Fabulous episode today with Tim Kugler, the Executive Director of Gunnison Valley Trails Association.
This show made me think about relationships and how quickly they develop when you look for common ground. You see, Tim and I have quite a bit of overlap. I grew up in Gunnison, where Tim’s organization is based, and I’m as passionate about the outdoors as he is. I also get up to a lot of the same shenanigans as he does, and coincidentally I serve on the Board of the Nederland Area Trails Organization (nedtrails.org) that does some of the same work.
If you drew our lives as a Venn Diagram—one of those illustrations that use circles to show the relationships between things—you’d see a really robust intersection between Tim and me. That intersection between you and someone else, or between your organization and your members, is the “sweet spot” that drives a real opportunity for relationship-building.
Looking for these types of overlaps can contribute markedly to how you build trust and get people excited about your programs.
As you can imagine, Tim and I had a great conversation. Hope you enjoy the show.
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Finding Common Connections To Build Stronger Relationships With Tim Kugler from Gunnison Valley Trails Association
We have another great episode. My guest is Tim Kugler and he is the Executive Director of Gunnison Trails. They are a really fun organization that does trail work and advocacy in the Gunnison Valley which is very dear to my heart because I grew up in Gunnison. While reading this, you are going to get to see Tim and I nerd out on trail work and things of that nature.
We also talked a lot about how to keep an audience engaged during that inspire phase, how to get people to move from a donor to a volunteer to an advocate, and then we also talked about optimizing email and some of the trends that we are seeing in the nonprofit space that tends to make your emails work a lot better. You are going to enjoy this episode. I had a ton of fun. Here we go. Tim, how are you?
I am doing great, Stu. How are you doing?
I am well, thanks. It is great to have you on the show. I am excited to hear what you are up to over in my hometown of Gunnison with the trail system over there. Are you one of the Founders of Gunnison Trails or are you just the Director?
I am the Executive Director. The organization was founded back in 2006 by Dave Wiens, who it sounds like you know all about. I took the reins from him back in 2017 when he went on and took a job as the Executive Director of the International Mountain Bike Association.
He has been with IMBA for a few years.
Since I took over for Gunnison Trails, he moved over to IMBA. It would have been in the early spring of 2017.
Tell us more about what you have going on there at Gunnison Trails.
We are a nonprofit trail advocacy organization. We were founded with a simple mission. We mainly caretake and maintain the trails out at Hartman Rocks Recreation Area. It is about 3 miles South of town and has about 45 miles of mechanized trails that are outstanding top-tier trails. We started to steward those trails, in addition to educate the greater trail-using public on proper trail etiquette and trail closures as it relates to wildlife and springtime mud closures. The third piece is to look for new opportunities to build additional human power trails here in the valley in Gunnison County.
Reward folks who give you feedback.
I know that I have an interesting challenge over there with the Sage-Grouse.
Sage-Grouse is a unique species that was identified many years ago. That very much dictates a lot of what we can and cannot do in terms of neutral development, but then also it has some pretty heavy-handed closures. Not just with trails, but a lot of our county roads are closed as well when those birds are mating. The closures here for Gunny County are March 15th through May 15th. We have a lot of roads and trails closed to give those birds some time.
I grew up over there and I remember visiting a couple of years ago and I was not aware of the closures. I started to do a run-over on the Signal Peak area and I quickly came to a bunch of areas that was not accessible at that time.
That has been interesting because we have had some new trail development in the Signal Peak area. There has been a long history of use up there, mainly on roads and then there are some old school trails that also meander their way through there. There was no real management strategy up there until we submitted a plan to build some new trails. We got it approved by the BLM. When new trail development started to go in, that is when they started to incorporate some wildlife restrictions and enclosures, both for a big wintering game as well as the Sage-Grouse.
It was a blessing that we got a lot of opportunities to build some really cool new trails close to town, but at the same time, it came with some heavy-handed closures, whereas historically, you could have gone up there in the spring when it was dry. Now there is a whole area where there is no human use at all, so there is no mountain biking, no trail running, and no hiking for two months for Sage-Grouse. That all came about in 2017, so it has been a learning curve too for folks that have historically used that area and now they cannot for a couple of months in the springtime.
