New State Parks Trail System a Success

Recognizing the economic potential in attracting visitors, Wyoming embarked in 2006 on an ambitious plan to build trail systems in its state parks.

The effort so far has created nearly 60 miles of trails in Glendo and Curt Gowdy state parks in eastern Wyoming, where high plains and mountains collide. Many more trails are planned in this diverse and challenging terrain.

“Before 2006, state parks didn’t have any trails,” said Paul Gritten, non motorized trails coordinator for the Division of State Parks, Historic Sites and Trails, the agency spearheading the effort.

Building natural trails is far less expensive than paved trails, and the investment is worth it, Gritten said.

“It’s a huge benefit to state parks,” Gritten said. We are divesifing our systems to to include new uses and new users. Trails have extended our typical recreation season into shoulder seasons. It spreads increased use out over longer periods of time.”

Gritten says the new trails are largely responsible for increased visitation.

Since trail building began in 2006, visitation has more than doubled at Curt Gowdy State Park, located 20 miles west of Cheyenne. The number of visitors there increased from 51,000 in 2006 to more than 117,000 in 2011.

“We don’t have any other new things,” or significant change in parks or surrounding areas to explain the new visitors, Gritten said. Except for trails.

The growing flow of visitors also boosted state park daily entry fee revenue at Curt Gowdy from $127,713 in 2006 to $194,816 in 2011. That does not include the revenue to the state generated from annual park pass sales. The state spent $600,000 in mostly federal funds, state money and private support to build the park’s trail system.

But the economic benefits don’t flow only to the state treasury. They ripple out into the surrounding communities as well. Two outdoor shops in Cheyenne reported increased sales, in part due to new park trails, according to one state parks report.

Studies have found that properties located near trail systems sell for 5 to 32 percent more than properties farther away. At Mountain Meadows, which is adjacent to Curt Gowdy, many houses advertised for sale touted the park’s nearby trail system as a benefit.

Stimulating the local economy and boosting state revenues is exactly the result the state was aiming for. “We’re trying to market all of our state parks as destinations,” Gritten said. In addition to camping, boating and fishing, trails add to the outdoor experience. For those living in more crowded urban areas of the Front Range, for example, Wyoming’s parks with new trails are especially attractive.

“People come up from the Front Range because it’s not as busy their local trails,” Gritten said. Curt Gowdy routinely attracts people from Denver, just two hours away, Gritten noted.

When visitors arrive, they have plenty of space to spread out. Curt Gowdy has 3,500 acres and 35 miles of trails. It has 145 campsites, and historically was used primarily for boating, fishing and camping. There are four miles of trails are dedicated to equestrian use only.

The park is adjacent to the Granite Springs and Crystal Reservoirs, where some of the park’s trails have been built. The other part of the trail system winds through the mountainous terrain in the park.

Curt Gowdy State Park also has an easily accessible skills course close to the parking lot.

“We hope people learn new skills before they get in the backcountry,” Gritten said. The skills park was by design, a way for riders to master tricky maneuvers without risking injury on remote, expert sections of trail.

The state contracted with the International Mountain Bicycling Association to design the park’s course. In addition to contracted trail builders, volunteers logged about 7,000 hours of labor to help build the trail system. The Wyoming Conservation Corps was among the trail-building labor.

To the north and about a 90-minute drive from Casper lies Glendo State Park. At 20,000 acres, the park is much larger than Curt Gowdy and has plenty of space to expand its 23-mile trail system. Another 40 miles of trails will be built over the next two years, according to Gritten. With a budget of $400,000, crews began building trails at that park in 2010.

Glendo contains the Glendo Reservoir and 90 campsites. Users riding the trails enjoy spectacular views across the reservoir and beyond to Laramie Peak on the far horizon.

Longtime mountain biker Gordon Edwards regularly travels from Casper to Glendo for the challenging, scenic rides the park offers.

“I think it’s one of the most exciting developments in Wyoming,” Edwards said. “I always looked at that landscape and dreamed about how good it would be for mountain biking.”

Edwards, a board member of Wyoming Pathways, has volunteered time to work on trails in Glendo, and chides his fellow riders to help out as well.

One of Edwards’ favorite routes in the park is the six-mile stretch of the Narrows Bluff trail, which offers more than an hour’s ride from the Dam Overlook trailhead to the Sandy Beach area. A 150 foot floating pontoon bridge has been installed to cross Hytrek draw during high water and low water mud crossings.

The park has three trail sections of varying degrees within the Two Moon area of the park. Near the Two Moon playground is the park’s pump course of berms, gaps and rollers, which allows riders to cruise through without pedaling.

The new park features have provided an opportunity to stage a variety of events that raise the profile of the parks. At Curt Gowdy, for example, the state has partnered with organizations like the American Cancer Society to host the Climb to Conquer Cancer event. It’s also organized events like the Antelope Dash for the Nature Conservancy, the Gowdy Grinder with Elevation 7120, the Stone Temple 8, with the Laramie Enduro, and several other events.

Despite the success of the trails program and benefits it has generated, Gritten and others are concerned about continued funding.

A trails grand opening is scheduled for June 22, 2013. For more information please contact Paul Gritten at 307-777-8557 or [email protected]

Volunteer dates are: Gowdy June 1, 2013 & September 14, 2013, Glendo: June 22, 2013 & October 12, 2013