If you’re out on any part of Summit County’s extensive trail network this summer — whether it’s hiking, running or biking — there’s a good chance you owe a local mountain biker a thank-you, though they’d probably accept a frosty beverage made with a mix of fermented barley, hops and malt.
While they may have a reputation as a bunch of rowdy trail-trashing adrenaline junkies, ripping through the woods at blazing speeds, the reality is they might just have put more volunteer trail-work hours in than you did, keeping that path you’re walking on as pristine as it is.
Up here in the High Country, it’s the men and women of the Summit Fat Tire Society (SFTS) mountain biking organization together with the U.S. Forest Service and local open space commissions making that happen. And with the SFTS joining the International Mountain Biking Association chapter program last summer, it’s a force for trail stewardship that’s likely to continue to grow for years to come.
We caught up with longtime Summit County resident Mike Zobbe — one of SFTS’ founding members — to find out a little bit more about our area’s trail history, concerns for maintenance and what this new partnership means for the future.
Why did SFTS start?
Summit Fat Tire Society began in 1990 as a response to trail access issues.
You’ve been involved since the beginning. Now at age 54 what’s kept you so heavily involved for so long?
’Cause I like mountain biking (laughs). It’s totally selfish. I want great trails to ride.
I had always been interested in the stewardship aspect. It was pretty clear that we needed an organization that was going to promote sound riding habits and responsible trail use. I’m definitely on the tree-hugger side of the spectrum.
What’s great about the riding up here?
Summit County has a really wide variety of trail-riding experiences that’s on par with anywhere in the world. High alpine singletrack mountain riding — we have everything from very rocky natural trails to roads and trails that are very smooth. We (also) have an amazing amount of above-tree-line terrain.
What has the Fat Tire Society’s role been in trail expansion?
From a strictly mountain biking point of view, Summit Fat Tire has had a huge hand in that, not only planting the seed back in 1990 but also constantly being a partner that all these managing agencies — the Forest Service, open space departments and property owners — can go to work through this process as a reliable partner.
We started working really closely with the Forest Service and we’ve had a really great relationship ever since.
There’s a lot of other places where there’s an antagonism between mountain bikers and the general population and managing agencies. We work together regularly. Knowing we trust each other is a big thing.
How do mountain biker stereotypes play a role in that antagonism in other places?
The media (movies and ads) portrays a form of mountain biking that very few people actually do, but it gets a lot of attention. Just about all bike-porn that you see out there shows people hucking cliffs, riding down mountainsides without trails, all kinds of stuff that very few people actually do. That creates this perception. It used to be ‘hiking with wheels.’ I think the majority of people are responsible. They are people who are good neighbors. But you know the old saying: It only takes a couple bad apples.
What does joining the international association do for the SFTS?
A lot of it has to do with communication with members. That’s one thing we saw as a big advantage. Another thing is legitimacy. We’re working with a larger agency that has a lot of experience. It creates a network of mountain biking organizations that you can work with and communicate with.
They’ve got a lot of experience. They’ve got a lot of resources with their trail care crews and their trail solutions. They’ve also got a lot of experience with larger issues. They can say this has worked over here. It plugs you into a broader world.
How much work is there to be done on Summit County trails?
You can do trail work every weekend from early June until the snow flies. We have years of work left to do on trails that are approved but haven’t had work done on them yet. They either haven’t been built or haven’t had the serious look on how we’re going to rework them.
Part of the portion of the Colorado Trail that runs through Summit has been adopted by SFTS. What does that entail?
We’ve been working on a multi-year plan with the Forest Service on places to prioritize. Last year we worked on a short re-route of a section that was getting pretty deeply rutted (due to poor design and heavy traffic).
We’re going to prioritize, for the next three years, a plan to get the worst areas taken care of while keeping that character of the trail.
What do you see for the SFTS moving forward?
I think the future of the Fat Tire Society is taking on a more and more active role in trail maintenance and trail construction. Summit County has become and will probably continue to grow as a destination for mountain biking.
[…] If everybody who rode mountain bikes put in one day of trail work, it’s mind boggling what we’d be able to do.
More information on the Fat Tire Society can be found at www.sumitfattire.org