It is always a challenge. People want to have access to the stuff that they want to have access to. At the same time, that is part of living with the wildlife that we so enjoy seeing. We have to both be respectful.
The nice thing is it is definitely a challenge, but at the same time, it is not unique to the Gunnison area. If you recreate in Durango, so many places around the state have closures, whether it is for wintering the game or for other unique species. Trail users are getting used to seeing such closures and having springtime as a time where you might come across a closure and not be aware of it. They will have seen a similar closure somewhere else, and it will not be completely new to them.
I know there are some climbing areas over here in the Boulder area that gets close for Raptor hatching at certain times during the year. It is something that we all have to contend with as we encroach upon and live within these areas where wildlife is present.
A lot of times, the trail-using public or trail users as recreation get pointed to wanting to go out and get their adrenaline fix if you are a mountain biker or maybe a bit of a selfish reason for going out and getting your one-hour run in or something. Everyone I know that uses trails loves when they come across wildlife and loves that we are sharing the landscape with them. It goes hand-in-hand with us being good stewards. If we want new trail development, we need to be willing to acknowledge that we’ve got to share the landscape.
Is that part of your mission at Gunny Trails? Is that an educational piece for the public?
Very much so. Right before we started chatting, we sent out a newsletter every now and again. We have about 3,000 people that are signed up. This one is going to speak to the Sage-Grouse closures we have coming up on March 15th. We still have snow on the ground. Folks are not exactly in the trail mode, but as well as anyone when winters are long here in Colorado. When spring starts to open things up, people have the trail fixed and want to get out.
It is important to get these messages in front of people well ahead of time. A big portion of what I do is getting the education out there as well as trying to do things differently each year people so are not seeing the same message every springtime on March 10th from me. It has more of an impact or it might catch people who would not otherwise read our newsletter.
One of the things we have been seeing in the nonprofit space and in the for-profit space as well is a slight shift away from newsletters and moving toward an email standard that feels a lot more one-to-one. Instead of having a highly designed newsletter with a whole bunch of different messages and things that people can do, honing that down into a text-only email that comes from a person, it comes from you. You are who it is from. The reply-to address is an actual person. The messaging is very key toward timeliness and a person.
If you can customize even the subject line to use somebody’s name or at least use the word “you” in that, that tends to be effective. In the body of the message, stripping out all the design there as well and having it feel like it came from your mom tends to hammer home that this is a person talking to the person who is receiving the email. We have seen a much higher rate of attraction on those.
It is crazy because it is a science and so much of communication. I would not say I am blessed in being a terrific communicator, especially now with all the different social media platforms. It is an ever-changing and ever-evolving world that I am constantly learning or needing to relearn. I am trying to enjoy that element of my job instead of wanting to pull my hair out. It is also rewarding when you have folks who give you feedback and say, “I really appreciated when you reached out and said this, that, or the other.” It is definitely something we are always trying to stay on top of.
The Signal Peak trail system is a great example of a lot of the users are students at Western State College. Talk about a class of individuals that are not going to want to get another email. If I send out that generic email to Western kids, there is a good chance that they did not even open it up. Another unique challenge is how to reach those students to get some of these important messages out. A lot of times, it is telling a good story. If you have a good story for why we are closing the trails, they are going to be receptive if I can spell it out in such a way that captures their attention.
That sounds like an additional challenge that you have is your audience types are all over the place. Trying to figure out where to put those messages out there is a real challenge in terms of the fact that you have all these different avatars that you need to be able to talk to.
Do so from a less of a heavy-handed, “Here are the rules and you need to follow them,” approach to more of like a, “There is a really cool bird up here that you have never seen. This is why we are closing the trail.”
Crazy events are incredible sources of income.
Do you give them opportunities for other options, like making suggestions to go to Hartman or to wherever that does not have those closures?
