Rude cyclists, trash and toilets: US ranchers fed up with SBT GRVL and disrespect from riders

Colorado ranchers say significant changes need to be made for SBT GRVL and Colorado agriculture to coexist in peace

SBT GRVL 2023
(Image credit: SBT GRVL)

The champagne-colored gravel roads of Routt County, in the northwest corner of Colorado, have become known as some of the greatest dirt roads in the world for gravel cyclists, largely due to SBT GRVL.

Entering its fifth year, SBT GRVL has quickly established itself as one the largest and most prestigious gravel cycling events in the world, with some 3,000 registered riders from 24 countries and all 50 U.S. states competing across four routes. 

Top gravel pros like Keegan Swenson and Sofia Gomez Villafañe have claimed victory in Routt County, and race organizers are proud to bring a claimed $4.5 million in taxable spending to the host town of Steamboat Springs. But not all Steamboat residents are stoked on the event.

The Colorado Sun reports that local ranchers are fed up with the event, and nearly 80 Routt County ranchers took to a county commissioner’s meeting to air their grievances and demand change.

The top complaints aired by the Routt County ranchers center around trash scattered along the race courses  –which take place on both county roads and private ranch lands– , rude cyclists, traffic, and lack of bathrooms for cyclists, who instead resort to using nearby ranch fields for relief. 

The frustration shared by locals has led the county commissioners to issue a full review of the special use permit that allows SBT GRVL and other sporting events to operate in Routt County. One challenge is that Routt County only has two types of event permits; one for events under 1,000 people and one for events in excess of 1,000 people.

Some would like to see SBT GRVL pursue a special land use permit instead of an events permit. For others, it seems as though nothing but moving the race out of Routt County will be good enough. 

CJ and Nancy Mucklow, are among the ranchers that are fed up. 

“[The race is] ill-timed, ill-prepared and full of people racing who don’t care about trash or needing to go to the restroom. The liabilities are incredible,” CJ Mucklow said. “Fifteen hundred bikers looped our road for hours.”

SBT GRVL 2023

(Image credit: SBT GRVL)

In response to the fall meeting, SBT GRVL CEO Amy Charity hosted a public forum to to field the ranchers' complaints.

While she admitted that there were not enough porta-potties at last year’s race and would have more in 2024, she felt that some of the claims made by ranchers were exaggerated. 

“Some of the stories got embellished, Chaity told the Colorado Sun. "…someone raised their hand and said ‘There’s trash everywhere, and it’s still there.’ We’d go out [to get the trash] and find [the trash mentioned] was an old event sign…I was expecting Coke cans and Gu wrappers,” Charity said. 

While aspects of the race such as road closures and errant trash may be frustrating, Charity shares that SBT GRVL has positively impacted Routt County economically. 

Not only does the race bring in $4.5 million in taxable spending directly to Steamboat Springs, SBT GRVL organizers have donated more than $100,000 to local nonprofits, held youth bike clinics and partnered with cycling-related nonprofits such as Ride for Racial Justice and All Bodies on Bikes

Routt County Commissioner Tim Corrigan confirmed the financial benefit, sharing that Routt County has “very restrictive zoning regulations that mostly prohibit commercial activity [and prohibit] short-term rentals in unincorporated Routt County.”

In essence, Steamboat Springs and only Steamboat Springs benefits from the race. Sales tax in Steamboat springs is 8.4% - with 2.9% collected by the state and 1% by Routt County.

Even with the influx of money into Steamboat Springs, some ranchers still do not feel the disruptions from race day –and the days leading up to the race– are worth it. 

If SBT GRVL’s event permit is moved to a “large special event” status, it will be subject to an annual public hearing in Routt County. Even so, County Commissioner Corrigan says that it’s unlikely the race would not be granted a permit; it will however have a say in the event's size and other conditions.

In an attempt to extend an olive branch to locals, Charity has removed two-way bike traffic on all courses and will use other, more rural roads to reduce traffic and frustration from local ranchers. She also plans to hire more safety personnel and host more public forums for feedback from locals.

Additionally, Charity is requiring all riders to sign a rules agreement before the race around rider decorum. If one rule is broken, the rider is disqualified, and anyone can report an offending rider.

As it has in other years, SBT GRVL 2024 sold out almost immediately once registration went live in early December 2023. 

The gold rush of gravel is here, but from the eyes of some locals, all that glitters is not gold. Only time will tell if Charity’s changes to SBT GRVL will be enough to change the minds of the agriculture community who have ridden along the champagne gravel roads long before any of us.

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