ST. GEORGE — An abundance of open space, technical trails and community support have combined to catapult the St. George area to the top of the list of premier mountain biking destinations.
“As a mountain biking destination, this area is now one of the best,” said Kevin Lewis, director of sports marketing for the St. George Area Tourism Office. “Our unique landscape and desert climate are perfect for year-round riding.”
The new status didn’t come overnight; for the last 15 years, trail advocates and nonprofit groups have worked with the Bureau of Land Management to develop and map more than 350 miles of single-track and double-track trails. In fact, crews are working this fall to build more trails around Quail Creek State Park.
“New businesses and athletic events are thriving in Washington County because of these additional trails,” said Cimarron Chacon, president of GRO Promotions.
In her work as a race organizer, Chacon has watched firsthand as people from all over the world discover Southern Utah’s rare topography and unmatched beauty. Last month, her annual 25 Hours in Frog Hollow mountain bike race attracted participants from 17 countries.
“The new trail system benefits our economy,” Chacon said. “Just one mountain bike trail event with 400 participants generates an estimated $1.5 million for the local economy.”
Purpose-built biking trails that take riders to the top of red rock mesas have made the St. George area particularly attractive to mountain bikers. Gooseberry Mesa, near Hurricane, was dedicated as a National Recreation Trail in 2006 and has quickly become a crowd favorite with world-class rankings.
“Mesa riding is unique to Southern Utah,” said Quentin Morisette, owner of Over the Edge Sports in Hurricane. “You’re up high and have amazing views of Zion National Park in the background.”
Morisette said the increase in mountain bike tourism has been exciting to watch since he and his wife opened their shop seven years ago. He attributes the surge in popularity to glowing articles in national publications and word-of-mouth praise on social media.
“People are realizing that Southern Utah now rivals Moab,” Morisette said. “Our trails are tailor-made for mountain biking and offer more variety and solitude.”
Convenience also plays a big part in drawing mountain bikers to the St. George area. Riders can quickly link to miles of trails right from town. Also, being located on Interstate 15 — with access to the city’s municipal airport and the international airport in Las Vegas — allows visitors to maximize time on the trails.
“We have so many diverse places to ride in a relatively compact area,” Morisette said. “The one thing we always hear from visitors is ‘we’ll be back.’”
“Washington County now has world-recognized trails,” said Roxie Sherwin, director of the St. George Area Tourism Office. “We are already well known for so many positive and healthy outdoor activities and welcome mountain biking to that list.”
Solidifying St. George’s spot as the next biking hot spot, the Utah High School Cycling League held its October state championship races in the Green Valley area. The 4.36-mile-long course challenged approximately 600 student athletes with slick rock technical sections, dry washes and 600 feet of elevation gain.
“The race venue was an overwhelming success,” said Ron Jensen, head coach of the high school team from Southern Utah. “The athletes and their families were just blown away with the course and amenities.”
Jensen’s mountain bike team, the Flying Monkeys, consists of nearly 50 athletes from high schools in Washington County. He points to the sport’s family friendly qualities that make it a desirable youth sport and vacation activity.
Read more: No tryouts, no bench: Southern Utah Flying Monkeys — reinventing high school team sports one mile at a time
“There’s a good vibe and good culture that’s generated from the sport,” Jensen said.
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