After undergoing open-heart surgery 10 years ago, Boulder City, Nevada, resident Brent Thomson wanted to recuperate by biking near his home, 25 miles southeast of Las Vegas. But there weren't many trails close enough for an after-work ride, and doctors didn't recommend weekend warrior routines.
On little-used city-owned land north of town, Thomson found a few tracks that had been carved out by dirt bikers. After some bumpy rides, he began what became a four-year effort to build an 8-mile loop, working 20 to 30 hours a week. Word got out about the great mountain biking and hiking in Bootleg Canyon, northeast of Boulder City.
Then, in 1998, developers wanted to build a quarry and a golf course right through the trail area. City officials, it turned out, hadn't been aware that trails had been built on public property. Thomson had some explaining to do.
"I was afraid I'd get thrown in jail," Thomson recalls. "So I took the mayor and some council members out there. We went down under the red crags where it's really shady and saw bighorn sheep. We saw desert tortoises too. The mayor said, 'Oh my god, I can't believe how beautiful this trail is.'"
A compromise was struck. The golf course was relocated, and the quarry was scratched. And now, about 40 miles of biking and hiking trails wind through what is known as the Bootleg Canyon mountain-bike trail system. The 4,500-acre area has been open to the public since 2002, offering challenging bike routes, easy hiking, and everything in between. It's become a destination for international mountain-biking competitions.
Creating the park has been good for Boulder City, with tourism picking up in what used to be the off-season. The International Mountain Bicycling Association gave the park an Epic Rides designation, ranking its trails among the best in the United States.
The experience has been good for Thomson. Today he's employed by the city as the bike park's trail master. And he's not slowing down: 15 more miles of trails are scheduled to open this spring.
But most important, the whole thing ― from biking to building trails to creating a park that pleases the community ― has been good for his heart too.