We certainly do. We are fortunate in that the trails in Signal Peak would dry out in a normal year a couple of weeks earlier than the trails of Hartman Rocks. We are fortunate in that we do have an outlet and a system of good trails that are open when folks might want to otherwise go to other areas. We are lucky there. We have certainly put out the word before when we have a lot of snow here. That is not news to anyone anymore. Everyone knows a lot of the conditions in some of these other places.
I like that you guys have built some new trails right there close to the campus. In theory, at least my recollection is that the Sage-Grouse closure was 0.25 or 0.50 miles back on the main two-track that goes up above the water towers. There is a lot of opportunity below that toward the campus or toward the cemetery there.
That is a combination of private and Western Colorado university land. You are correct. There are about 7 and a half to 8 miles of single-track trail that you can access when the area is otherwise closed. That is plenty to get fixed for your typical hiker trail, runner, dog-walker, and even cyclists, but I know people who recreate five times a week. If they mountain bike, that is a short loop and all of a sudden, they are ready to move on to the next thing. That is critical for us to maintain those closures to allow people to have access to some of the trails that are close by. The fact that they are so close in proximity to downtown Gunnison is awesome as well.
Education is so key and gives people options as well. Letting them know, “Ride it clockwise and then turn around and ride it counter-clockwise. You get 16 miles in.”
I can think of a lot of areas where folks are not as fortunate with close-to-town options and options you do not have to drive 30 minutes or 45 minutes. Another selling point of these closures in a winter like this, those trails are going to be dry right around the time the closure sets in. In another couple of weeks, they are dry and taunting you from town, but we have these other amazing stretches of trail that are close by. People get it. For the most part, the compliance is good.
It sounds like you have a good mailing list. How frequently are you trying to reach out to that group?
Not enough, but at the same time, my job is very seasonal in the sense of when we are trying to communicate a lot of different things. We are starting to ramp up in terms of outreach to trail users as well as our seasons unfold and start to get busier. Come summertime, we are doing weekly trail workdays. We are sending out at least one email a week, but come wintertime, people do not need to hear from me every week. I try not to kill folks on that front.
We groomed a wintertime trail system that has been new for us in the last few years. It has been a super hilarious learning curve to figure out how to groom single-track trails. Things are updated much more quickly. An email would be the ideal choice to use. Instead, it is Facebook, Instagram, and those sorts of forms to get grooming reports in front of folks. We transition back and forth as to the best outreach for some of these different initiatives.
That is out at Hartman, correct?
Did you guys get a Snowdog? We bought one of those. We have not had enough snow over here to use it yet.
The Snowdog is the Russian equivalent of what we have. It is hilarious that you brought that up. I might need to test that out at some point. I don’t know if your Snowdog wants to travel or come up to Gunnison to have a vacation day, but I have been intrigued to see how that machine would work versus we have a Trail Tamer. It is built by this company out of Lake Lillian. They sell snowmobile tracks. They have big fat bikes single-track seen in that part of the country. They made this purpose-built groomer. It is very similar to the Snowdog, but the thing weighs twice as much as the Snowdog.
It is super cumbersome and top-heavy, but it can put down some good trail when you have figured out how to use it. We groom about 14 miles of trail out at Hartman. We have been permitted to groom a little over 25 miles, but there are certain trails that it does not work on. There are other trails that we still have not tried to groom yet because we are waiting for the right winter or more time to figure out what does work and what does not, and then we will expand from there.
It sounds like you have a good social media presence in terms of those updates that happen more frequently. You are hitting your email list, particularly during the season, fairly regularly. You have your website as well. What is your donor situation like? Are people active or is that always a struggle for you?
It is one of those, the more time I put into that, the better off and the more that would grow. We have a diversified donor source. We have memberships folks can buy and that is a super popular program that has taken a while to be more automated and less of people writing in checks, which people still do, and more automated credit card stuff. That has been consistent slowly growing over the years.
We have got business sponsorships. It is partner levels for businesses to sign up and get various perks from marketing on our end for them. We have a cool program that started back in 2016 called Pennies for Trails. It is a 1% type program. You, as a customer, go into a business and that business tax has an extra penny for every dollar you spend there and it comes directly back to our organization.
