A three-year effort will culminate this weekend when Durango hosts the high school mountain biking state championships. Along with the event comes high hopes for the town’s economy, Fort Lewis College enrollment and the hundreds of athletes with podium aspirations.
A total of 822 high school mountain bikers will make the trip to Durango this weekend to participate in the Colorado Cycling League’s 2018 State Championship that was awarded to Durango last August. The previous five state meets have been held in Eagle.
“We’re very excited to get to Durango after all these years,” said Kate Rau, the league’s executive director. “I’m sure Durango is very excited to see it come there, and we hope the community has a good time with us all. We hope to have state at Durango next year, too, if they’ll have us.”
Of the 67 teams in attendance, Southwest Colorado is represented by Animas and Durango high schools as well as the High Desert Composite team that features riders from Cortez, Dolores and Mancos.
Out of the riders who qualified for state, 94 percent committed to racing in Durango, Rau said.
“We’re excited because there were some reservations that kids wouldn’t sign up and come to Durango because it’s too far away,” said Iron Horse Bicycle Classic race director Gaige Sippy, who took the lead in Durango’s bid effort. “I think the early numbers are showing that’s not going to be a problem.”
After Durango was named the host, the bid committee had to find a venue. Marc Katz stepped up and provided the land for the 7 miles of trails needed on the newly re-branded Durango Mesa Park south of downtown Durango. The league has specific requirements for the course, and much of Durango’s 300-plus miles of existing trail systems rate too difficult for the league’s standards.
Trails 2000 and Sippy worked hard on the new trails to produce a suitable course. The trails, which are still on Katz’s private land, will not be open to the public after this weekend’s races. Most of the trails were constructed last fall, but a dry winter and summer didn’t help the conditions. Rain during the last two weeks has helped the course get into prime condition, Sippy said.
While the athletes will enjoy the fun new trails during their pursuit for the podium, Durango and FLC hope they will be the real winners this weekend and in years to come.
The city of Durango and the Business Improvement District were eager to bring a sporting event to town during the tourism shoulder season. After a tough summer for local businesses because of the 416 Fire, the local economy hopes to recover a bit with 822 athletes and their families making their way to Durango.
“There’s more economic impact than just tourist heads in beds,” BID Executive Director Tim Walsworth said. “This is going to be huge for us. We’re estimating about 2,000 total people here. This time of year is typically pretty slow, so it’s a nice little boost for local businesses, especially on the heels of what we dealt with this summer with the fire.”
Walsworth said that BID paid an initial hosting fee to the Colorado Cycling League and said the contribution will be between $7,500 and $10,000. Sippy estimated a total community commitment of $60,000 to host the races, which is alleviated by massive volunteer efforts.
“Some of that is in-kind sponsorships with hotel rooms, equipment provided and things like that,” Sippy said. “Then there are some sponsors who have literally just written checks and said, ‘Yes, we want this to be in Durango, and we will help you do it.’ We’ve been able to generate all the money here locally, and part of that $60,000 will go right back into our economy with spending money on things like portable toilets and supplies.”
While Durango will aim to host the event again next year, Walsworth hopes this is the first of many big events for Durango Mesa Park, with Katz’s land donation fueling many ideas on future possibilities.
“I’m excited to see how that venue performs,” Walsworth said. “It just might lead to other things being up there. The hope for the mesa is not only for it to be a venue for these athletic events but other events. Like Telluride’s Town Park, it is a big area close to town for events of all shapes and sizes.
“This will be by far the biggest thing that’s ever been up there. I know the Katz family purchased that and has ideas for how the city and county can use that. This event will be a proving ground to see how events work up there and how we can get people up and down. I’m excited to see the potential after that.”
Not only is this weekend’s event a potential recruiting hotbed for the FLC cycling program, but for the college as a whole.
Starting Friday, mountain bikers will have access to campus tours, and FLC will host the end-of-season awards banquet. The hope is to attract more high school kids to potentially enroll at FLC in the future.
“Fort Lewis recognizes the value of the high school league families,” Sippy said. “This is a great way to get kids on campus. Fort Lewis has been integral from Day 1 when we started on this, and they’re a contributor in many ways. A lot of the kids on the current FLC team are either NICA (National Interscholastic Cycling Association) kids from Colorado or other states, and this high school league really does have an impact.”
The FLC mountain bike team has nearly 90 riders, and the program boasts roughly 150 cyclists across all disciplines. FLC cycling director Dave Hagen and members of his staff will also provide assistance to riders this weekend.
“The school is frothing at the mouth for the recruiting potential,” Hagen said. “It’s a chance for the community and college to showcase itself as the great cycling community that it is.”