Before Shawn Gregory rides a new mountain bike trail, he often builds it first.
That dedication earned him the 2019 Colorado Volunteer of the Year award by the Bureau of Land Management.
“I was surprised. I love to ride, so building new trails is worth the effort,” said Gregory, a Dolores resident.
He credits the award to a team effort by Southwest Colorado Cycling Association, more than 100 volunteers and BLM officials.
Gregory’s efforts to help build 18 miles of trails at Phil’s World east of Cortez stood out, said BLM recreation planner Jeff Christenson, who nominated him for the award.
“Shawn was the driving force behind a lot of the work, contributing 435 hours of his time pin-flagging final trail layouts, clearing vegetation, coordinating volunteer workdays and operating a mini-excavator for trail construction,” he said.
Of the 18 miles of trails built over the last two years, Gregory personally accounted for 10 miles.
“He also has a good eye for trail design,” Christenson said, “with equal amounts uphill and downhill and getting trail users to nice view points.”
The mini-excavator, which Gregory nicknamed “Pac-Man” for eating up trail flagging as he progressed, was purchased by SWCCA after a fundraiser for the $20,000 machine.
“It’s great for building trail on steeper sections, for switchbacks and moving rocks,” Gregory said. “We got the smallest one, so it is very maneuverable.”
It is a good tool for shaping the trail for efficient draining, erosion control and bench cuts. Trail crews and BLM staff follow with rakes and shovels to fine-tune the surface.
The new Talon and Cash Money trails that cross a canyon in North Phil’s World feature 20 ridable switchbacks formed by Gregory and the Pac-Man. He also built trail kiosks and created maps.
A hardcore group of 15 to 20 volunteers joined Gregory for weekly trail building.
“It’s not like a bunch of 20-somethings, it’s mostly people in their 50s and 60s,” he said. “We’ve been doing this a long time and know what works, what doesn’t.”
On volunteer days, he would help organize up to 70 volunteers, of all ages, efficiently lining them out with tools and trail sections.
“Their efforts getting the new trails open helps to spread out riders and hikers to other trailheads, taking pressure of the main parking lot off Highway 160,” Christenson said.
That also helps reduce crowds in one area, especially important during the coronavirus pandemic.
The best part about trail building is “seeing people enjoying them. They will be there for generations, I’m lucky to have been a part of it,” Gregory said.
Mountain biking at Phil’s has been growing in popularity, partly because its lower elevation keeps it drier.
An estimated 23,200 riders visited the main Phil’s World trail system in 2019, up from 8,000 in 2014, according to BLM trail data.
The new trails off Roads M and L are working to spread out recreationists, Christenson said, with an estimated 6,000 visits by hikers, bikers or horse riders between July 2019 and May 2020.
BLM officials are monitoring trailheads and parking lots for social-distancing compliance. They are urging users to keep separated and move onto a less crowded trail or less populated area if their first choice is overrun.