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Thursday, 01 September 2016 07:38

Opinion: Public Lands Critical to Olympic Dreams Featured

Chloe Woodruff

" I want to make sure [public lands] are around for the next generation of athletes too."

As I headed to Rio to compete in mountain biking at the Olympics, I found myself reflecting on all the factors that led to realizing this dream. Mountain biking is an outdoor sport and requires access to nature and trails. As an American, I am guaranteed access to the outdoors thanks to our spectacular system of public lands. My dad, Chuck Forsman, is an artist who spends his life capturing altered landscapes across the American West and our interaction with them. As kids, my twin sister and I tagged along on his adventures and my attraction to mountain biking stemmed from an eagerness to get outside and explore the world in my own way. Biking is a great way to interact with nature, and my first time mountain biking was in Moab, Utah on public land.

Now I live in Prescott, Arizona where I train primarily in the Prescott National Forest. My local National Forest makes me proud to call this state home. The regional offices have done a tremendous job working with the local mountain biking community and beyond. It is a civic achievement that the people of this community feel they have a say in the use and protection of our area public lands. The “all hands, all lands” exemplifies the collaboration between the City of Prescott and its surrounding towns. The Greater Prescott Trails Plan has recently put forth plans to add another 125 miles to the already impressive 225 miles of trails in the Prescott Basin.

 A feature unique to Prescott is its trail building efforts, namely a 200 plus bunch of retirees called the Over the Hill Gang who, under the leadership of the Prescott National Forest and the City of Prescott, have built close to 70 miles of trails in the last 8 years.  Guiding the efforts of this dedicated group of volunteers is a full-time trails and open space coordinator, evidence of the city’s dedication to its trail system.  A growing relationship between the PNF and the COP is resulting in projects that are beneficial to all trail users. People feel welcome on public lands in Arizona and utilize them for gatherings, adventures and training. 

Beyond providing access to a world-class trail system that has allowed me to achieve the highest level of performance in my sport, these lands are important to me as a steward. I try to be a good example of my sport and want to inspire the next generation to explore their world on two wheels. 

I have always felt that part of my job as an elite athlete was to make sure there is a future for the sport. This sport has been a vehicle for confidence, joy, societal contribution and so much more for me; so, I spend my free time coaching young bikers. There is no better way to get kids hooked on bikes than having accessible trails nearby. Beyond just getting kids off of TV screens and engaged in day-to-day life, the sport nurtures a sense of adventure and caring for our shared resources. It helps foster future athletes and engages community members. 

Public lands also make for the backbone of our community, both in terms of its culture and its business economy. Outdoor recreation is a $646 billion industry that provides 6.1 million American jobs. One of my favorite local events held in Prescott, the Whiskey Off-Road, a highly attended mountain biking race, enjoys broad town buy-in and support. It acts as a huge economic driver and brings a lot of people and attention. The race takes place largely on public lands in the Prescott National Forest. My career really launched in 2014 when I won the Whiskey Off Road. It was my big first win as an elite racer, and I am mindful that it occurred on our community lands. 

I am deeply honored to compete for my country and my community on the biggest stage in athletics. Part of that pride comes from a deep gratitude for the trails, forests, and parks I grew up enjoying and exploring. As a community, I hope we continue to support our public lands and retain our ownership of these spaces. 

These lands are an American resource that have been critical to achieving my Olympic dreams. I want to make sure they are around for the next generation of athletes too. 

Chloe Woodruff
Last modified on Thursday, 01 September 2016 07:46
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Editor Lynne LaMaster

Phone:928.458.5119

Prescott, Arizona