I had the chance to sit down with Charlie Sturgis for a cup of coffee and to talk about the dirt in Park City. If you’re new to town, or you just live under a rock, Charlie is one of the few individuals responsible for developing and advocating for our vast trail network. He and two partners started the Mountain Trails Foundation (MTF) in 1992. At that time, Park City had a number of pirate trails throughout town, but nothing official or on the scale that it is today. In fact, the foundation’s first few successes weren’t building new trails but legitimizing the existing ones. Since then, Charlie and MTF have been working with public land managers and private developers to build out the trail network, some 500 miles of it. He’s even co-authored three Park City mountain bike guide books. June 1st is Charlie’s last day at MTF. And in his waning few weeks, I wanted to pick his brain about his experience over the decades and where he sees it going in the future.
Our first topic of conversation had to do with what Charlie thought was one of the most important features of Park City’s trail network for visitors and locals alike. My own answer pegged on easy access and diversity of trails. But Charlie noted that the sheer extensiveness and quality of the trails is the most important feature. The trails cater to all user groups: hikers, expert and beginner mountain bikers, equestrian, fat bikers, Nordic skiers, adaptive bikers, and more. MTF painstakingly maintains our trails. Whereas in other communities, a trail may be built but is then left to its own devices, facing overgrowing vegetation and erosion.
Next, I asked Charlie about his approach to creating a trail network that crosses public and private land and how to make those organizations work together. He noted that “not everyone in the room cares about the trails.” Groups like Utah Open Lands or Summit Land Conservancy and private individuals all have different visions. Some want certain land preserved for migrating elk and other sensitive wildlife. And others want to protect views and ensure access and parking lots don’t harbor excess traffic. We talked extensively about Bonanza Flats and the different groups that had a hand in designing the parking areas and Bloods Lake hiking trail. All of these components have to be designed well before shovels hit dirt. “Collaboration is key,” says Charlie. He wanted everyone’s voice to be heard before digging a foot of singletrack.
At that point, I had to ask if he had wished he had done something different. Charlie thought for only a split second before shaking his head and laughing. He went on to explain that the Wasatch Over Wasatch (WOW) trail took a lot longer than he anticipated. And while he thought his process was fine, he was taken aback by the effort and time it took to create that trail at the length it is—and there are still 10 to 12 miles to be built until it’s officially finished!
The WOW trail connects into Wasatch State Park and other trails that are managed by the Wasatch Trails Foundation. Other groups in Summit County and the Salt Lake Valley are actively trying to build trails as well. I asked if MTF was involved in this and Charlie noted that there was a growing regional role for MTF in the future. Creating new networks like Sky Ridge at the north end of the Jordanelle Reservoir, connections such as the WOW trail, and supporting other foundations like the South Summit Trails Foundation and the Salt Lake Valley Trails Society will grow the larger trail network and disperse users, taking some pressure off of Park City’s busier singletrack. Outside of Utah, communities can use Charlie’s and MTF’s work as a blueprint. Developing a comprehensive master plan and hiring professional trail builders is key to creating long-lasting trails and trail networks.
I finally asked Charlie what he was most proud of during his tenure at MTF. He noted the community and their embrace of trails and public access. Building trails is not cheap and takes a lot of time, and he was humbled by the amount of people that made donations or purchased MTF memberships to fund these projects that are enjoyed by so many. He noted that the Utah Recreational Use Statute was instrumental in keeping landowners protected when allowing public access was a big driver in getting many projects completed.
And with many more projects still to be finished, be sure to make a donation or purchase a membership to the Mountain Trails Foundation to ensure that Park City’s singletrack stays buff and keeps growing. Who wouldn’t like to see 10 to 12 miles added to the WOW trail? Nudge, nudge… cough, cough…
A couple quick facts about Charlie:
1. Charlie managed White Pine Touring in 1984/85. In 1986, he took it year-round and offered summer guiding and bike sales and services.
2. His favorite current ride is any loop off the new 9k trail.
3. His all-time favorite riding area is the Outlook trail above Rossi Hill.
4. You can’t have a full-length conversation with him out in public. He knows too many people, and they all demand at least five minutes of his time.
Thanks Charlie for your decades of leadership, service to Park City, and developing our world-class trail network!