I sat down recently with Kevin Kavanagh, who is both a member-through the Clear Creek Group- and grant recipient – with Teton Freedom Riders-of 1% for the Tetons, to talk about the story of the last 10 years of trail use in the valley. One Percent members have given generously to both the Teton Freedom Riders and Friends of Pathways and as a result, according to Kavanagh, “our trail system has permanently changed the way the U.S. Forest Service Operates…we’ve become a model for other communities.” In the early 2000’s, downhill mountain bikers were building illegal trails on the pass, and as a result creating environmental degradation and conflicts with other users like hikers, runners, horseback riders and even other mountain bikers. The Teton Freedom Riders were formed as a response to this conflict. Much like snowboarders or skateboarders before them, they were passionate about their sport and they weren’t going away. In fact, they’re numbers were growing and so was the illegal trail network. What was needed wasn’t more trails, as had been the long-time forest service response to more demand, but trails built for specific users. According to Kavanagh, much of the support for the idea of downhill-specific trails came from other trail users. As horseback riders, runners, and other mountain bikers were all draining into Blacks Canyon all at greatly different speeds. The forest service listened to pass user’s desire for separate trails, but with a caveat. “They didn’t have the money to build and maintain new trails so they asked us to sign an agreement saying we would do it.”
Kevin credits 1% members for seeing the big picture and funding what he now calls, “a world class trail system.” “The 1% grant we got gave us credibility so that we could then start approaching other organizations.” The Teton Freedom Riders have successfully created the Jackson Hole Trails Consortium; a group of businesses that that reinvest in this asset (our trails) by funding the trail maintenance in the greater Snow King and Teton Pass areas. They also leveraged the 1% grant with volunteer dig days and free trail design. An economic impact study of Teton County’s front country trail system estimated that they generate over $18,000,000 in commerce and $3,200,000 in salaries for Teton County businesses and residents. You can see the results of the 1% grant and the efforts of the Freedom Riders and other organizations as you ride or hike Teton Pass. Signs are clearly marked and user conflicts are minimized. In many ways it’s easier to get around on the Pass than it is in town. It’s another reason Jackson is a special place and another project that 1% members made happen.