While IMBA fends off criticism for its hands-off approach in the fight to open Wilderness land to mountain bikes, it is making headway to create new trails on lands where riding is already legal. The advocacy nonprofit has helped secure $1.75 million to fund the first phase of a project that could eventually bring up to 150 miles of new singletrack near the small town of Caliente in rural Nevada.
With grant-writing assistance from Patrick Kell, director of IMBA's southwest region, the city of Caliente secured $495,000 to put toward the project, while the Bureau of Land Management won $1 million. The money came from the Southern Nevada Public Land Management Act of 1998, which allows profits from the sale of public land in Las Vegas to go toward recreation and conservation projects in the state. The $1.5 million in new money pads $250,000 that Nevada State Parks already set aside to design and build 12 miles of singletrack in Kershaw-Ryan State Park.
Caliente plans to use its portion to build 3.5 miles of trails on city land, a pump track and parking and trailhead facilities. The BLM plans to build 27 miles and two new parking lots on a patch of its 4 million acres of land that surround Caliente. When completed, the system of 42 miles will link downtown Caliente to the ridges that tower above town at 9,400 feet above sea level. The BLM is currently wrapping up the permitting process, and Kell expects the project to get the final go-ahead in the next couple of months.
"I'd be very surprised if it was declined," he said. "The response we have from all the local folks and the BLM is that everybody wants it to happen."
Actually, they need it to happen.
Caliente is not exactly the picture of prosperity. The former silver mining and Union Pacific depot town sits at an elevation of 4,300 feet, about two hours northeast of Las Vegas, and is home to about 1,100 residents. Lots of people pass through Caliente on the way to Vegas or Cedar City, Utah, but not many stay. In the words of IMBA trail builder and designer Joey Klein, who mapped out the forthcoming trail system: "It could be 1959 in Caliente and you’d never know the difference. Same goes for the surrounding wild land desert. There are very few places left in the American West that compare. Mustangs, UFOs and Baja Racer sightings guaranteed."
The economy could use a boost, and Kell believes mountain biking could be the ticket to tourism and, eventually, the town's rebirth.
"Half of Main Street is boarded up. The Mayor tells me someone has already bought a boarded-up shop for a bike shop, which is really cool," Kell said.
Cody Wallis, a former pro dirt biker and owner of Handup Gloves who grew up in Caliente, sees a bigger vision for his hometown, where "there is nothing going on." The possibility to build backcountry yurts that support multi-day rides or the potential for a high school mountain biking league that gives local kids the chance to discover a bigger world through trails.
"The challenge I see right now is you'll have a good crowd from Utah and a good crowd from Vegas, people within two hours away will come up here and ride, but if you don't create infrastructure to support the mountain-bike community–craft beer, WiFi, good coffee–they're not going to come back very often.
"More than just a bike shop being there, I think there needs to be better amenities."
Kell has the same vision for Caliente and beyond–he's looking next to Pioche, another former silver mining town 25 miles north of Caliente, that still has cables strung with lode buckets hanging across its main street.
Kell is turning his attention to what he hopes will be the next phase of trail development: an additional 50 to 100 miles of trails around Pioche that would take riders up to Highland Peak–the highest point in the area, at 9,400 hundred feet–through nearby Cathedral Gorge State Park and back to Caliente.
"When you can look up at that Highland Range, it's kind of like being in Moab looking at the Whole Enchilada and the La Sal Mountains," Kell said.
But, first things first. Kell expects IMBA trail builders to break ground late this year on the initial 42-mile network, with the first trails ready to ride in 2017.