By Chadd Cripe

The Idaho Statesman

A string of volunteer workers, mostly mountain bikers, were marching down an Avimor trail they just built toward a well-earned lunch when Steve Noyes put their effort in perspective.

“We made the Earth a little more fun today,” Noyes said.

Mountain bikers have been doing that across the Boise Foothills for several decades. Their work was rewarded last fall, when the International Mountain Bicycling Association named Boise-Eagle a gold-level Ride Center.

“The biggest thing was just to bring a little recognition to Boise for all the hard work,” said Chris Cook of Boise, who teamed with Marc Grubert of Boise to compile the Ride Center application. “… It’s kind of the dedication from the different agencies and then a lot of interest from the community. Without that combination of the local volunteer army and the agencies, I don’t think we would have gotten where we are today. People are just passionate about having trail access close to town. That’s really been a game-changer, and people make it a priority in their lives to give back and volunteer.”

Ride Center program

Boise-Eagle is one of four gold-level honorees in the U.S. in the Ride Center program, which has been used for four years to identify destination trail systems for others to emulate. The others are Park City, Utah; Duluth, Minnesota; and Oakridge.

Sun Valley, McCall and Teton Region (Idaho/Wyoming) are silver-level Ride Centers, giving Idaho four high-end destinations.

The Boise-Eagle application capitalized on the variety and number of trails in the area. It included Ridge to Rivers, Ada/Eagle Bike Park, Avimor and Southwest Idaho Mountain Biking Association trails. The visiting raters traveled from Bogus Basin to Boise on one ride.

“We want quality for all the levels of Ride Centers, and the quantity starts to play a role when you’re talking about the highest level of recognition,” said Mark Eller, the communications director for Colorado-based IMBA. “… I think a lot of people would agree that the standout thing for Boise is ... great trail riding, the bike park, some gravity riding. People want to have an adventure and get to the trails from downtown. It doesn’t take long to get out to where you’re exploring, and you have a backcountry feel to your ride going on. That’s a pretty remarkable thing to be able to offer the community.”

Grubert, a longtime mountain biker and the volunteer trails coordinator at Avimor, was stunned by the success of Boise-Eagle’s application. He wanted to know how the area matched national standards and in what ways the experience could be improved.

“I thought we’d be on the low side of silver,” Grubert said, “and they said: ‘It’s world class. You guys are way out ahead of most people.’”

A passionate community

The area got to that level because of the passion of the mountain-bike community, which represents 27 percent of users in the Boise Foothills, according to a Ridge to Rivers survey.

Unlike in traditional sports, mountain bikers have built many of the places where they play.

“Without people giving that extra energy to do this, the sport wouldn’t exist,” Grubert said after 16 people spent three hours building the Ricochet trail in Avimor. “It would have ended because most municipalities didn’t see the value in it. They didn’t see the return on the money. You can see now that Boise and Eagle have. They see that trails bring kids, bring people. People want to live by trail systems. … This is a sport you can do for your entire life.”

Noyes is the trails coordinator for the city of Eagle. He worked on Grubert’s project at Avimor because Grubert helps with Eagle’s work.

“At the Bike Park, we rely heavily on volunteers to build trails and to keep those trails maintained,” Noyes said. “It’s a very low-cost asset with a huge return on investment. … There’s an old saying, ‘No dig, no ride.’”

Noyes has been mountain biking for 25 years in the Treasure Valley. The Big Rocks mountain bike group that rides on Tuesday nights has become “the center of my social life,” he said.

“When my child was young and we needed a babysitter, we could get on one babysitter an aerobic workout, a downhill thrill and then dinner out with friends,” he said. “It’s a healthy thing to do, and in one afternoon you can do all those three things. I love it.”

The passion of riders has helped the local trail system expand to 190 miles in Ridge to Rivers, 35 miles of single track in Avimor (plus 60 miles of Jeep roads) and a unique combination of skills areas and trails at the Bike Park.

Grubert hopes to see younger riders carry that volunteer tradition forward, even though most of the trails are now part of formal systems.

Three recent additions to the Ridge to Rivers system — Dry Creek, Sweet Connie and Shingle Creek — were unofficial trails maintained by users for years, Cook said. Mountain bikers commonly carried tree pruners in their backpacks.

“You didn’t have to organize,” Cook said. “Things just kind of got done on the trail. The trail fairies, you could say. You’d ride one week and a tree would be (in the way), and ride it the next week and the tree would be cleared. … It’s amazing you had enough people in Boise who were willing to take 10 minutes out of a ride to do a little clipping to keep those trails open, so that way they could be added to the system.”

Luke ten Doeschate, who lives in Avimor, was on the crew for Ricochet.

“If I didn’t do it, I’d feel pretty guilty,” he said. “It’s a lot of fun, though. I can’t wait to get out here and use this. We want new trails. We come out here almost every week.”

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