Girdwood Mountain Bike Alliance Seeks Enhanced Valley Riding
By P.M. Fadden
Alaska’s Turnagain Arm, a region long recognized as Mecca for outdoor sport, sees summer 2017 conclude a breakout season for local organization, Girdwood Mountain Bike Alliance [MTB].
Founded September 2016, MTB’s primary goal of enabling valley trail projects springs from successful summer fundraising into trail proposition for Winner Creek drainage development area.
The project Girdwood Bike Park marks initial MTB steps to represent the future of area mountain bike recreation. Organization President Dan Starr met with the Gazette to offer enhanced view on a MTB roots, status and future efforts.
Talk us through initial MTB formation and growth leading up to Girdwood Bike Park.
Starr: I had broken my arm riding on Alyeska. While I was bored and sitting on the couch, I decided to figure out how to create mountain bike trails in Girdwood. There were four of us at the start, and that number has grown to six, all Girdwoodians: Nick and Lauren Georgelos, Rich Peterson, Saraj Gottstein, Sophie Ostroski and myself.
We’ve opened up MTB to memberships and by now 60 or so members are pulling together. From the beginning we’ve had Alyeska DH [downhill] bike park, so we are very lucky to have a lift access bike park in town. What we aim to do, however, is create trails that appeal to all riders, not just downhill, to provide something a little different.”
How will MTB achieve this goal?
Starr: Primarily building trails while also aiming to improve existing trails through volunteer work and general advocacy. Right now, our chief responsibility is to get our current trail project off the ground. If we succeed in building new trails in conjunction with existent 5K Nordic Loop system, we will be responsible for maintaining them. MTB efforts for this project are one hundred percent volunteer powered, and our target markets are really anyone that rides mountain bikes.
Most downhill bikers around here also ride trail bikes and are looking for fun and challenging trails when the resort isn’t open. Within a trail system there can be something for everyone, which is definitely the goal for us. If we can get some purpose-built bike trails in the valley, we will have bike zones for everyone from hardcore downhill bikers to families or kids looking to learn.
Detail for us MTB’s current project.
Starr: Our first, and current, project is a trail system we are calling ‘Girdwood Mountain Bike Park.’ We chose an area in upper Girdwood valley, near Winner Creek Trail. This area was selected because there is a Nordic ski trail already there, which we intend to piggyback. It’s a perfect area to build bike trails because a lot of the infrastructure is already in place, including the up-route for bikes. This feature is similar to Kincaid Park development in Anchorage.
Since the Nordic trail is already there it will be easy to get an excavator through the forest. Since the up-route already exists, we can focus solely on building downhill sections. We are going to construct what are called flow trails, which are basically mountain bike trails that have a nice clean surface and contain lots of jumps and berm features.
How would you describe MTB progress to date?
Starr: Thanks to generous support, we’ve put a dent in our fundraising goal the project and been able to create a lot of excitement over it. We are sponsored by Girdwood Inc., which is a 501 c(3) and therefore able to accept tax-deductible donations. We also have help from Girdwood Trails Committee and a few other town organizations setup to help capital projects like ours. There are a lot of people that really want bike trails, so it’s been easy to get public behind our efforts.
Please explain MTB’s chief challenges.
Starr: Definitely continued fundraising and the fact that none of our board has really gone through this public process before. Permitting and all the logistics are quite a large task, so we are navigating through it the best we can and have–so far–been pretty successful. It’s going to be a challenge, but MTB feels it’s entirely possible to raise our budget through fundraisers, donations and grants.
Does a timeline exist for the current project?
Starr: We are hoping to complete fundraising over this winter and break ground on the trail project next summer and, though challenging to schedule, our board intends meets the first week of each month. We develop plans and, in turn, educate the rest of our board. Then tasks get delegated, and we all do our best. Again, we are pretty new at it all but luckily, we have an awesome crew that works well together.”
Why are locals and visitors responsive to MTB services?
Starr: Locals are responsive because skiing interest has long been a source of income for local businesses. If we can get more people here for other sports, like biking, that is a good thing as well. Our local bike shop [Powder Hound] and our resort rent bikes to visitors, and if the resort isn’t open for downhill; there’s not many places for public to ride.
If successful, Girdwood Bike Park will be close to town and accessible out the back door to everyone in the community for free. The public will enjoy the product that makes the town a better place to live and visit.
So what can we expect should MTB success continue?
Starr: If Bike Park is successful and the public supportive, I think MTB would search for new opportunities to build more trails. There are plenty of places right in the valley, and if you build responsibly, you can add new trails without creating a large impact. I do this out of desire for a place to go ride, and I hope this is just the beginning.
There is so much excitement over the possibility of this actually happening that people are doing an amazing job supporting us and spreading the word. With that we can continue to develop places to ride for us all to enjoy.