On a recent weekday afternoon, Caleb Owen and Austin Woody walked along new singletrack toward a canyon that threads a section of public land east of Laramie.
Fresh mountain bike tracks marked the soft dirt where they cut through the prairie weeks earlier. Toward the horizon, Owen spotted a cyclist riding along another stretch of new trail.
They’ve been working this fall to build the first installment of a new series of trails on a section of State Trust land that sits just east of Laramie. Nicknamed the Schoolyard Multi-Use Development Project, the project could eventually include almost 10 miles of trails in the next few years.
Funding for the Schoolyard Project, which was spearheaded by Laramie BikeNet, came through the Albany County Recreation Board.
BikeNet has a special-use agreement with the Office of State Lands and Investments in conjunction with Albany County.
The focal point of the state section is a canyon with stretches of exposed limestone at its base.
From the top, ponderosa pines frame a view of the University of Wyoming in the distance before the path drops along a south-facing slope dotted with boulders.
Here, the trail is fresh, cut through days earlier with a walk-behind skid steer, which leaves a 2-foot wide line of bare earth in its wake. Owen nudged loose rocks off the trail with the toe of his boot as he examined the work.
“The south-facing aspects stay dry,” he said. “You could probably ride most of the winter, on and off.”
Several years ago, Owen and Woody formed a trail-building company called Wyo Trails, and building singletrack is their specialty.
They worked for several summers building trails at Glendo State Park. Last summer, they built the Jacoby Ridge Rural Trail, which sits just east of Jacoby Golf Course.
Owen moved to Laramie about seven years ago from Maine to join the Wyoming Conservation Corps as a crew leader.
“It seemed like a fun summer job, and I got sucked in,” he said.
During his hitch, he built trails on public lands around the state.
“I realized it was a lot of fun, and you get to ride the trails at the end of the day, so that’s pretty cool,” he said.
Owen teamed up with Woody to continue the trail-building work, of which there’s a lot going on in Wyoming. Cities around the state, from Green River to Lander to Sheridan, are building single-track.
Woody said trails are a good use of public money because they draw recreationists of all types into the outdoors.
“A little bit of money goes a long way,” he said. “Trails are relatively inexpensive, see a lot of use and engage a large segment of the population.”
Although the state section they’re currently working on is already marked with routes, most of them of the two-track variety created by illegal motorists, Owen and Woody said there’s a benefit to building new trails.
“You have 100 percent control of the design with sustainability in mind,” Woody said.
They work according to sustainability guidelines developed by the International Mountain Bicycling Association.
Unlike several two-track roads that bisect the canyon at right angles — going straight up the steep slopes — their trail follows the slope, never going straight up or straight down. That way, water never accumulates on the pathway, preventing erosion.
“A trail that runs straight up and down is going to invite water to run down it and start digging ruts and things like that,” Woody said. After they cut the trail, they rake the excess debris down the slope. Then they go back and add a slope on the uphill side to stop erosion from that direction.
Their trail corridor was established by the designer, but they create the twists and turns from there, working with the terrain and what it offers someone who can imagine pedaling across it.
“That really is where it’s fun,” Owen said.