We were looking at trying to do that for NATO a few years ago. We never managed to get our act together enough to do it. That is a great way to diversify those revenue streams and create an opportunity for a variety of different streams of revenue. Do you guys sell kits or anything as well? Do you have a retail component?
Different trail networks appeal to different people.
We do have merchandise. We move back and forth into various local stores here in the valley, which has been cool, but it is mainly on our website. It is something that if I had more time and get more of that merchandise into stores rather than sitting in my garage. As much as I love to put time into that, you look at the cost-benefit and how much time I would put into it before we start seeing a return. We treat our merchandise as breaking even. The more we get out there, the more advertising we have for our organization.
At the same time, we are not going to be bringing in extra six-figures by selling hoodies. The merchandise is definitely another piece. We put out a race every Memorial Day weekend called the Original Growler. That is definitely a good spot to get some of our product in front of 700-plus racers that come.
That is a great race. In fact, I was out riding on my cross bike and I forgot that the race was going on and I ended up on course. People were cheering me on and I am like, “I did not race this whole thing on my gravel bike.”
I have had a couple of people reach out saying, “I sold my cross-country bike and all I have is a gravel bike. What do you think?” It is always like, “It could be done.” We had to skip it 2020. 2019 was the last year we held it.
You have a variety of different revenue streams, which I love and the fact that you can probably throttle some of that stuff a little bit as well, in terms of being able to flip switches. For example, if you decided that you wanted to put on another race, you have that infrastructure and that historical knowledge of how to do that. Being able to spin up another version of it, if you think of scalability, it is great to be able to have those switches to pull. A lot of nonprofits have a hard time because they have one revenue stream and then if that dries up, they are in trouble.
The longer I am at this job, the more I realize how fortunate. Dave Wiens started the Growler in 2008. It was year number one. The cross-country race scene was evolving, but everyone could have put on a race and watched it flourish. Now we are at a crossroads where there are new formats coming up like enduro and gravel races. A lot of the races that come and do the Growler would be good candidates to do gravel races as well. When I took on this role, I inherited a very successful race. There are a number of years where if I am not really putting energy into that race, it could wither.
It started to bring in a source of revenue to have a paid director. It is crucial to our organization. The more I live and breathe this job, the more I recognize how fortunate I am to have a successful race that already has a massive following. I am not trying to say, “We need another source of revenue. Maybe we could run an event.” They are so hard to get established. There is much competition in that world.
It is and during pandemic times, it is near impossible to do that. How did you guys replace that revenue in 2020 or did you?
We did not. By the time we had to cancel the race, about 400 folks had signed up. We gave them the option of, “You can get a full refund, but if you like what we do and you want to support our organization, this is an important source of revenue for us. Feel free to donate a portion of your entry or you can even donate all of it.” We had good feedback on that to the tune of close to $20,000. We recouped some of the race proceeds there.
We have enough on the books that we could weather and it is not going to sink the ship. It was tough not to put on the race, but at the same time, we have diverse revenue streams and are not living paycheck to paycheck. You take a year like 2020. It was not ideal, but we can roll with it and hit the ground running again this season.
The nice thing about not being able to have events is you do not have the cost of those events either. That is a bonus if you want to try and look at it in a positive light. What did you do with those new email addresses that people that did donate? Have you been trying to nurture those people even though they are not necessarily Gunnison Valley standards?
They all get thrown into our Growler email list. They got the occasional email about what we have been up to. Despite the pandemic in the summer of 2020, we run an in-house trail crew. When we first started in ‘06, we were all volunteers. We do weekly volunteer work nights. We did those to a lesser extent in 2020 because of the pandemic. A very important portion of our organization is getting people out on the ground and doing the work. It is cliché, but it really does offer that buy-in.
We had an eight-person trail crew in the summer of 2020. We let these folks know, “Your Growler proceeds allowed us to hold a bigger trail crew than we ever have before. We got 3,500 hours worth of work done.” We are acknowledging those people that did give that, “The race is much more than a race to us, but it allows us to do these phenomenal feats all summer long.” In terms of donor’s support and feedback, again, if I had more time, that would be something that would be time well spent acknowledging those people that give.
