By Tyler Allen EBS Senior Editor
BIG SKY – After more than two decades as a popular, unofficial mountain biking and hiking trail, “The Grinder” has been closed to the public.
The trail begins near the boundary of Spanish Peaks Mountain Club and ends at Big Pine Drive near Gallatin Alpine Sports, and is part of network of legacy trails in the forested hills above Big Sky Town Center.
Harry Longwell, of Dallas, Texas, acquired the property near the top of the trail last year—Longwell has owned a home for 20 years on a neighboring property in this area known as Gallatin Highlands.
Citing a number of safety and liability concerns, Longwell recently barricaded the section of trail on his property with a “No Trespassing” sign.
“We were very concerned about the excessive use on that trail, [people] building dangerous jumps and loading up bikes in trucks and racing down the trail,” Longwell said. “It’s a very unsafe situation.”
Longwell also noted that Sandhill Road, which accesses his property, is a private road and bikers using vehicles to shuttle the trail are trespassing.
Chaz Boutsikaris opened Big Sky’s Brothel Bikes on Rainbow Trout Run two years ago, and says he’s been riding The Grinder since he moved here in 1996. A deputy from the Gallatin County Sheriff’s Office approached him recently to talk about bikers using the trail.
“Honestly, the kids that are up there [building jumps], it’s definitely not a Brothel crew,” he said. Nonetheless, he had stickers made that say, “Blame the Brothel.”
“I understand the homeowner’s side with the liability, it’s just a bummer. They’re just riding bicycles,” he said, adding that he hadn’t ridden the trail recently or heard about the jumps being built this summer.
Boutsikaris points to the recent explosion of mountain biking in Big Sky as to why he opened a bike shop instead of investing in the ski industry. “Our winters are getting shorter and our summers are getting longer. Our business is growing exponentially every year … if homeowners start shutting down trails they’ll put a tourniquet around this growing economy.”
The Gallatin Highlands Homeowners Association scheduled a September meeting to address the public use of its residents’ private lands, and has invited representatives of Big Sky Community Organization to join the discussion.
“There are a lot of community members that are disappointed because [The Grinder] is a longstanding trail that’s really close to where a lot of community members work and live,” said BSCO Executive Director Ciara Wolfe, adding that most Big Sky residents she’s talked to have been respectful about Longwell’s position.
“Our position is really to work with the landowners to find solutions to connect trails through our community, that work for the landowners,” said Wolfe, who plans to attend the September meeting with BSCO Project Manager Emily O’Connor. They will listen to the landowners’ concerns and share the trail connectivity and easement work their organization has done in Big Sky.
One such project is the 2.2-mile Ralph’s Pass trail, slated to break ground at the end of August, connecting Hummocks and Uplands trails with Ousel Falls Trail. BSCO worked with 10 different landowners to move existing easements, prioritizing both the trail user and landowner experience.
“We hope it’s a role model for future trail projects to come,” Wolfe said.
Additionally, BSCO is working with landowners to negotiate trail easements connecting the bottom of “Mountain to Meadow”—a popular mountain biking trail that begins at Big Sky Resort—to Big Sky Town Center, as well as working on an uphill route so hikers don’t conflict with bikers traveling downhill.
The Grinder doesn’t just exist in the Gallatin Highlands area, Wolfe said, it also connects the South Fork and West Fork neighborhoods. Longwell says he doesn’t foresee an easement on the trail where it currently exists, cutting through his existing home lot.
“We love Big Sky, but Gallatin Highlands is not a public recreation area,” he said, “and that’s what we’re going to discuss in September.”