A few weekends ago I headed down to Mountain Bike Oregon (MBO) for the day. Up at 4 AM and on the road a half an hour later for a 2.5 hour drive from Portland to Oakridge. The main priority of the day was to hang out with Nate Miller from Tasco MTB and serve coffee in his booth. After a few hours of doing so the vendor area was a ghost town since the reason why people come to MBO is for successive days of shuttled runs through some of the most epic trails that Oregon has to offer. By mid-morning the shuttle buses had all gone and there was only one thing to do ... go ride ourselves.
While I was excited to ride and connect with others I was also intrigued to see the latest in the development of Oakridge-Westfir as a community. I am consistently reading articles about the economic benefits and impact that mountain biking specifically and tourism in general have on small rural communities, particularly those who're trying to transition their local economy from resource extraction (logging, mining, etc) to tourism-based. Much research and writing have focused on this turn-around in Oakridge both in popular mountain bike magazines and in academia. Since I do most of my riding within proximity to Portland I don't get down to Oakridge as much as I'd like. I was curious to see how the community was doing.
However, a drive through Oakridge and a stop at a local eatery revealed that this transition is slow-going and plodding. Obviously Oakridge is not Whistler or Park City or Aspen or any place like that. There are not high-end condos popping up all over as vacation homes or 3rd homes of wealthy Bay Area tech industry leaders. I saw youth in town with that longing look in their eyes to "get out" while they could. I know that look because I once had it too as I vacated my small town for the big city many years ago.
None of this is to diminish what has and is taking place in Oakridge from events like MBO to Trans-Cascadia and more. Each event brings the community closer to that "tipping point" that Malcom Gladwell writes about. Then all of a sudden we may indeed be talking about trendy condos and boutique stores that sell funny looking clothes that cost more than our new carbon bars or dropper seatposts. For me though each visit to places like Oakridge leaves me asking myself questions which I will now pose to you ...
What's our responsibility as mountain bikers for places like Oakridge? Do we have any? If so, what does it look like? Is it as simple as swapping out one normal yearly trip to Whistler to a place like Oakridge instead? Then there are the simple and easy answers which range from supporting local businesses while you're in town from B&Bs to brew pubs to cafes to grocery stores and the like.
But is there anything else? Is that it?
Do we have a responsibility for communities where we ride so someday people are not simply trying to "escape" these communities where they grew up but instead see a bright future of economic opportunities even after they've left for college but may want to return. Most who leave don't come back because there's not much to come back to.
How do we change that?
Words by Sean Benesh, Loam Coffee Founder and Brand Manager. Photos by Ben Wurmser and Tina Gerber.