I love that you had that messaging in there of the, “This is what your donation contributed to toward. it kept somebody on a crew, it helped build X number of miles of trail, or we put in this many work hours.” Giving people something very tangible as a result of their contribution is incredibly powerful. I love that you are already thinking in that way. I would encourage you to continue that and think about how you can segment the audience and speak to those people differently than you do to the Growler audience at large. The event fuels a lot of the stuff you are doing but giving people the ability to donate as add-on to their race fee can generate a lot of revenue.
That is an option. I remember when I first started in this role in 2017, Dave Wiens was holding my hand. I took over right at the beginning of May. Growler was about three weeks later that year. It was trial by fire, but Dave was still putting on the Growler but gave me the caveat of, “This is my last year doing it, so pay close attention because this is your baby next year.”
I remember noticing that year, “We are already asking them to pay X amount of dollars to race. Now we are asking them for like an additional donation.” People donate and then they show up and they thank you and say like, “Great work. We are so excited to have the opportunity to give a little bit more.” Do not be afraid to ask when you put that out there.
There is a saying that gets thrown around a lot. It is, “The answer is always no if you do not ask.” Giving people an easy way to kick in more. There are ways that, in theory, you could incentivize their performance, like having them do some sponsorship where if they finish under a certain time, they are trying to get people who will pay to match that performance. That then helps with their performance as well. There are a lot of ways to get really creative, particularly when you are talking about race entry fees. I used to race marathons. New York City Marathon had a few different ways that you could get in.
The first way was you could qualify. The second way, you could throw into a hat as part of the raffle and then the third way was to raise money. They had either a specific charity or a group of charities that you could choose from. If you got up some dollar figure, $1,500 or something like that, towards this charity, you got access to the race. Doing things like that and being creative with that user base, we see mountain bikers being generous in their desire to give back to the trail systems that they love, maybe more so than some of the other groups that use them. Leaning on that would be something I would encourage.
Bike advocacy groups are pushing for more engagement and written permission.
When you see the amount of volunteers that come out, and it is not unique to this valley, but we have a really strong volunteer force in this valley that comes out for trail workdays between the Crested Butte Mountain Bike Association and then Gunnison Trails. You do not want to say they are all mountain bikers. A lot of the time, it is various trail users, but I know the mountain bikers and all of us like to point to, “We do come out in droves to give back to our trails in one form or another.”
Giving people the option to either pay to play because some people have more money than time and some have more time than money and some have a little bit of both. This is the inspire phase of this audience engagement cycle, but trying to get people to move between different levels of engagement, taking a volunteer and getting them to donate and taking a donor and getting them to volunteer. Trying to get some transactional movement around that ecosystem can be super effective. Are there any other events that you put on during the course of the year in a normal year?
We have three main events. One is the Growler and that is a colossal event. It takes a ton of energy and it is the biggest source of revenue from all of them. We put on a fall end-of-season event called Ales for Trails. It used to be the Big Beers for Big Gears event. It has always been around. That was right around when they had Beer and Chili Fest up in Crested Butte and we had a bunch of brewers in town. It has always been an excuse to get folks together and drink some beer and celebrate the trail season. Our founding Pennies for Trail partner, High Alpine Brewing, host this every fall.
It is less of a fundraiser. It is an event. We are trying to raise revenue for our organization, but it is more to show some love to one of our big sponsors, High Alpine Brewing, so we pack their house. It is also a way to raise a glass to everyone and celebrate a trail season as we come into wintertime. I hate to say that it is my favorite event, but it is my favorite event. It is very little in terms of work that goes into it. It is almost a way to thank those that have given us so much. It comes back and it pays itself in dividends, not necessarily that night in what we bring in, in terms of money, but keeping folks happy and acknowledging them that it took a lot of work on the trail season.
That one has been fun. We do one in the middle of winter, like the doldrums of winter in February, we host what we call the Winter Blast, an auction. A bunch of local businesses donate some cool swag. We auction it off and we have a big dinner held at a Western in their ballroom. We sell about 160 tickets for that. It is a nice source of revenue in the winter, but another way to give trail users an update on what is coming up that season and a nice something to look forward to in February in Gunnison, which is the coldest, darkest place in the continental US.
