By Tallie Lancey EBS Columnist
In the beginning, there were only wild game trails. Then, the hunting trails of Sheepeaters, Big Sky’s first human inhabitants, began to wind their way through the woods. Later, the Crail, McBride, Michener, and Lemon families (to name a few) rode on horseback around Big Sky. Ride after ride, their contours sketched courses to-and-fro.
Eventually, Big Sky Resort’s ski trails begat mountain biking trails. Heck, even our main artery, Highway 64, is called Lone Mountain Trail. Many of us take our trails for granted, but some of us know better. This left me wondering about the origins of our off-road network.
We can trace our trails’ roots to a highly regarded former local resident. Bill Olson was the prime mover of many of the trails we enjoy today. Back in the early 2000s, Olson began his retirement by simply enjoying Big Sky’s hiking trails. He was invited to share his vision and enthusiasm with the community via the nascent Parks & Trails Committee, which served under the Big Sky Homeowners Association.
Back then, many people resisted the notion of public trails on private property. As he recalls, detractors claimed that new trails wouldn’t serve a purpose. They said people could walk on the streets or hike on existing Forest Service trails. Letters to the editor were written about his efforts to create pathways through people’s yards, which might deteriorate public safety.
Olson responded to the opposition, in part, by building relationships with people in Sun Valley who had formed their Parks & Trails district. He learned from their law enforcement that in their community, the crime rate actually decreased after the rails-to-trails installation. He brought that information back to Big Sky and slowly but surely made headway. The groundswell grew; trails were built. It tickled him when some of the loudest opponents connected their own personal homes to the trail now known as the Crail Trail.
The tides have since turned. Big Sky now clearly values its connectivity. The entire community and visitors alike have benefitted tremendously from his, and others’, trail evangelism. Today we enjoy 19 miles of trails thanks to at least 10 private easements. The Big Sky Community Organization estimates about 400,000 parks and/or trail user-days over the last year.
Parks and trails connect not just places, but people. I think that’s what Olson had in mind when he began his work. He was successful in creating the Ousel Falls Trail, the Town Center to Ophir trail, and Crail Trail, which runs parallel to Little Coyote Road. Carol Collins and Dee Rothschiller were effective advocates too.
“Being unincorporated made the job quite a bit more difficult, because we had no standing as a community,” he recalls. Without a municipal entity to serve as grantee to those easements, they had to craft alternatives. Nevertheless, he and the committee persevered.
Olson said the beauty was that he didn’t have an axe to grind. Not having an agenda other than getting the trails in meant that he “could get the confidence of most of the important players in Big Sky so they’d work with me.” Knowing the Blixseths, Simkins and the Taylors helped with getting the rights-of-way donated. “If I said that I was going to do something, they knew I’d do it. They’d help me and I helped them.”
Big Sky is only halfway through its build out, in terms of future residential and commercial capacity. With so much room for growth, there are many trails not yet built, not yet conceived, not yet named. You still have a chance to blaze a new trail and forge your legacy.
In next week’s column, we’ll learn about the current status and future of Big Sky’s trail connectivity.
Are you wondering why something is particularly unique to our community? You want to know and I’m eager to learn. This column commits to answering your burning questions about why Big Sky exists the way it does. Ask me at email@example.com.
Tallie Lancey is a broker with Big Sky Sotheby’s International Realty and serves on the boards of Big Sky Community Organization, Top Shelf Toastmasters, and the Warren Miller Performing Arts Center.