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Hard Work. Connections. Persistence.

Hard Work. Connections. Persistence.

How the Silverton Singletrack Society committed to the long-haul to build trails right the first time.

Posted: August 4, 2023
Beautiful Silverton from Baker's Park

This July, the Silverton Singletrack Society broke ground on the Baker’s Park Trail System, kickstarting the progressive, strategic construction of 30 miles of singletrack over the next several years with IMBA Trail Solutions. Nearly a decade in the making, this project did not simply fall together. Instead, hard work, persistence, consistent relationship building, and leveraging the strengths of the small and mighty mountain bike club is what it took to get to the golden shovels.

Golden shovels were featured as awards during the groundbreaking of the Baker’s Park Trail System in July, 2023.

Double Black Diamond

Rugged. Gnarly. Reminiscent of its mining past, Silverton is a destination for hardcore mountain bikers in the summer and elite skiers/snowboarders in the winter. To access Klemens “Klem” Branner’s (Board President and founding member of the Silverton Singletrack Society or SSS) recommendation for the best riding in town, the Boulder Gulch Trail, you’ve got to first hike-a-bike up the Velocity Basin Bureau of Land Management (BLM) climb, a 2,000 ft. ascent that most couldn’t ride even if the BLM allowed it, which it doesn’t. Your reward? Stunning views in every direction, followed by a very steep, very technical trail that descends over 3,700 ft. in less than four miles. “The trails are old pack-mule trails from the mining days, but if you can get up them, you get on-top-of-the-world adventures,” said Branner.

But this isn’t a story about a trail system… yet. It’s a story about the energy it took to get to ground breaking and the determination of a mountain bike club to get it done right, the first time. 

Vision | Access | Planning | Funding | Construction
 

Dream Big. Then Plan.

Branner moved to the area 15 years ago with a 25 year old bike. Five years, a dropper post, and a Santa Cruz Tallboy later, he was hooked on mountain biking, and “the new guy” found himself among like-minded folks riding on the old pack-mule trails, wanting purpose-built mountain bike trails closer to home. At a backyard barbecue over a decade ago, as Klem and other founding members of SSS pointed up at the Aspen Face of Boulder Mountain on the northern edge of Silverton, they decided they needed to figure out how to make trails happen.

If SSS founders wanted to go for a quick ride after work, they knew the only way to do it was to get organized and start working on it. (Unknown rider pictured.)

 

Ask Permission, Not Forgiveness

At that time, inspired and forewarned by the bikeumentary Pedal Driven (2011), the founding members of the SSS decided to take the opposite approach of the mountain bikers featured in the film. Instead of building first and asking for forgiveness later, SSS started by asking for permission and by building and nurturing relationships with local land managers. Looking to clubs in the region who had done it before, they reached out to the Crested Butte Mountain Bike Association (CBMBA) to ask how to get started, how it worked, and what it would take to get trails built. CBMBA was 30 years into organizing and trail building at that time, and had good ideas and experiences to share.

Mentorship & Partnerships

CBMBA gave some great advice, including the recommendation to become an official IMBA Chapter, so in 2014 Silverton Singletrack Society did just that. IMBA took care of the administration of running a club so the Board could get to planning their trail system. The five-person SSS Board then spent four years showing up at meetings of the San Juan County Commissioners, at Town Council meetings, and at meetings with local BLM land managers. They worked with local land managers on trail maintenance. It took time. And it took trust. Through these years of meetings, SSS learned how to communicate and collaborate with government agencies and land managers. 

In 2018, with solid, consistent relationships with local government and land managers, SSS went to the County Commissioners and asked for help funding an initial study by the IMBA Trail Solutions team. The County Commissioners, seeing the value in the potential new trails for community health as well as economic benefits, agreed.

With the County Commissioners support, SSS contacted IMBA’s Trail Solutions to discuss the feasibility of building mountain bike optimized trails in Silverton. IMBA’s Joey Klein, a name synonymous with professional trail planning and building across the country, visited to present to the community and begin planning, trudging through an October snowstorm to survey the landscape. Joey’s assessment? Wholehearted agreement that this could be a place of mountain bike dream riding. 