Those are our three biggies. It is funny when the Growler finishes and you have that post-event buzz like, “I am happy to have gotten through that.” That is when my mind will be like, “Show we do a fall Growler?” Reality quickly sets in and I am like, “We are not doing another event.” I have toyed with doing some other type of race. We have toyed around doing a winter race of sorts, probably not to the tune of what the Growler is by any means. Events are incredible sources of income, but they are excessive in the amount of time and energy and oftentimes expense that goes into them. You want to know what you are getting into before you start going down that path.
Is Fat Bike World still held in Crested Butte or do they move that around now?
They moved that around. 2021 was the year. In Gunnison County, it could not have happened, but it could not have happened in the traditional Fat Bike world Scene. It moved up to Wyoming. The idea there is to get it to the other cycling world events to move around in various places. Hopefully, it will come back home, but it would be good to have a change of scene. Someone in Oregon may not want to drive to Crested Butte to attend it. It would be great if it moved around to various places.
I was thinking you could put a crit on or something in conjunction with that.
Someone reached out and I am not sure if they had even reached out to you guys up in Nederland because you are grooming trail now, but they thought about reviving the Colorado winter series and having a winter series throughout the state on various trails. That is almost the sweet spot for an event where a lot of the planning and marketing and things might not necessarily fall on our organization or me, but we would put on a cool event and have a kick-ass weekend.
In 2021, it would have been faster on your cross bike around here. At that point in time, we were riding mountain bikes fully in the woods until mid-January. It has been crazy. We had a real dry winter so far.
We are getting back to close to average, not in Gunnison, but up in the high country around here. It was bleak up until January, when the snow started falling.
Tell us about your weekly trail building that you do during the course of the season.
Up until 2016, we did and still do these, but it was all volunteer maintenance. We had built a couple of new trails out of Hartman Rocks, but they were always volunteer folks coming out for the better part of a Saturday to knock out a new half-mile section of trail. We do a thing called Trailwork Tuesdays every Tuesday night from 3:00 to 7:00 or 4:00 to 7:00. It is standard maintenance. Out in Hartman, for example, when we get these heavy rains. We get a lot of erosion out there, so clearing drains and making sure that the soil is not moving too far and replenishing it in areas where it needs it.
With all the use we have been seeing, we are making sure that we keep the trails as narrow as we can and close down, go around as they form. Hartman is a technical area and there are a lot of opportunities for people to get to a spot where they cannot. They are in over their head and then they decide to ride around something. Up until 2016, that was all volunteer and then starting in 2016, we started with a youth core of three people for ten weeks. That has grown into now eight-person crew that works June through October.
A lot of that growth was because we were approved to build trails up in Signal Peak. We have built about 6 new miles of trail and we have been building, on average, about 3 miles a year. We have got another 3-mile plan for this year then after that, we have another 4 miles of trail before it is built out according to the plan. There will be over 20 miles of trail when all is said and done up in Signal Peak. To give you an idea, Hartman Rocks has about 45 miles of trail. It will be about half the size of Hartman’s. That has been a big learning curve in terms of I had some experience lining out trail and doing some trail building, but I had more experience working in trees and places with rocks.
It has been good. It has been super frustrating at first. I wish I had ten more years under my belt before we start lining the trail that is going to be on the ground, hopefully for eternity. They do not last that long. I beat myself up all the time because you are you want to knock it out of the park every time. We have been on a learning curve up there, but it is amazing to have the system of the trail we have that you can access less than a half-mile from Main Street in Gunnison. At first, I was lamenting that it was not Hartman Rocks. There are not those amazing rocky granite spires and the topography up there is very different, but at the same time, it is great.
We have two very different trail networks that appeal to different people. It took me a while to realize that just because it is different up there, it is not necessarily a bad thing. 2020 was a little different with COVID, but the trail crew organizes our weekly trail workdays. It is a bit of a juggling act now that we have an in-house crew to help out on a lot of those smaller maintenance projects. I find myself like, “How do we keep projects coming for volunteers?” It is a good problem to have. Now are going to have a trail crew in 2021 to work at Hartman Rocks.
