Big Sky’s ever-growing trail system connects far more than singletrack.
It wasn’t all that long ago that if you wanted to go for a trail run or a mountain bike ride in Big Sky, you promptly found yourself navigating rutted out and lumpy horse paths. That, and a handful of marshy XC ski trails never intended for running shoes or bike tires was pretty much the only game in town. “Those rough legacy trails were representative of Big Sky’s origins,” says Tallie Lancey of the Big Sky Community Organization which now drives the trail movement. “Skiers and equestrians were here first. And they’re still here. But today, we’re also a community of mountain bikers and trail runners and stroller walkers.” Luckily, although luck had nothing to do with it, Big Sky’s trail system rapidly evolved. Which was no easy accomplishment. Big Sky is an island of private land surrounded by steep public holdings. To build out a fun, healthy, revenue-generating, neighborhood-bonding, trail system for the common good, Big Sky needed public/private partnerships and private/private partnerships from players big and small. The first landmark achievement was the Mountain to Meadow trail, which connects the ski area to the high valley floor and earned Big Sky instant relevancy with fat tire locals and visitors. It was a build it and they will come scenario: Trails beget trails. That’s not unique in itself—trail networks have boomed everywhere before, during, and after Covid, but Big Sky’s mix is atypical. In the Intermountain West, you just don’t see much public trail on private land. It’s working here. “I give credit to Lone Mountain Land Company for that trajectory,” says BSCO’s Lancey. “They were in a position to build easements and fund trails and pay for trail design and they did it.”
The trajectory continues: Today, some residents and guests use the trail system daily when they’re in town, for others it can be a rare outing, but the trails serve a need most folks didn’t know existed until the trails were etched in. “Frontcountry” trails like Hummocks and Uplands have transformed the connectivity between town and backcountry. And with the combined efforts of landowners, the ski area, SWMMBA (Southwest Montana Mountain Bike Association), and the Big Sky Community Organization there’s more transformation to come. In conjunction with Big Sky Resort and LMLC, BSCO is preparing to release a new master plan. And, says Lone Mountain Land Company’s Bayard Dominick, LMLC has acquired a lot of property in the last 18 months with an eye to still more connectivity and good times.
“We believe the connection to lands and neighborhoods and the river is the value,” says Dominick. “We don’t look for an economic return from trail building. The more trails the better. It’s community building. It’s what the people that live here or visit want. You can ride or run from your house to trails and then end up at a brew pub. That’s the experience. Through SWMMBA and the BSCO people take pride in the land. That’s a positive thing for our community.”
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