All the while, the SSS was actively fundraising. While some people save money to buy brewskis, SSS raised the rest of the funds by selling Ska Brewing beer at the finish line of the Iron Horse Bicycle Classic. They coined one of their first and enduring fundraising techniques, “beer money.”

 Joey Klein (IMBA Trail Solutions) and SSS Board Members Klem Branner and Calvin Davenport sat down to plan. (Board Members not pictured: Eddie Phillips, Lorne Glick, & Cliff Pinto.)

Planning Convergence Zones

With initial approvals and partnerships started, SSS rolled up their sleeves and dug into aligning their goals with existing planning by community agencies and regional land managers. They were strategic, creative, and lucky. Klem’s wife, Lisa – also a brilliant and committed SSS member – was working for the Town of Silverton in 2018, and uncovered an old, unimplemented master trails plan that sat collecting dust. She called the community to action, revived the process, and led meetings for the community that garnered both attention and robust participation. 

SSS was able to complement the Silverton Area Trails Plan with the new Baker’s Park mountain bike trail system plans, and it was passed unanimously in 2020. Finally, and in another stroke of strategic outreach, good luck, and convergent planning processes, the BLM also revisited their Travel Management Plans for the whole region. SSS was able to hand over the approved Silverton Area Trails Plan so the BLM could evaluate access roads adjacent to and leading to planned trailheads for improvement for multiple user groups. 

Phase 1 Baker's Park Design.

Beer Money and Grants

SSS had approved initial plans from the Town, the County, and the BLM. Because they made commitments to show up during funding cycles, they also had regular financial contributions from the Town of Silverton and San Juan County Commissioners. What they didn’t have was the vast majority of the funding needed to actually begin trail construction. And with some granting programs requiring projects to be “shovel ready,” the community had more to do to get their project designed and flagged to qualify for more funding. 

Continuing with local and regional fundraisers, SSS raised more beer money and brought IMBA out in 2021 to do a Trail Care School. After the classroom learning and over the course of three days, they worked together to flag the first 10 miles of trail to become fully “shovel ready.” According to Klem, since then, SSS has focused on fundraising, a drum they’ll be beating for the foreseeable future. 

So far, SSS applied for and received two grants from the Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO)/Colorado Youth Corps Association (CYCA) and one grant through Colorado Parks and Wildlife. They've also launched a successful Go Fund Me campaign to raise matching funds for grants. In 2022, a Southwest Conservation Corps (SCC) crew came to Silverton and worked on clearing the trail corridor. An IMBA Trail Solutions crew started work on the actual trail in mid-July of 2023 and will be joined by another SCC crew in early September. Both crews will work through mid-October when the building window closes because of snow. Work will begin again next spring after the lynx and migratory birds move through the area. 

Flagged trees along the first 10 miles of the new Baker's Park Trail System.

Progress

Once completed, the Baker’s Park Trail System will offer experiences for riders of all skill levels in a location where singletrack has been exclusive and inaccessible to most. It will give residents of Silverton and visitors of any skill level access to trails offering breathtaking views and world-class riding. And for the Silverton Singletrack Society, with Baker’s Park construction underway immediately below it, riding through the Aspen Face won’t be just a dream from a dinner party, but within arms reach. 

Breaking ground in July 2023 on the Baker's Park Trail System in Silverton, CO, are four of five SSS Board Members. Pictured from L to R: Eddie Phillips, Klem Branner, Lorne Glick, & Cliff Pinto. Not pictured: Calvin Davenport
About the author
Kate Noelke, IMBA's Communications & Advocacy Specialist

Kate grew up on the backwaters of the Mississippi River biking, paddling, and wandering through the beauty of the Driftless Region of SW Wisconsin. She loves to make and share food she's grown or foraged, and believes all bodies belong on bikes (and wandering trails via whichever mode of…

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