Building, maintaining, and protecting trails for non-motorized recreation in an outdoor adventure-centered community like Park City is no small task.
But for Mountain Trails Foundation (MTF) Executive Director Lora Smith, it’s a mission that is deeply important and personal because Park City’s trails are central to her life.
“When I was raising my boys, we had great trail adventures. When I need to ponder a problem, burn off stress, or have the urge to explore, I hit the trails,” she says. “When I socialize, it’s often on the trails. With nearly every other facet of my life involving trails, why not a career as well?”
Lora started at MTF as the resource manager in 2012 and quickly realized it was a career path she was passionate about. Already educated in communications and organizational leadership, she completed the University of Utah’s nonprofits in excellence and executive leadership programs to prepare for the next step.
A native of southern California, Lora says she’s always had an innate desire to live a life where she could run free in the wilderness. It was that desire that brought her to Park City with her four sons 20 years ago.
“The community took us in and, with immediate access from our house to the trails, a park, and two ski resorts, I knew we had found our home,” she says.
Today, as the executive director of MTF, Lora is deeply entrenched in the organization’s goal to create the world’s best trail experience for the widest range of non-motorized trail users, year-round. To do this, they must strike the perfect balance between adding new trails, maintaining and protecting current trails, and managing access.
“The old-school, hand-built trails are central to the unique character of Park City’s trail system. They can be steep, tight, and often have poor line-of-sight. It is for precisely these reasons that they are beloved by hikers and modern mountain bikers worldwide,” says Lora. “Protecting the character of these trails is paramount because they are what makes Park City’s trail system so special.”
As the city’s trails have gained notoriety over the years, MTF has helped mitigate trail impact through a two-pronged approach. First, to disperse trail users throughout the 400-mile trail system, and second, to separate, or at least accommodate, various trail-use types.
A great example of this is Round Valley’s winter trail system. A few years ago, as fat-tire biking was gaining popularity, they saw an increase in trail conflict. Suddenly, the Nordic track where skiers, off-leash dogs, and walkers were already competing for space, had a new trail user. In response, MTF built and began grooming single-track trail to disperse users and segregate trail-use types.
Although MTF builds, maintains, and protects area trails, they do not do any marketing or advertising for the networks. Instead, they serve as a resource for visitors by educating them on trail etiquette, suggesting routes, and sharing a free interactive map.
“Our mission, vision, and value statements dictate a focus on educating trail users, no matter where they come from,” says Lora, adding that they encourage visitors to honor the local trail culture. “We hope that when people visit Park City’s trails they’ll slow down, look around, and notice what’s different about the trail experience here. Park City has a remarkably friendly, cooperative trail community.”
Lora says that even as trails have increased in popularity, there hasn’t been a corresponding jump in things like litter, over-crowded routes, or user-induced erosion. A big part of protecting the trails is encouraging people to try something new and get creative when choosing routes.
“Trails are a place where people go to be happy. Yes, trailheads are sometimes full, but once you’ve left the trailhead, the outdoor experience can be wonderfully lonesome in Park City,” she says, adding that the MTF interactive map has suggested routes and lots of fun trail information. “We aim to inspire people to tap their inner Lewis and Clark and explore something new each time they venture out.”