Last fall, I was asked to choose one non-profit organization for a magazine profile. It was a beautiful fall day, so after checking my email, I went mountain biking with a friend at Lunch Loop, a system of trails at the north end of the Tabeguache Trail that links Grand Junction and Montrose, Colorado.
The Tabeguache Trail is one of three long-distance mountain bike trails created solely by volunteers in the early 1990s. These trails, Tabeguache, Kokopelli’s and Paradox, spurred the growth of mountain biking on the Colorado Plateau. The volunteers who dreamed of them, and then realized them with their own labor, became a tiny nonprofit, the Colorado Plateau Mountain Bike Trail Association (or COPMOBA).
As I rode along these trails, I decided to share COPMOBA’s 23-year story. I believe it shows what happens when a small group of people have big dreams.
What’s your big dream? I hope this inspires you to make it happen.
In the late 1980s, a group of mountain biking enthusiasts in Mesa County had a vision: to create a point-to-point trail that would connect Loma, Colorado with Moab, Utah using existing trails and dirt roads. They began by mapping a 138-mile route. Then using only volunteer labor, Kokopelli’s Trail was completed in 1989.
Today, Kokopelli’s Trail is just one of the world-famous mountain bike trails found in Western Colorado. And the group that created it? Today, that group is known as the Colorado Plateau Mountain Bike Trail Association, or COPMOBA.
A Long-Distance Vision
COPMOBA was founded in 1989 as a Mesa County non-profit organization, shortly after volunteers finished Kokopelli’s Trail. Within the next 12 months, COPMOBA volunteers built Mary’s Loop at the Loma trailhead and mapped, developed and built the 142-mile Tabeguache trail that runs from Grand Junction to Montrose.
“Using the Kokopelli’s Trail model we were able to very quickly double the mileage of long-distance trails in this area,” explains founding board member Bill Harris. “Once the BLM and Forest Service bought into the concept, trail development proceeded rapidly.”
By 1995, COPMOBA had added a third long-distance route, the 100-mile Paradox Trail linking Montrose with Moab. The addition of the Paradox Trail completed the Grand Loop, allowing bikers to travel a multi-day, 380-mile circle through Western Colorado and Eastern Utah.
At last tally, COPMOBA has envisioned, built and maintained about 75 trails throughout West Central Colorado, according to Harris. Many of these trails are built in cooperation with the BLM and the Forest Service, two agencies who rely on COPMOBA to help them plan for increased recreation.
Trail systems in the North Fruita Desert, at Lunch Loop and in Loma see extensive year-round use from locals and visitors alike. In addition, COPMOBA has advocated for, created and maintained trails on the Uncompahgre Plateau, the Grand Mesa, and in Montrose County.
Most recently, COPMOBA is partnering with the Mesa Land Trust to develop trails on their Three Sisters property.
Small Organization, Big Impact
Amazingly, COPMOBA has done all of this work with volunteers. Currently staffed by a part-time coordinator, Amy Agapito, COPMOBA is a small-budget organization with a huge recreational and economic impact in the Grand Valley.
“There’s an old adage about mountain bikers, that they’re just a bunch of hippies who travel with a pair of riding shorts and a $20 bill,” laughs Harris. “The joke is that they come to our area, and they don’t change either. That just isn’t true.”
Instead what COPMOBA has shown is that mountain biking in Mesa County and Western Colorado is big business. A joint study by the BLM and, what was then, Mesa State College, estimated a minimum $20 million annual impact in Mesa County from mountain bikers, according to Agapito.
Not bad for a little organization with a long name and a big dream.
To get involved with COPMOBA, please visit their website and become a member. COPMOBA is supported by memberships and grants, which are used for specific projects. In 2009, COPMOBA was inducted into the Mountain Bike Hall of Fame. For more information on mountain biking in Western Colorado, please visit gjmountainbiking.com.
Originally published at GV Magazine, November 2012.
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