Mountain Biker Promotes ‘Free Ride’ Trail Network Near Bigfork

By Beacon Staff

Ron Cron has a vision for Crane Mountain: to develop a network of downhill mountain bike trails descending its slopes, drawing riders from all over the region.

“This has never been done in this state before,” Cron said, describing his goal to build, “a free-ride mountain bike trail system, working with the Forest Service, where trails are to be built and maintained by the users.”

To raise money toward that goal, he is currently selling tickets to a raffle of four high-end mountain bikes, with a drawing scheduled for June 10 in Bigfork. The proceeds go toward the cost of a National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) evaluation of the project’s impact on the roughly two square mile area, just south of Bigfork, proposed for the trails.

Cron aims to raise $15,000, though both he and Flathead National Forest officials are clear that reaching the fundraising goal doesn’t ensure the project will go through.

“A proposal for development of mountain bike trails on Crane Mountain is simply that,” Andrew Johnson, recreation program manager for the Swan District, said. “We haven’t formally accepted that proposal and we don’t have any plans to start the environmental analysis any time soon.”

At present, Johnson’s first priority is developing a similar analysis for trail use on Blacktail Mountain’s so-called Island District, with a draft plan scheduled for release in late summer. But Johnson cited examples from areas like Jackson, Wyo., and Flagstaff, Ariz., where mountain bike clubs worked with the Forest Service on trail plans, and said the agency remains open to similar ideas here in the Flathead.

“It’s got some merit,” Johnson said. “Mountain bike-oriented (trails), in the front country parts of the Forest is a good idea, but it’s one that requires environmental analysis.”

“At this point, we haven’t really taken a good, long, close look at the proposed trails unit on Crane,” he added. “The Forest Service is free-ride trail friendly; we are open to considering trails that include challenging features and structures.”

Cron and other cyclists have been cooperating with the Forest Service on the Beardance Trail, which also has technical features, repairing water crossings and adding more “bicycle-friendly” designs.

“Free-ride” mountain biking is a discipline of the sport that involves navigating steep, technical trail features while descending. Cron said he chose Crane Mountain because it lends itself to this type of riding. He envisions trails so technically demanding that mountain bikers would have them all to themselves, since hikers or horses wouldn’t be able to descend them.

“The terrain is very steep and the trails are steep,” Cron said. “You won’t have the normal conflicts of trail use that you see on multiple-use trails.”

In one video Cron has posted to YouTube.com, riders descend steep, rocky ravines and thread between trees, sometimes flipping over their handlebars. Accessed via Crane Mountain Road, riding the area requires shuttling in a car, and the trails would only be descended.

Though he anticipates objections from the environmentalist community, Cron intends to push ahead with his plan, saying it could benefit the area. If successful, the Crane Mountain trails would be the first network of its kind in Montana, and he believes it could draw riders to Bigfork and the east shore of Flathead Lake from all over, with visitors staying in local hotels and dining at local restaurants.

“This area has the best trails nobody’s ever heard of,” he said.

But as of last week, he said he was disappointed in how few raffle tickets had been sold. Those participating in the drawing have the opportunity to win one of four mountain bikes: A Specialized Enduro EVO (which retails for about $4,700 from Sportsman Ski Haus); a Trek Scratch 8 (which retails for $3,780 from Wheaton’s); a Kona Operator DH (which retails for $3,259 from Glacier Cyclery) and a Specialized Big Hit FSR III 2010, (which retails for $2,700 from Great Northern Cycles). Tickets are $10 each, or a book of 10 tickets receives an additional five tickets. These local bike shops are selling raffle tickets.

On the night of the drawing, Cron will also be screening a documentary titled, “Pedal Driven,” which explores, “confrontations between free riders and forest rangers, and possible solutions.” For more information, contact Ron Cron at 406-261-6161, or visit the Facebook page for “Crane Mountain Trail Supporters.”

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