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Vernal makes a run at Moab's mountain biking dominance

Published: Friday, May 25 2012 11:30 p.m. MDT

Bekah Jones rides Jazz Chromoly, a mountain bike trail near Red Fleet State Park north of Vernal, on Thursday. The Northeastern Utah Mountain Bikers will hold NUMBfest this weekend.

Geoff Liesik, Geoff Liesik, Deseret News

VERNAL — Troy Lupcho has seen it before.

People stop in his shop on their way to Moab or Fruita, Colo., and ask if there is anywhere to ride in this energy-industry town. A short time later, after being given a trail guide and some local knowledge about the current riding conditions, they head out the door.

Then it happens.

"They're in the shop the next day and they've canceled their trip to where they were headed," said Lupcho, who owns Altitude Cycle.

"They end up staying here and riding for three or four days," he said. "They can't believe how good the trail system is."

The network of nearly 20 trails in the Uinta Basin has been built and maintained over the past 15 years by dozens of local riders like Lupcho and Teena Christopherson.

"We just have a real love of our trails because when we moved here, there weren't any," Christopherson said. "Now we have every level of trail from super-scary-advanced-and-technical to nice-flowy-pretty-easy-to-do."

The terrain the trails cross is also diverse, encompassing slickrock to high desert plateau to mountain forest. It's that diversity that prompted Bike magazine to pose an interesting question in its May 2009 edition.

"It said 'Better than Moab?' on the cover," Lupcho recalled. "The second page said, 'Could rival Fruita as the best in the West.' Those are big words. Those are big shoes to fill."

But many of the Vernal-area riders — known collectively as Northeastern Utah Mountain Bikers or NUMB — are doing their best to fill them.

They spend countless hours working on the trails because, as Christopherson likes to point out, "there are no trail fairies that come out and fix things." They also hold group rides every Monday and Wednesday, and this Memorial Day weekend host an annual free festival called NUMBfest, which begins today at 10 a.m. at McCoy Flats west of Vernal and runs through Monday afternoon.

"In a nutshell, it's a social event that takes place for three days," Lupcho said. "We give people the opportunity to come out and mingle with the locals, to ride the trails and see what we've been doing and have a great time."

"I guarantee Giggle Factor 10," he said.

McCoy Flats — home to nine trails and more than 60 miles of single-track — has seen major improvements in recent years, courtesy of the Bureau of Land Management, which is responsible for the area. Those include a covered picnic area and a pit toilet. There's no designated camping area, Lupcho said, but camping is allowed.

"The BLM has been unbelievable," he said. "Not only are they protecting and recognizing what we're doing, but they're moving forward and being active in trying to make it grow."

Neither Lupcho nor Christopherson is concerned about overuse of the trails once word gets out.

"Our trails seriously need more riders," Christopherson said. "It helps to pack 'em down."

But both said riders should respect the hard work that's been done over the years, protect the land, and not diverge from the established trails.

"Keep single-track single," Lupcho said.

Email: gliesik@desnews.com Twitter: GeoffLiesik

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