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Adventure

How New Biking and Hiking Trails Could Bolster Silverton’s Economy

Mountain towns around the country are increasingly relying on mountain bike trails and other recreation as an economic backbone. Will it work in Silverton?

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For decades, the town of Silverton has attempted to reconcile the need for sustainable economic development with the community’s inherent isolation. A recently approved plan for 30 miles of biking and hiking trails just north of town may be a much needed piece in the complicated puzzle. Last month, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) approved a project for the trail network, which will be called Baker’s Park. Silverton Singletrack Society, the local group who is spearheading the project, expects to begin construction next summer.

Silverton Trail Map
Silverton trails concept plan map. Note: Trail 13 has been eliminated due to wildlife concerns. Photo courtesy of the Silverton Singletrack Society

Silverton is surrounded by public lands. And while the region is known for expert-level skiing terrain, beautiful alpine hikes, and rocky OHV roads, there is a lack of trails accessible within walking or biking distance from town that are suitable for all ability levels.

“There isn’t much for beginners or intermediates, so that’s the gap we’re trying to fill, says Klem Branner, president of Silverton Singletrack Society.

Branner’s group has been around for over six years, and they’ve always had an eye on the Baker’s Park project. In the group’s infancy, they learned how the land management process works and helped maintain already existing trails near Silverton. In Fall of 2018, a team from the International Mountain Bicycling Association came to Silverton to design the Baker’s Park trails. The plan was included in the broader 2019 Silverton Area Trails Plan, and ultimately received approval from local government as well as the BLM.

Now, adventure-seekers of all skill levels—from novice to expert—can access the terrain. Many of the trails will be bi-directional, meaning users can travel either way on the trail. On some trails, there will be a recommended direction of travel for mountain bikers (for example, uphill or downhill). Class 1 e-bikes will also be allowed on the trails.

Silverton Singletrack Society working on Boulder Gulch Trail near Silverton. Photo courtesy of the Silverton Singletrack Society

Outdoor recreation has increasingly been recognized around the country as a key sector of the economy, particularly in rural areas that were formerly reliant on mining. A recent example can be found in Downieville, California, located northwest of Lake Tahoe. A grueling mountain bike race, combined with world-class backcountry trails, has made the town of just over 100 residents a mountain bike hotspot.

And in Colorado, the soon-to-be-opened Palisade Plunge trail is being heralded as a boon for the outdoor recreation economy in Mesa County.

“I think it could be huge,” Branner says, referring to the economic opportunities associated with the trails. According to a news release, recreation on Colorado BLM land contributed about $652 million to the economy and supported more than 5,000 jobs in 2018’s fiscal year.

While it will take a couple of years for Baker’s Park to be fully built, the payoff will be worth the wait once bikers and hikers can put their tires and boots in the dirt—and then pull their wallets out back in town. Silverton doesn’t just want tourists, but new locals too. “Most importantly,” says DeAnne Gallegos, the executive director of the Silverton Chamber of Commerce, “It’s really about quality of life here.”

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