The idea for Gillette’s very own 640-acre mountain bike and off-road running trail first came to David Bauer several years ago from cycling friend Michael Trainor.
Trainor had been jokingly hesitant about telling David about his grand idea that, he felt, was sure to bring more tourism dollars and opportunity to Gillette.
“He told me, ‘I don’t want to tell you because then you’re going to want to do it,” David laughed.
But Trainor did and his idea was, indeed, grand: a massive local mountain bike trail that would be open to the public to keep Gillette residents from driving off to distant locations to satisfy their mountain bike cravings.
Naturally, Trainor had been right; the moment David heard his idea the wheels in his head started to turn.
Trainor has since moved on and no longer lives in Gillette, but David hasn’t been able to get the idea for a local mountain bike trail out of his head.
What’s more, he’s even developed a way to incorporate runners, who have no place to trail run other than Cam-Plex Park in town or the Bureau of Land Management-owned Burnt Hollow north of Gillette.
Aside from that, runners are restricted to streets, sidewalks, or on designated paved running tracks here and there.
“Running on pavement just tears your body up,” David said, adding that running on dirt is more forgiving and gentle with every step, meaning there is less impact on joints and feet.
He had the idea down pat, now he just needed to find a suitable location. He thought of Burnt Hollow first, a little out of the way but nonetheless beautiful.
Burnt Hollow already has an intensive web of trails throughout 18,000 acres of public land.
There were just two problems.
Local ranchers allow their cattle to graze on the land, which could prove problematic if an unsuspecting mountain biker rounded a bend only to find a large cow standing in the middle of the track. The resulting accident would carry the guarantee of moderate or serious injury to the rider.
Burn Hollow is also open to hunting throughout the year, and it wouldn’t make sense to place a recreational trail in the middle of a land that occasionally has bullets whizzing through the air, David said.
Short of ideas, David decided to pull out his hunting GPS and browse through lands surrounding and in Gillette. It didn’t take long for the perfect spot to present itself.
Between Hannum Road and U.S. Highway 59, south of Northern Drive and north of Northwest Park, David found a section of County-owned land, purchased from the State, with an area roughly 640 acres.
The more David studied it, the more he liked what he saw.
“If you look at the topography, there’s hills, there’s valleys,” everything that has the potential to become an incredible mountain bike trail, David explained.
Now that he had the spot, formerly known as the Centennial Section, the only thing left for David to do was figure out a way to get it installed.
There was no way David could purchase or lease the land privately, it would cost too much and he couldn’t, realistically, see that every person who decided to venture out onto the track would be insured in the event they were injured.
“Can you imagine taking out insurance on 30,000 people? Me neither,” David joked.
The only real option left for him, then, was to see that the trail became a county park, which meant he needed to go before the County Commission.
Which is exactly what he did on March 19, standing up to present his idea to the full board of commissioners.
It was pretty well accepted, David said two days later.
What made it desirable, perhaps, was the fact that the entire project would cost less than $300,000 and won’t use so much as a penny of public funds.
“The majority of the money will come from grants,” David explained, along with entry fees from his several annual athletic events throughout the year.
Construction will be a breeze as well. Already having access to the right equipment, such as a skid steer, for the job, the only costs David would have to cover to install a single loop 5K, or 3.1 mile, trail this year is fuel.
The initial trail would feature switch backs and dirt jumps, centered within the 5K loop.
Once the initial trail, which would be open to mountain bikers and trail runners alike, is installed, David will focus on installing a 5 mile trail or even a 10 mile trail.
“Which would be super easy,” David said. Game and horse trails run every which way throughout the land, making a mountain bike only track basically 75 percent finished.
“All we have to do is groom the pathway,” he continued. But while the 5K trail system could be easily installed with the help of a skid steer, making the longer tracks would require the help of experts from the International Mountain Biking Association (IMBA).
Maintaining the dirt tracks will be relatively easy enough too, David continued, which would only need dirt piled and compacted into sections that are washed out by rain or similar events.
David’s efforts will focus on beautification of the land as well. He hopes to spread seed and plant trees throughout the park to create the illusion that one is not on an open range, but adventuring through some distant wilderness.
But before any of this happens, the proposed park still needs to be approved by the county commission, who requested David work closely with the County Parks and Recreation Department Tuesday.
The land is also leased to Gillette College at the moment for the rodeo team’s horses to graze, which means an agreement with the college would need to happen before the project moves forward.
David said he’s up to the challenge. From organizing and hosting large scale events like the Coal Country Gravel Grinder and the Margarita 5K, to encouraging residents of Gillette to stay active, David has been there leading the way.
Getting Gillette’s first mountain bike and running trail off the ground would mean residents can stop setting the cruise control for the Big Horn Mountains and Colorado in search of the next best trail.
If David’s idea catches on and is approved, it would mean mountain bikers and trail runners could stay here, right at home in Gillette.