Set aside one day to go out and do a trail maintenance project because it’s more rewarding than you might think.
There is plenty to do, but juggling both the paid trail crew as well as volunteer force took some doing. The crew splits its time between 2020, for example, they spent half their summer building trail up in the Signal Peak area and then the other half either maintaining trails out at Hartman’s. It has been pretty rewarding. We have been able to move a lot of what we do up into the high country. We are starting to assist a couple of different forest service ranger districts with backlog trail maintenance that they have.
For our organization that has historically worked at Hartman’s and in the Sage country, it has been cool to expand our skillset. When looking at the map around Gunnison, you have three massive wilderness areas with a ton of trails that need love. A lot of times, trail organizations get pegged as mountain bike organizations, but it was strategic when he started Gunnison Trails that it would be Gunnison Trails.
We have got a couple of big projects lined up to work on long stretches of trail in either the West Elk Wilderness or the Fossil Ridge Wilderness. For me, as an avid cyclist and a lover of two wheels, it is also rewarding to get to go into some of these places where you are leaving a big impact and you are doing it for not necessarily a place where you are going to come back and get to ride the trail.
That is one of the things that we have done at Nederland Area Trails Organization. We try to be very agnostic in terms of usage. We are trying to build fun, safe, challenging, and unique trails in the area for all different user types, everybody from equestrians to runners to hikers to people who are on bikes. Our trails are mostly non-motorized in terms of motor vehicles. Most of them are mechanized but non-motorized where we are working. Although there are some wilderness areas close by that we could get up into that are for hikers only. We do try to build trails for everybody and that is a really important thing to get out there. You are not just doing this for the mountain bike community.
A lot of times, the core hardcore mountain biker might point to some of those multi-use trails as being a sanitized version of what they really want to see. They are not wrong. I am fortunate in that I live in an area that has a good diversity of trails. When we do build a new 6% grade trail in Signal Fun, we are trying to make it fun for everyone and keep all users in mind. We acknowledge that, “If you are looking to get gnarly, there is plenty of opportunities to do that that is not only close by, but you can pedal to a lot of it.”
I do feel for some of those areas that may not have some of the diversity that we have and how do you satisfy a lot of differences that people are looking for. That is something we will see more of. You see more bike-optimized trails and areas that are trying to separate some of the uses again. We happened to be in a spot that has enough trails for everyone to get their fix.
There is certainly a ton of opportunity in the Gunnison Valley.
It is good to acknowledge that. I try not to take that for granted ever, but I also acknowledge that there are areas where there might not be those gnarly steep trails that some twelve-year-old on a mountain bike, like I was once, is looking to get after it on. It is tough, but it is nice to see agencies acknowledging that it exists. A lot of that is to credit the mountain bike advocacy groups that are really pushing for more of that engagement and written permission.
That is what we do. They may be trails that are not particularly great for running or horses that are built more for mountain bikes, but in the same area, there will be some other opportunities that allow for that access that everybody would like.
It is always a challenge, but one aspect of the job makes it rewarding and fun.
What are your plans for 2021? You have your in-house crew that is going to be active. It sounds like you are going to be able to continue doing some volunteer stuff. The race sounds like it is on for Memorial Day. What else is on deck for you guys in 2021?
We have about 3 miles of trail that will make for some cool connectivity up in Signal Peak. It will make the biggest outer loop of the system. To provide a really long distance, if they were to connect all the single track using the new stuff we are going to build this summer, you would be looking at a 20-mile ride where you would not have to ride on the same trail.
That is the main focus point this summer. Another really cool opportunity that has come down the pipeline and it is by no means set in stone, but with the passing of the Great American Outdoors Act, there is some cool funding coming down from the federal government that organizations like Gunnison Trails or Youth Corps can access to help them with a backlog of deferred maintenance. We are hoping to expand a lot of what we do into not necessarily a forest service, but a lot of it is on forest service trails in and around Gunnison. Hopefully, we will get that accrue cross-cut certified and they can go in and safely clear some wilderness trails where we cannot use chainsaws.
