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Mountain Bike Oregon is a Symbol of Hope for Oakridge and Other Rural Communities

mountain bike oregon,westfir
From a trail high above Westfir, you can see the Mountain Bike Oregon encampment below, near the iconic red covered bridge and the former Hines mill site. Mountain Bike Oregon photo

Jun 30 | Written and photographed by Sean Benesh, founder and Editor-in-Chief for Trail Builder Magazine. Reprinted by permission

It must’ve been obvious when I walked into the store in Oakridge (Oregon) that I was not a local. After exchanging a few pleasantries with the clerk behind the counter, he asked me, “So you’re in town for the festival?” How did he know? How did he know I was visiting from Portland to attend Mountain Bike Oregon (MBO)? Do I look like a mountain biker? What does a mountain biker even look like? However, in a small town, you can easily tell who’s a local, a visitor, or someone passing through.

I grew up in a small town. It was smaller than Oakridge. I know first-hand the impact of a town with a struggling economy, as 60% of my town’s workforce had to drive out of the county daily for work. That daily routine included my parents for most of my life growing up. The story of Oakridge has been told repeatedly in the mountain biking world. Logging town turned mountain bike destination. I’ve read countless articles, watched short films, and pored over academic research exploring the economic benefit of mountain biking in a community. Everything happening on the grounds at MBO and out on the trails reaffirmed this transition. However, a drive around town painted a different picture.

I went back and forth about how I wanted to cover the event the whole time at MBO last weekend. Sure, there was a part where I simply wanted to keep hyping this amazing event because it truly is special—the community, the fun, the new friendships, and the memories. Oh yeah, and the poison oak I brought home was another reminder of time spent on the trails. Don’t worry; I will talk about all of that. Yet at the same time, I have been following the storyline of communities dependent on resource extraction dotted all over the West, pushing their chips into the center of the table for new trails and adventure tourism. The question everyone wants to know is, is it working?

Obviously, the answer to that question is layered, as not all communities are equal. You have the Aspens, Whistlers, and Jacksons out there with soul-crushing housing costs where people have 2nd, 3rd, and 4th homes, but not so much in Oakridge. It’s not a Moab or a Sedona in terms of wide appeal. A drive through Sedona today reveals a landscape filled with expensive homes with expansive views and ever-increasing car traffic. The few times I drove through Oakridge’s little downtown, I rarely saw anyone out and about. Most of the homes I saw reminded me of the types of homes in my town growing up. But the good news is, the story of Oakridge is not done being written.

As I chatted with the clerk, I was curious about what he thought of events like MBO and mountain bikers descending on Oakridge. “I love it!” He excitedly shared. “It’s great to meet new people,” he added. While Oakridge hasn’t hit the rarified status of a Crested Butte or Hood River, it continues slowly moving the flywheel of change.

Between rides, eating, and taking photos, I tried to talk to any locals I could find. The burning question within me was, “How have (or are) trails impacting Oakridge?” (For conversation’s sake, there are actually two communities … Oakridge and Westifr. MBO technically takes place in Westfir.) These are the kinds of questions being asked all over. That’s the hope that trail advocates are lobbying for. Put in trails, and people will flock to your community, bringing their discretionary income with them. That rang true during MBO. I saw vans and SUVs with bike racks at local eateries and motels.

Whenever I visit places like Oakridge to ride, I have my own policy called, “Always stop for a burrito.” Meaning spending money in town.

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