As more miles are added to the new trail system near Caliente, the community is considering ways to accommodate the thousands of mountain bikers expected to visit the area annually.
Restaurants to keep them well-fed, kiosks, signs, and brochures to keep them well-informed and coffee shops to keep them well-caffeinated were some of the many ideas tossed around at a community meeting on Sept. 11. Also emphasized was staying true to the small-town feel and rural way of life that is central to the area’s identity.
The evening event took place in the city council room at The Depot, with around 40 community members and visitors filling all the seats. They took in presentations from University of Nevada Cooperative Extension Educator Holly Gatzke, of Caliente, and two of her colleagues from the university. Also speaking was business owner Troy Rarick, who operates Over the Edge Sports, a mountain biking business that began over two decades ago in the once “broke” Fruita, Colorado. That city now is surrounded by around 1,000 miles of trails, which generate around $50 million per year in economic impact.
Though the initial phases of the trails around Caliente are a much more modest 40 miles, presenters talked about their potential economic boost, with conservative estimates of 8,000 new visitors a year and hundreds of thousands in new revenue with potential for more if businesses and activities are created.
A common theme throughout was a need for cooperation to create a destination that stays true to the local identity. Rarick took the group through an exercise of identifying what that looks like for Caliente. As opportunities were mentioned, Rarick wrote them down on Post-It notes and placed them on a whiteboard. Suggestions included having a bicycle repair and rental shop, coffee shop, souvenirs, info stations, maps, and supplemental activities and events, to name a few.
Some gaps can be filled by organizations like state parks, the city, and the Lincoln County Authority of Tourism. Others will require entrepreneurs to step up and create businesses. Through it all, coordination and cooperation will be key.
Rarick invited the community to “endeavor to work together.” He later added, “Keep your voices kindred and your message consistent.”
He also reassured people that the identity of the community need not change, nor does everything need to be on the destination map. While treating visitors well is key, the community doesn’t need to share its best-kept secrets or invite things that offend locals.
“You want this to be a win, win, win for all your people,” he said.
Rarick added that, with trails going in gradually over the next two years, the process can be gradual. Caliente has a completed mountain biking skills park adjacent to the city’s Super Park, and 12.5 miles of trails are already finished and available to ride at Barnes Canyon, about five miles outside of the city. At Kershaw-Ryan State Park, construction is underway on trails that will ultimately connect with Barnes Canyon, creating the 40-mile network, with hopes all can be completed by late 2019. A grand opening has been targeted for the fall of 2020.
In the meantime, the trails are already generating buzz. City Clerk Ashley Weideman spoke briefly on the conversations she’s been having at the city office, including with two different individuals who checked out the trails and have since bought property in city.
“We hope the businesses in the town get excited about it,” Weideman said. “I know the city is excited about it.”
Gatzke shared studies on current visits to the county. Annual visitors range between 50,000 and 70,000 people who come to visit the five state parks, wildlife refuge, OHV trails, historic towns, and take part in various other events and activities. She also shared survey data from a small sampling of mountain bikers who have come so far. Around 64 percent are between the ages 38 to 53, and they average a 160-mile trip to get here, staying about 1.5 nights.
Economic Development Specialist with the Cooperative Extension Buddy Borden emphasized the opportunities to bring in small entrepreneurs with the new trails and to grow in a way that matches the community’s identity.
“If the growth is going to happen, it’s going to happen, but it’s important to manage it,” Borden said.
Brian Bonnefant, with Nevada Small Business Development Center out of University of Nevada, Reno, provided a potential economic impact analysis based on studies of other mountain biking communities. His estimates, which he noted are conservative, were around $440,000 of new annual visitor revenue, plus $360,000 more if new businesses are established to fill current gaps in services. When increased spending by locals is factored in, the impact goes up further.
Rarick likened the trail development to expanding the local economy’s net: smaller net, less fish; larger net, more fish. Adding more services and activities for people to do when they get here expands the net further.
“People in this country spend money just as a hobby,” he joked.
But, he added, it’s more than just money. It’s about creating a great experience that creatively matches the community culture.
“It’s more about the enhancement of life than it is about money.”