grove explained to Paul Swenson. “So it’s not the drop line all the way, and then we’re going to put some drains in it.”

They were deciding how best to restore a trail that had partially given way to Mother Nature with overgrown foliage.

These specific trails were built for downhill mountain biking in the late 90s.

“Maybe a little early for mountain biking in the west, which is now exploding in popularity,” said member Alex Artz. “These trails are still used and usable, but they definitely need a lot of improvement.”

Caitlin Tan


Wyoming Public Media

Sublette Trails Association member Alex Artz digs down an old mountain bike trail.

In places like Jackson or Laramie, there are many purpose-built trails for activities like biking and hiking, and while there are endless trails throughout rural Wyoming, many of them are cattle, wildlife, forest roads, or are simply broken. .

So making those old, steep trails more user-friendly for biking, hiking and horseback riding is the goal of the Sublette County Trail Group.

Grove said well-maintained trails that include water return and drainage can make a big difference in one’s outdoor adventure.

“A lot of people get hurt just going down trails that are too steep and if they step on a rock or rocks they come loose because the trail is eroding,” he said. “So it’s more fun, more accessible and safer for everyone.”

Tim Farris, Jackson Ranger District trail and wilderness specialist for the U.S. Forest Service, said the agency oversees about 750 miles of trails in the Pinedale area.

“A lot of the trails were just not designed, you know, they were basically the shortest distance between two points,” he said.

Farris added that collaboration with trail organizations is helpful.

“We don’t have the manpower to be able to fix all those trails,” he said.

Two people dig on a path in a wooded area.

Caitlin Tan


Wyoming Public Media

Trail group members Paul Swenson (right) and Alex Artz work on trails outside of Pinedale.

Even at the state level, Pinedale is recognized as a place ripe for upgraded trails.

“Pinedale is this semi-undiscovered outdoor recreation paradise,” said Patrick Harrington, manager of the Wyoming Office of Outdoor Recreation.

Harrington said that in the near future, his office hopes to work with Pinedale locals on trail development, adding that trail systems and tourism go hand in hand.

In the past two years, a record number of visitors have explored Wyoming’s public lands.

“I think my office is kind of coming of age at a really important time in Wyoming’s history and that we’re seeing development on a large scale and what the future of our state is going to be,” he said.

Harrington’s office has established ‘collaborators’ with seven different communities in the state. They focus on creating more access for outdoor recreation.

Harrington said building and updating trails for newcomers is essential to sustainability.

“The option is to deal with it now in a way that doesn’t harm resources, doesn’t harm wildlife and is considerate of the community it’s in,” he said.

Harrington said he understands that many Pinedale locals live there because it’s remote and the mountains and trails are rugged.

“My office is really wary of that prospect,” he said. “And not coming up with that, we have a canned idea that we want you to do in your community. Instead, we want to hear from everyone about what’s important to you.”

It seems rural places like Pinedale are at a crossroads. The state is looking for economic growth as its main coal mining industry declines and tourism continues to grow.

While members of the trail group said they know growth in Pinedale is inevitable, they are more interested in updating trails for the local community, not promoting tourism.

Alex Artz said they’re just trying to improve on what’s already there and make the re-creation more fun.

“We don’t want to go back to Jackson Hole. We don’t want to be somebody else,” Artz said. “We just want to be Pinedale.”

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