How Jeff Potter united a community of mountain bikers

By Leonie Sherman

Jeff on the fat bike the Carson City trail community purchased for him.

Jeff on the fat bike the Carson City trail community purchased for him.

Jeff Potter set out to build a trail and ended up building a community. The trail got built, too; seven miles of twisting, turning mountain biking grins, connecting Ash Canyon Road with King’s Canyon Road in the rolling hills of Eagle Valley outside of Carson City, Nevada. And though Potter was rewarded for almost a decade of hard work by a National Trail Award in 2015, he’s quick to point out that it takes a village.

“It’s not one person who gets this done,” Potter explains. “It’s team work that gets these things off the ground.”

In 2007, Potter approached a local non-profit group called Muscle Powered to see if they would be interested in taking on a very ambitious trail construction project. Established in Carson City in 1997 for bicycle and pedestrian advocacy, Muscle Powered has created bike lanes and paths, and been instrumental in legislative victories that have helped Nevada cyclists.

The Ash to Kings trail was the organization’s first endeavor into trail design and construction. After Muscle Powered agreed to take on the trail, Potter became a board member and project leader.

“I was completely clueless as to what needed to be done to get a trail built,” Potter laughs. “Two amazing Muscle Powered board members, founder Anne Macquarie and her engineer husband Chas guided me through the lengthy process.”

First they had to meet with Carson City’s Open Space Manager Juan Guzman. Potter won him over, but it wasn’t a hard sell. “Juan was the most important person in this project,” Potter says without hesitation. “His enthusiasm, his relationships and contacts, and his ability to negotiate the red tape was invaluable.” Guzman opened the door for other partners like the US Forest Service, the Great Basin Institute and the Nevada Parks Recreational Trails Program. Local archaeologists and engineers donated time and expertise.

“We’ve had over 300 volunteers work to make this trail a reality since we first broke ground in 2012,” Potter says. “Designing and laying out a seven mile trail in the backcountry takes a huge amount of effort. Each of the crew leaders spent hours in the field, doing recon and GIS work for mapping, and then with flagging for the final alignment.” Potter can barely suppress a big grin. “These people have become some of my closest friends.”

And Potter can’t resist bragging about the folks that make up his community. “They raise families, coach kids soccer, hold down full time jobs, and then come out with what little spare time they have to build trail.” His normally rapid fire speech and cheerful tone shifts for a moment. “I get the credit for building the trail, but the truth is I couldn’t do it without them.”

The trail they completed in August 2015 has brought economic development to a forgotten corner of Nevada and created a vibrant mountain biking community of folks who do more than just ride together. That trail also stands as a symbol of the mountains an individual can move when motivated by love.

“I fell in love with mountain biking back in 1983,” Potter reminisces. “I grew up in the San Fernando Valley, so I was riding all around the Santa Monica Mountains.”

But then he came to the Lake Tahoe area and rode the Flume trail. “I knew I had to change my life so I could be close to these mountains and these biking opportunities,” he says. At the time, he was working with the Post Office. Carson City offered employment close to Lake Tahoe. “So I cut my hair and interviewed for the position.” He laughs and admits, “Of course, I started growing it back as soon as I got the job.”

Since then he’s seen a lot of development and growth around Carson City, but as the population grew, the trail system remained stagnant.

You’d see more people on the same number of trails, which led to the creation of informal social trails. These trails were often built without proper engineering or foresight, leading to erosion and access issues. “One of our goals is to inventory these social trails so we can make them legal,” Potter says.

“We realized nobody was advocating for trails,” Potter explains. “And a lot of us were tired of putting our bikes in the car to go riding. We figured Carson City was a perfect location for more trails. So a group of us got together and approached Carson City Supervisor Shelley Aldean to say, ‘Hey, we need more trails here.’”

Aldean showed Potter the Unified Pathways Master Plan for the City and began Potter’s education in trail construction and politics. That was almost a decade ago. Since then this mountain-biking mailman known as “Trail Jesus” has learned to navigate government red tape and endless hours in committee. “I’m really out of my comfort zone in this work,” explains Potter. “I don’t like going to meetings and speaking in public, but somebody’s got to be the champion and step forward.”

After years of grinding process, Potter was finally able to break ground on the trail in 2012. Roughly three years and 8,000 volunteer hours later it was completed. “Now, instead of me driving to Tahoe to ride, folks are coming from Tahoe to ride the Ash to Kings trail,” Potter says with a chuckle. “It’s a 17-mile round trip from my house. My garage is my trailhead.”

In May 2015, Potter was recognized by an American Trails’ “Trail Worker of the Year” award, a prize that showcases individuals working for enhanced trail recreation. They commended him for providing consistent support for trail planning, development and maintenance. The next year, the Coalition for Recreational Trails chose the Ash to Kings trail project as the winner of their Annual Achievement Award. But Potter’s not content to rest on his laurels.

His next vision is to build a trail connecting Carson City to Lake Tahoe Nevada State Park. “That’s another ten miles of trail we hope to build,” Potter explains. “This isn’t just about recreation, it’s about providing connectivity to our community.”

The biggest challenge isn’t the manual labor required to construct the trail, but conducting environmental surveys to safeguard and minimize impact on wildlife, archaeological and botanical features. “The best case scenario is that the Environmental Impact Report is completed in 2018 and we can start breaking ground in 2019,” says Potter with a sigh.

Potter is a tireless champion and will continue to advocate and work for local trails, whether he’s holding a pen or a shovel in his hand. “Nowadays 90% of what I do is paperwork,” Potter says with a sigh. Then his voice brightens. “But the rest is fun!”

National Trails Day 2013.

National Trails Day 2013.

Americorp’s Nevada Conservation Corps crew (NCC) works on the Ashes to Kings Trail.

Americorp’s Nevada Conservation Corps crew (NCC) works on the Ashes to Kings Trail.