ST. GEORGE — The U.S. Forest Service is seeking public comment regarding the construction of two proposed nonmotorized mountain biking trail networks in the Dixie National Forest Pine Valley Ranger District.
The Trail Aliance of Southern Utah, formerly the Dixie Mountain Bike Trails Association, with the help of Utah-based Fezzari Bicycles and in partnership with the Greater Zion Convention and Tourism Office, has been working with the Dixie National Forest Pine Valley Ranger District to create the two new trail networks.
“It’s a huge effort and it has the chance to change outdoor recreation in St. George forever – at least in summertime,” Kevin Christopherson said of the networks that will help extend the riding season when temperatures are too hot in the lower elevations of Washington County.
Christopherson, who is the president of the Trail Alliance of Southern Utah said that the area has been known as an outdoor recreation and mountain biking hot spot for a long time but in some ways has fallen behind other areas nationwide because there isn’t much trail access for riders looking to escape the extreme summer heat.
The proposed Spring Hollow Network will be located north of St. George and the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve and will contain approximately 45 miles of trail. The proposed Grass Valley Network will be located northwest of Pine Valley and will have approximately 15 miles of trail.
The environmental assessment is now out for public comment and the trail alliance is asking for support for the two networks that will offer a combined 60-miles or more of purpose-built mountain biking trails at higher elevation – up to 7,000 feet elevation – and cooler temperatures.
Kevin Lewis, director of Greater Zion echoed Christopherson and said that for him, as a mountain biker himself, he is excited about the opportunity the trail networks will present for him and other area residents to get off work and easily head to cooler climates to ride.
The trail networks will not only benefit mountain bikers but also trail runners and hikers looking for a unique higher-altitude experience within a short drive of St. George.
One of the highlights of the Spring Hollow trail network will be a cross-country mountain bike course designed to meet the standards of the National Interscholastic Cycling Association, which will accommodate high school mountain bike races and allow the area to host the championship.
Lewis said that the championship race brings in about 1,200 high school-aged mountain bikers along with their families and supporters, and the new course will provide space for temporary event parking and operations as well.
The course could also offer a venue for area race organizers, Lewis said.
These races bring in hundreds, if not thousands, of mountain bike enthusiasts who are then introduced to Southern Utah and its plethora of trails that go a long way, Lewis said, toward getting them excited to come back again and again.
Outdoor recreation, including mountain biking, plays a huge part in the county’s overall tourism economy. Prior to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the overall economic impact of tourism in Washington County was reported in a previous St. George News story as $600 million annually, of which outdoor recreation was a significant portion.
Having trails like the Spring Hollow Network, which are in a fairly underutilized part of the county, also help accomplish one of Greater Zion’s key tourism goals to spread out tourism across the county. This can potentially reduce congestion on high-trafficked areas like Zion National Park and give other communities a share of the economic benefit, Lewis said.
But beyond the tourism perspective, both Lewis and Christopherson said they were excited about this trails project because of its potentially positive impact on the quality of life for locals.
Christopherson hopes that community members will take their time to comment as a first opportunity to engage in the project before shovels can go into the ground.
“I want people to have ownership in this. It is a big project and it is their project,” Christopherson said.
Trail alliance members, Dixie National Forest employees and other entities, such as representatives from the Fezzari Bicycle Company ambassador program, have already logged over 1,000 hours mapping and flagging the proposed trails, attending meetings and working through the environmental assessment process to get the project to where it is now.
Now, Christopherson said, it is the mountain biking and other recreation communities’ turn to let the forest service know they are excited about these trails.
If they do, if hundreds of people respond to the public comment period, Christopherson said it has the potential to go a long way with the forest service – not just locally but nationwide.
It is particularly important this year with the pandemic, he said, when Pine Valley District Ranger Nicholas Glidden had 100 reasons not to take on a project like this, that mountain bike enthusiasts and others show that these types of trails and recreation opportunities are wanted and needed.
Other features of the purpose-built trails will include:
- Multiple access points to allow the use of the network even during an event.
- Twenty-three miles of directional downhill trails built for a variety of skill levels.
- Riding loops as well as shuttle options.
- A 10-plus-mile true enduro downhill with “a” and “b” lines and a 1.8-mile jump line.
The comment period will be open until Sept. 18. Comments can be submitted electronically here. Written comments can also be mailed or hand-delivered to Nicholas Glidden, Pine Valley Ranger District, 196 E. Tabernacle St., Suite 38, St. George, Utah, 84770.
If the public comment period is successful, shovels on the project can go into the ground, though Christopherson said it is going to take a lot of volunteer effort, fundraising and grants to see the networks to completion.
“It is an epic effort and if we can pull it off it will be amazing,” he said.
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