Ever since those newfangled fatbikes started turning up at trailheads and local bike shops, it seems like mountain bike season is pretty much year round. Heck, we even bought a groomer to keep the wheels turning every month of the year. And while you can usually find a bike for the job, there’s no denying that everyone has their favorite time of year to ride. For some folks that’s shoulder season road trips to Moab. Others like riding when the larch is turning in the fall, and some people really do prefer pedaling in the snow.
But regardless of our favorite niche, we can all agree that there’s something special about getting into the alpine.
In Missoula we keep our eyes turned to Point 6, north of town, to see just how fast the snow is coming off each spring, and when those high-up trails might start to open. Of course snowmelt is just the first step to getting a trail ready to ride, and every winter hundreds of trees fall across these wild backcountry trails. The task of cutting those trees out, to really opening the trail for use, falls on land managers like the US Forest Service and the partner organizations that are increasingly sharing the load in keeping these routes usable.
Sheep Mountain is our backyard backcountry. It’s a lattice of 22 miles of rough, steep, beautiful subalpine singletrack. You can ride from your house, climb above treeline to exposed rocky ridgelines, and be home in time for lunch. Sheep Mountain truly is a jewel of backcountry riding.
Keeping it open is a daunting task, and the Sheep Mountain clearing day has grown into a right of passage for MTB Missoula volunteers. This past Saturday 12 people met with Forest Service trail crews to coordinate the effort, and after ten hours of work we had cut 169 trees, cleared brush from the most overgrown portions, and declared all 22 miles good to go (except where there’s still a little bit of snow).
This is something we look forward to. We take pride in playing an active role in the stewardship of the trails we love, and clearing Sheep Mountain is one of the most rewarding days of the year. It’s also a great example of a growing trend in land management in the west.
Insufficient agency funding and trail maintenance backlogs present a real danger to the backcountry access that we cherish. Even before the drastic cuts proposed by the current administration, only 37% of USFS trails saw annual maintenance, and a mere 25% of National Forest trails meet agency standards. Addressing this deferred maintenance across the National Forest system would cost $314 million. Until the Forest Service is given the tools to maintain these resources the responsibility falls on the people who use them, and mountain bikers are here to help.
This year we were honored to win a new grant through the National Wilderness Stewardship Alliance, IMBA, and other national trail advocacy groups. The competitive National Forest System Trails Stewardship Grant equips groups like MTB Missoula to continue investing in the trails that we all use. With this grant we’re paying staff to coordinate with the US Forest Service and keep trails open, and leaving a positive impact on the landscapes that we love.
We’re eager to keep the good work rolling, which is why we’ve got more opportunities for this kind of work on the calendar. We’ll be doubling down as the snow keeps coming off to make sure our alpine epics get the attention they deserve. Join us on one of these trail work weekends and see what lumberbiking is all about!
Backcountry Trail Clearing
June 3 – Carlton Ridge/Mill Creek June 24 – Sheep Mountain July 8 – Reservation Divide