Known for its Rugged Roots, Silverton, Colorado Wants to Expand Opportunities with Accessible MTB Trails

Silverton, Colorado is toeing past its rugged mining history and gnarly skiing reputation with an ambitious plan for a major mountain bike trail network.
Photos courtesy of Silverton Singletrack Society

Founded by hardened miners and now frequented by advanced skiers, Silverton, Colorado has never been the town for those seeking a typical winter vacation. If the Silverton Mountain logo, resembling a triangular caution sign wasn’t warning enough, the website clearly states the resort is for advanced skiers only.

Mountain biking in Silverton isn’t much different. Sitting at 9,300 feet, most of the singletrack is made from old mining or mule trails and requires grit and lots of leg and lung power.

“It’s super rugged,” said Klemens Branner, a founding member of the Silverton Singletrack Society (SSS) and board president. “Basically, the mountain biking we have, you either ride on dirt roads, which is not a whole lot of fun, or it’s kind of expert only [trails].”

As Silverton diversifies its economy and expands opportunities for both visitors and residents, modern mountain biking trails are at the top of the list. This spring, the SSS was awarded a quarter-million dollar grant from Colorado Parks and Wildlife to kickstart their new 30-mile trail network at Baker’s Park.

An early vision

Branner and two others founded the SSS in 2014 after watching Pedal Driven, a 2011 mountain bike film documenting tensions between land managers and trail builders in Washington. The SSS was founded with the intent to create unwrinkled relationships with local land managers. Shortly after, they became an IMBA (International Mountain Bicycling Association) sub-chapter. And after that they got permission for their first trail project following fruitful conversations with land managers.

“And then it slowly started going from there,” said Branner.

Branner remembers looking at Boulder Mountain on the north edge of Silverton’s mile-long grid at a backyard party one evening. Below sat Baker’s Park, named after one of the area’s first prospectors, Charles Baker. The park is south-facing, an important element considering the amount of snow that falls on Silverton in the winters.

In late 2018, IMBA Trail Solutions visited Silverton to survey Baker’s Park and develop a concept plan for the mountain. In the spring of 2019, the Town of Silverton and San Juan County adopted the trail plan. The BLM approved the concept as a part of their new travel management plan in 2020. Since then, the SSS has been fundraising and searching for grants and support. The first ten miles of trail were flagged in 2021 and construction is expected to start this summer.

What Baker’s Park Brings to the table

At Silverton’s elevation, mountain biking is never going to be easy. But the trails can be built more sustainably and accessible than ever before.

“The idea here, and this is IMBA’s new motto too, is trails close to home,” said Branner. “We’ll be able to just ride out of our front doors and head up there and access the trail. It’s right next to town.”

About 24 miles of trail will be multi-use and six miles will be directional designed for mountain bikes. Baker’s Park is approved for class 1 e-bike use too, “a boon for visitors struggling with the thin mountain air,” says a description of the park.

SSS estimates the cost to build the first ten miles of trail is around a $900,000 and the total project cost is $2.6 million, but the group hopes the network will turn the town into a world-class mountain bike destination with trails for all skill levels. While Baker’s Park should easily attract summertime riders in search of high-mountain trails, the town also wants to grow the population.

“What we hope is that [Baker’s Park] will be the type of addition to increase the desirability for this to be a year-round home for people and not just a summer tourist destination,” said Silverton mayor Shane Fuhrman.

In February, the San Juan Development Association was awarded a $75,000 grant by the state’s Division of Local Affairs’ Rural Economic Development Initiative to spur economic diversification and development. Fuhrman mentioned Colorado’s demography office recently told them a self-sustaining community has around 1,200 residents at a minimum. Silverton’s population sits just below 700.

“So doing things that will increase our population to some extent is really important for us economically,” said Fuhrman. “In addition, it’s just cool to have another recreation option that is similar or more overlapping with our winter community.”

Other plans include more affordable housing options for prospective residents and building upon its small, beginner-friendly ski hill, Kendall Mountain.

Staying true to its roots

Fuhrman said Silverton Mountain Ski area is the biggest attraction in the winter and guide services bring tourists in too. Hospitality slows down in the cold months, but business picks up again in the summer with folks visiting town from the Narrow Gauge Railroad or off one of their scenic paved or off-road routes.

Silverton has a distinctly rugged feel and though they’re trying to diversify their economy and attract new people, the mayor wants to keep the town’s spirit true to its origins. In the summer, Harleys roar down the main strip, bikepackers veer off the Colorado Trail for a hot meal and share patios with families and children basking at the base of saloons and old brick buildings.

“I think the overarching theme of what we’re working on is, how do we continue to improve the offering of Silverton without turning into all of the other mountain towns in Colorado,” said Fuhrman. “And I think our plan is to lean into the ruggedness. Add more cool stuff, but I don’t see us building a zipline or having a golf course or paving most of the roads or anything like that. You need to really love the activities that drew you there as an offset to the harshness of the place and that’s kind of the identity of the community that’s here today.”