by Nathan Boddy
Typical spring weather clung to Lake Como last weekend as cold, wet squalls hesitantly gave way to sunshine. The skies above Little Rock Creek drainage looked like stretched cotton, white and blustery. But the cold temperature on the morning of Saturday, April 23 did not discourage members of the Bitterroot Backcountry Cyclists (BBC), who’d gathered at the Three Sisters group camping site for their ‘Lake Como Campout and Ride,’ event. After a long winter, the group is turning its attention to the trail network south of the lake. By early afternoon, a dozen dedicated members had fanned out along the Waddell Creek Trail, smoothing the trail’s surface and preparing for new construction.
The BBC has been doing its part to make biking more accessible and enjoyable for residents of the Bitterroot Valley for more than a decade. While the group has been a force for maintenance and clearing of trails since its inception, its recent focus has truly put its mark on the ground. BBC has spent years in the development of a series of mountain bike trails on the south side of Lake Como, and hopes to see the completion of those trails this season. While the 2021 season of trail building saw the completion of multiple trails within the system, including the Tin Cup Overlook trail, the project isn’t done yet.
“We have roughly another four miles of trails to build,” says group President, Jeff Kern. “They have already been approved by the Forest Service, so our goal is to complete the initial build on that.” Kern points out that some refining of the trail system will undoubtedly be ongoing for several years as the surface of the trails themselves settle in and compact. Nonetheless, those trails which are already in use have provided riders with a fantastic set of options for quick descents, smooth berms and more than one way to get airborne. It doesn’t hurt that the Como Trails are located amidst some spectacular scenery, with Lake Como laying at the feet of the trails on the north side, and the jaw dropping heights of Tin Cup Overlook to the south.
Bikers in the valley know that not all Bitterroot trails are as friendly to wheels as the Como Trails. Many of the trails throughout the valley require a high degree of technical skill and no small amount of bravery to navigate. While riders certainly can find thrills on the Como Trails, they are far more approachable to many skill levels. “What we’re trying to do here is develop something that is more accessible to people that are relatively new to biking,” says Kern. “It’s a great asset for the Bitterroot and this area.”
The BBC hopes that it will continue to be successful in its search for funding. This year they’ve applied to the Montana Trail Stewardship Grant Program, and hope that funds from that source would allow them to prioritize trail clearing efforts throughout the region, and be able to better communicate trail conditions with riders. Regardless of the grant’s outcome, however, the BBC will continue its efforts at trail maintenance, and development in the Lake Como area. Furthermore, they host weekly evening rides as temperatures warm up. Interested riders should also keep an eye out for BBC events during National Trail Day in June, as well as the Lost Trail Bike Fest, July 15-17.
As the afternoon warmed, BBC members turned their attention to a tight bend in the Waddell Creek Trail. Their good nature was on display as they worked together to sculpt a new berm on the outside edge of the turn, promising improved grip and flow. Nesting half a dozen boulders into the turn, gentle competition and teasing seem every bit as important as the positioning of the rocks.
“What’s your degree in?” asks one member with a smile while questioning the decision of another. Each member is envisioning his or her own turn through the berm that emerges through their work. As the last of the soil is compacted into the space between the rocks and tools and buckets are gathered for the hike out, each member knows that they’ll soon be reaping the benefits.