Economic development grant funds launch of Ely trail building school

Economic development grant funds launch of Ely trail building school
Mountain bikers on trails near Cave Lake State Park in Ely, Nev. Image: John Watson / Travel Nevada

ELY–Great Basin Institute (GBI) this week said it has received a $160,000 grant to take the first steps in launching the nation’s only professional recreation trail building school. The school would be located in Ely, which has been building miles of trails to accommodate its budding mountain biking culture.

The grant was provided by the U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA), which distributed $510 million to states for economic recovery and development in the travel, tourism and outdoor recreation industries. The funds are part of spending approved in the American Rescue Plan Act. Nevada entities received more than $13.5 million overall.

U.S. Senator Catherine Cortez Masto praised the award.

“I pushed hard to make sure that EDA grants would go to states like Nevada with hard-hit tourism and travel industries, so we can continue our recovery from the pandemic,” she said. “This grant to the Great Basin Institute will help students get hands-on experience preparing for careers in Nevada’s world-class outdoor recreation industry, and I’ll keep working in the Senate to help promote Nevada jobs in this sector.”

GBI officials said they’ll be working with Cortez Masto’s office along with the Nevada Division of Outdoor Recreation, White Pine County Tourism and Recreation and White Pine Main Street Association to complete the work outlined in the grant proposal. That work includes feasibility studies, economic analyses and other groundwork.

Trail-based recreation has boomed in Ely in recent years, according to White Pine County’s tourism office. The community was named one of several “Towns on the Rise” in Outside Magazine’s 2021 Most Livable Towns and Cities list. The magazine highlighted Ely’s mountain-bike scene along with its miles of trail–50 miles of existing singletrack along with 51 miles in the works leading to Ward Mountain and the Garnet Hill Recreation Area.

Getting outside and, often, using local trails has helped people to de-stress during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the Outdoor Industry Association. Civic Science reported at the onset of the pandemic in 2020 that 43% of Americans were planning to spend more time outdoors while social distancing, with 15% hiking on trails more and 17% planning to visit state, local and national parks.

“Outdoor recreation and trail use has exploded in recent years, and the COVID-19 pandemic has shined a light on the critical importance of all communities having opportunities to escape to the outdoors for our physical and mental health,” said Colin Robertson, an administrator at the Division of Outdoor Recreation. “As the demand for outdoor recreation continues to grow, the need for skilled workers who can plan, design, build and expand trails is more pressing than ever.”

Trail building is a skill, according to GBI Trail and Restoration Operations Coordinator Vince LaPlante. He said most people who use trails don’t consider the thought and expertise that goes into planning and building a sustainable and useful trail.

“The majority of folks that use trails would rather not even think about the labor or design that went into their maintenance or construction, but rather see trails as a mindless means of conveyance,” he said.