I started hiking and biking in early May this year, and to keep my excitement high through the rest of the summer, I recently chatted with Charlie Sturgis, Executive Director of the Mountain Trails Foundation. This organization is involved with everything trail related around Park City. Charlie told story of his Foundation, its current projects and its future goals.
JF: How did you get involved with outdoors sports and activities?
Charlie Sturgis: I’ve always been an outdoorsman, I grew up in Chicago but was always involved with hunting, fishing and skiing. I remember visiting Snowbird in 1974. That’s when I fell in love with the Wasatch Mountains and declared then and there: “This is really cool!” That is how I made Utah my home. I finished my college education at the University of Utah and went to work for Mountaineer Sports and then Wasatch Touring in Salt Lake City. I had a ball! I skied, rock climbed, ice climbed, mountain biked and kayaked wherever and whenever I could.
JF: What brought you up to Park City?
Charlie Sturgis: Contrary to what many people believe, I didn’t actually start White Pine Touring. I came in when it had just begun in a teepee near the old Park West. The original owners asked me to manage the business for them and they eventually sold it to me. The timing was perfect and that’s when I added biking to winter sports, and we became a year round outdoor shop. My wife and I made Park City our home in 1985.
JF: How did you get involved with the Mountain Trail Foundation?
Charlie Sturgis: Jan Wilking and I started establishing the Mountain Trails Foundation, a non-profit organization, to promote trail development around Park City. In 1993 we hired Troy Duffin, our first executive director. Mountain Trail Foundation has been around for 22 years already! I eventually sold White Pine Touring, stayed on for a few more years, and as the Mountain Trail Foundation executive position opened up in 2009, I seized the opportunity.
JF: What was your vision at the start?
Charlie Sturgis: My vision was to make this nonprofit organization work and run more like a business that would become financially sustainable. At first this wasn’t the case, but today memberships represent 40% of our income, 20% to 25% comes from corporate sponsorship, another 20% to 25% is the product of races and events we organize, and the balance comes from special grants. This allow us to make decisions because we have money in the bank.
JF: Did you find inspiration at other resorts?
Charlie Sturgis: Not really. From the get-go, things have really worked out well for us. Our growth has been organic, and when success came, we decided to share our best practices; IMBA (International Mountain Bicycling Association) is the “mothership” of an organization like ours, but we really stand as the good example out there. We’re in assuming a leadership position in the outdoors community and remain willing and ready to share our expertise and mentor other organizations.
JF: Who was your audience then, and what is it today?
Charlie Sturgis: Based on surveys, we seem to have as many hikers as we have mountain bikers. We support and advocate for non-motorized recreation. Our audience is everyone from grandparents to their grandkids, hardcore athletes and casual weekend recreationists.
JF: Non-motorized? Then tell me, how do electric bikes fit in the picture?
Charlie Sturgis: The dust has yet to settle on the use of e-mountain bikes. At this point, I’d like to leave you with a few thoughts: Besides some legal issues related to the way conservation easements are written, the electric assisted bike offers an opportunity to someone who wouldn’t normally be getting out, to enjoy the outdoors. It provides an option to easily leave one’s car home. These two goals can easily be accomplished. If today, someone on an e-bike is straying on a trail by mistake, the overall good outweighs the occasional incursion.
JF: Over time, has your work evolved or is it still the same?
Charlie Sturgis: My job has become more administrative, something I’m not too crazy about, and more regional, in the sense that our influence reaches beyond Park City which is a very good thing.
JF: What are the opportunities for your Foundation in the greater Park City area?
Charlie Sturgis: We’re working on plans to connect all seven adjoining ski areas by trails, so bikers and hikers can go from town to town and use all lifts in between. I’d like to see the Great Western Trail be completed, but at the same time would like to see a more organic growth to our programs, so we don’t get carried away by doing too many things, too fast, and lose control over the users’ experience.
JF: Is the local business community supporting what you do?
Charlie Sturgis: Yes, they are supportive and they would be foolish not too!
JF: How do you see Deer Valley’s Mid Mountain extension fitting into the overall picture?
Charlie Sturgis: Anytime someone is willing to let us build a trail across their land, as it is the case with the Bald Eagle Homeowners Association, we should jump on the chance! Steve Graff, Deer Valley’s Ski Patrol/Mountain Bike Manager, wanted us to get involved with the build. Deer Valley’s Mid Mountain extension is going to provide an easier way down the mountain for the typical family, a gentler trail should make it a lot easier for mom, dad and the kids to get down in confidence. No matter what the size of trail infrastructure a resort can offer, it is important to think of easier access and egress points.
JF: How can readers of this blog help Mountain Trail Foundation?
Charlie Sturgis: All non-profit organizations often go unnoticed and the Mountain Trail Foundation is no exception. Any contribution, no matter how small, is always meaningful and in the long run, contributes to the non-motorized cause!