True Grit: Building a bike community can require getting down and dirty (and maybe even mudslinging). Photo: Lin Alder/alderphoto.com

Last summer, I spent a lazy weekend in Salida with family and friends. We rented an old Victorian house. We woke up late and went to the farmers market. We hung out with our kids at the Boathouse Cantina and splashed with our friends’ dog in the cool waters of the Arkansas. Then my buddy Isaac and I hopped on our bikes and hit some sick singletrack.

The Salida Mountain Trails start right out the door of the Boathouse and  switchback up into the foothills. There’s a little bit for everyone up here—but we were simply blown away by the new North Backbone Trail, a roller-coaster 6.4-mile out-and-back ride that feels as if it were designed by mountain bikers. That’s because, of course, it was.

Salida Mountain Trails is an all-volunteer non profit that is on a mission to create a network of non-motorized trails surrounding Salida. Much of the thrust of getting the organization off the ground and building all this fantastic singletrack came from Absolute Bikes, the local cycle shop, where we met up with Salida’s mayor Chuck Rose (now retired) standing in front of the maps of this trail system. He was the dude who recommended we ride the North Backbone. Singletrack has become a part of the fabric of life here—and everyone is excited about it.

We have seen the power of bikes to transform communities in Colorado. Just think about Fruita 15 years ago, when it was nothing but a dusty desert rest stop. The town is experiencing an economic revival in the midst of a recession, with two bike shops, cafes, real pizza and hordes of fat-tire tourists spending cash. It’s a prime example of just how successfully clean, healthy service economies can thrive by taking advantage of the natural beauty and athletic challenges of their landscapes, rather than by exploiting them. And trail systems don’t have to be just singletrack—bike parks, commuter trails and a whole cycle culture complete the scene.

I only wish our hometown of Boulder would become more visionary when it comes to creating an experience like Salida. Last year, Boulder mountain bikers and the town council got in a dispute over new trails that brought out the worst on both sides—despite an incredible new bike park and one of the best cycle paths in the country, the council couldn’t complete the “bike town” experience and banned bikes and new trails from some of the best open space in town. That was a shame not only because we won’t be able to ride straight from The Kitchen onto singletrack, but more so because Boulder lost its coveted place as a visionary city that integrates recreation, nature and commerce into one big, happy love fest.

Towns with real vision can create trail systems like Salida and rec-firendly economies like Fruita. All you need to do is become active. Pick up a shovel, call your biker friends and start a movement in your own backyard.