For me, it is cool to be able to expand the areas where we work, but at the same time, I recognize we have an opportunity in Signal Peak to build a new trail. At the end of the day, those opportunities do not come down the pipe every year. A lot of what we are going to need to focus on is maintenance. We have some amazing stretches of trail here that have never seen a tool for the last number of years. I love exploring some of these areas that, to your average rider, it might be a miserable experience, but these are historic trails that have been around forever and they were well before sustainable alignments were used.
We do not want them to go away. We might have the opportunity to reroute them one day or make those unsustainable bits more sustainable. Even the task of clearing them and keeping them open is monumental. That is a big portion of hopefully what we will be teeing up to work on in the next several years, knocking out some of these trail segments that need proper tree removal and brush clearing to even open up the corridor again.
I nerd out and I look at some of the maps from all these wilderness areas that we are so fortunate to have close by. They are covered in trails and what is crazy is I have not had a chance to explore half of them or even two-thirds of them. To be able to have a reason to get into this country and call it “work” but also be assisting with a pretty service that a lot of folks will appreciate is special. That got me excited between having new trails to build this summer and then also having some pretty cool maintenance projects on the dock. It is exciting times, for sure.
How can people find out more about Gunnison Trails?
You can always send it to our website. We try to keep that up to date with a news feed on the front page. If you head to the website, you will have a little window that pops up and you can join our newsletter or you can follow us on Facebook or Instagram.
I love everything that you guys are doing. It sounds like you are crushing it and I am really excited to see what is next for you. The next time that I come over with a bike and it is trail riding time, I will give you a shout. I love to talk about how what we can all do to get stronger in marketing and how we can make our nonprofits thrive. I like for the people who are reading to have something to take action on at the end of our conversation. If there was one thing that you wanted people to do after this show, what do you think that would be?
Take one day to volunteer. It does not have to be a local trail organization, but some stewardship project and hopefully, your readers use public lands and trails and like to get after it. We are fortunate to live in an area, Colorado specifically, that has so many opportunities to get out there. Volunteer stewardship is the reason I am in the job I am in. It is how I met my wife. It is incredible to get out there and see some of the work that needs to be done on the ground. One piece of advice is to set aside one day to go out and if you have never done any trail maintenance or done any stewardship project, take a day to do it because it is more rewarding than you might think.
It is a lot of fun. I would encourage anyone who has plans to go over to the Gunnison area to look up GunnisonTrails.org and see if there is a volunteer opportunity while you are there to give back to those trails that we all love and use and abuse a little bit. Thanks so much for being on the show. I had a great time talking with you, Tim. I look forward to seeing you soon.
Sounds great, Stu. Thanks for having me.
There you have it, another great episode. Thanks for reading. If you would like to learn more about how to apply the audience engagement cycle to expand your organization’s mission, there are two things you can do. You can go to MissionUncomfortableBook.com to download a copy of my book. While you are there, you can get your purpose-driven marketing score to see where you can unearth some gold for your organization. If you would like to listen to back episodes of the show or sign up to be a guest, go to RelishStudio.com/Podcast. That is it for this week. I will be back next week for another great episode.
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About Tim Kugler
Growing up just outside of Washington, D.C., Tim’s passion for trails began while exploring the Shenandoah mountains in central Virginia on bike and foot. After receiving a degree in Biology from the University of Virginia, Tim moved to the Gunnison Valley in 2008 to pursue new adventures in even bigger mountains. He served on the Crested Butte Mountain Bike Association board of directors for 5 years before returning to school to earn a Masters in Environmental Management from Western Colorado University, focusing on recreation and environmental stewardship. He was fortunate to take the reigns of Gunnison Trails just after graduating in 2017 and feels incredibly lucky to pursue his passion for trails and public land advocacy right here in the Gunnison Valley. He and his wife Lauren began their newest adventure in the fall of 2018 with the birth of their daughter, Vivian.