Mountain biking can be stimulating, economically 0
On the other side of the continent, in Northeastern Vermont, you'll find the town of Burke, boasting a population that sits comfortably under 2000. For much of the 20th Century, Burke operated as a logging and farming community.
It is reasonably close to large Canadian cities like Montreal at two hours and Sherbrooke at only ninety minutes. Boston is three and New York pushes five. They have a couple schools, libraries and parks. They have a small ski hill, topographically not unlike that which rises above Blairmore. They also have the Kingdom Trails.
Started in 1994, the Kingdom Trails project was designed to promote outdoor recreational use in the area. By 1999, 160 kilometres of singletrack mountain bike trails, across 55 different private landowner's properties, were complete. Some even double as cross-country ski trails in the winter and now the small ski hill has joined the party, becoming a four season destination with a variety of lift-accessed, downhill mountain biking trails.
4,000 visitors jumped on their bikes or skis and hit the trails in 2004. Just five years later the number had jumped to 40,000. 2011 had them up again, reaching 49,000.
The group has recently started to collect data on the visitors and the results are extremely interesting. They found that the average age of a typical mountain bike tourist is 37 and they usually stay about two nights. They spend $100, American, per day on lodging and food, making two trips each year. Extrapolating these numbers, representatives of the Kingdom Trails conservatively estimate that the trails pump $5 million dollars in to the local economy on a yearly basis.
By now, I'm guessing you can see where I'm going with this. Crowsnest Pass has all the physical tools required to make a similar push into the tourism industry and non-motorized recreation is a great way to attract visitors while limiting the environmental impact to the very area they're utilizing.
The terrain, climate and access to land set up perfectly. Looming to the south is a ski hill, just begging for a chairlift and a full scale, lift-accessed, downhill mountain biking development that would be the closest to Calgary, excluding Canada Olympic Park, and Lethbridge.
All the other important items are in place too, including a local bike club to support the initiative in the form of the United Riders of Crowsnest (UROC). An organized force, they have already been instrumental in the development of trails on the side of Pass Powderkeg ski hill and the building of the skills park at the base area. They have also spurred the creation of an International Mountain Biking Association (IMBA) approved master plan that lays it all out, for everyone to enjoy.
With the underground, local support and talent to push things forward, all that's needed now is the funds to make it happen.
I've heard the statement that "The Crowsnest Pass needs to decide what it is going to be," from many people throughout the community. One thing is for certain, it is no longer a coal mining town. It isn't a logging town and unless someone stumbles upon the infamous Lost Lemon mine, it won't be a gold rush town. There are rumblings of manufacturing plants setting up shop, but the lonely mountain location that we all love will ultimately prohibit that from singlehandedly driving the economy.
So, while the thought of existing largely on tourism may scare many people, it may also be the most realistic option for a community like the Crowsnest Pass to embrace. Based on what little old Burke, Vermont was able to realize, a wholehearted commitment to becoming a mountain biking epicentre just might be a reasonable, affordable and exciting path to achieving economic sustainability.
For more information on UROC and to view the master plan, head to their website at www.uroc.ca. Be sure to contact them if interested in sponsorship, the more the merrier.