Happier Trails

A private-public partnership in the Bridgers.

If you’ve visited a Bozeman-area trailhead in the last few years, you’ve probably noticed something: they’re all crowded. This past spring, when schools and workplaces were closed, they got more crowded. And as our valley continues to grow, they will get even more crowded.

So, what’s the solution?

If you answered more trails, you’d only be partially right. It’s clear that Bozeman’s recreation amenities need an upgrade, but where we build is almost as important as what we build. People need to be able to access trails easily, and any new construction needs to feed off developed infrastructure. New trails should serve a community need, and they should greatly enhance already existing opportunities, without drastically affecting undeveloped land or the recreation of others, reducing instead of inducing conflict. Not to mention the impact on wildlife as new trails probe into otherwise pristine habitat.

With all those factors in mind, the Southwest Montana Mountain Bike Association has partnered with Bridger Bowl Ski Area and the Crosscut Mountain Sports Center to develop a new beginner flow trail in Bridger Canyon.

The new trail will start and end in the Crosscut parking lot, but access will be available to the public free of charge. Construction on the trail begins this summer, with completion slated for early fall.

The most recent plan calls for about three miles of trail winding its way through Crosscut-owned lands, connecting to Forest Service trails that lead north toward Ross Pass and Fairy Lake and south across the east slope of Bridger Bowl.

While the project sounds modest in scope, its effects should be felt valley-wide. The trail will be the first of its kind outside Copper City, providing a family-friendly experience that is largely absent on older public-lands trails. It will also link to existing trails, serving as the jumping-off point for everything from sunset cruises to backcountry epics. 

The trail will be purpose-built for mountain biking, consisting of bermed corners, sustainable grades, and other bike-specific considerations. While Crosscut will handle most of the construction, SWMMBA trail managers will provide design oversight and volunteers will perform hand-tool work once the route is roughed in.

As SWMMBA develops southwest Montana’s mountain-biking infrastructure, we’ll continue looking for creative ways to meet community needs. Public-private partnerships such as this leverage siloed resources for the collective good, bringing the strengths of many to the table for the benefit of all. For project updates and volunteer opportunities, visit southwestmontanamba.org

David Tucker is the volunteer outreach manager for the Southwest Montana Mountain Bike Association.

Three years ago, SWMMBA had about 150 members. Today, over 1,700 mountain bikers are card-carrying converts. That’s quite a tribe, and a roll-call like that puts a lot of trail dreams into motion. If you’re interested in joining, you’ll be happy to know that membership is free and signing up takes about three minutes. Do so today by visiting southwestmontanamba.org/join.

—David Tucker