In Park City, trails are as beloved as Labradoodles and powder days. And so it is that, as steward to roughly half of the Park City area’s 400-plus-mile trail network, Mountain Trails Foundation is a local darling. This spring, upon the retirement of Charlie Sturgis, Mountain Trails’ executive director since 2010, longtime Park City local Lora Smith was named to the organization’s top spot—only the fourth person to hold the post since Mountain Trails was founded in 1993.
PCM: First things first: What’s your relocation-to-Park City story?
Lora Smith: The affordable cost of living and chance to live in the mountains brought my family and me here from California 18 years ago. But my now ex-husband kept his job as a firefighter in Half Moon Bay and would be gone for two-week stretches every month, making me a de facto single mom to our then 4-year-old, 2-year-old, and 6-month-old twins. Almost immediately, the mommy network in our neighborhood stepped up with this amazing unconditional support. They were so great that I still get emotional when I think about that time now.
You had been Mountain Trails’ development director before being named executive director. How did your involvement in Mountain Trails begin?
About 10 years ago, I started guiding White Pine Touring’s free, women’s-only Team Sugar Tuesday Night Trail Rides (June 1–August 31, 5:30–8 p.m.). Through those rides I met Charlie [Sturgis], and then eight years ago, when Charlie was looking for a part-time assistant, he encouraged me to apply. I had done some grant writing previously, so soon after I was hired my role quickly evolved into fundraising and development. Over time, Charlie, Rick [Fornier, Mountain Trails’ field manager], and I became this trifecta: Charlie took the 30,000-foot view, and Rick was—and is—the boots on the ground, while I pulled all the details together and aligned fundraising with Mountain Trails’ mission: building, maintaining, and protecting trails for nonmotorized recreation in the Park City area.
What do you think Mountain Trails does well, and where do you think the organization can improve?
By forging partnerships with local government, businesses, and other nonprofits—including Park City Municipal, Summit Land Conservancy, Utah Open Lands, the resorts, Basin Recreation, and the Wasatch Trails Foundation—Mountain Trails has done an outstanding job leveraging private donations for enormous public benefit. I think most people who live in Park City recognize that, which has made fundraising relatively easy for us. But I’m not so sure those coming from outside of Summit County to use the trails here are that familiar with what we do. To address that, I’d like to do more outreach through volunteer days and use our Ambassador Program to educate people not only on sustainable trail use, but on Mountain Trails as a whole as well.
What will this summer’s trail-building season look like?
We’ll be finishing up the Bonanza Loop, a five-mile rideable loop at Bonanza Flat. We’ll also be completing phase one of SkyRidge, a public trail located on the north end of the Jordanelle Reservoir. Thanks to a $50,000 private donation, four miles of singletrack, called the Mother Urban Trail, will be constructed on Treasure Hill leading to the Mid Mountain Trail. We’ll also complete a five-mile beginner/handcycle loop within Round Valley. And with the Wasatch Trails Foundation, we’ll build a connector trail between the Bonanza Loop and the W.O.W. (Wasatch Over Wasatch) Trail. When that trail is done, hopefully by fall 2022, you’ll be able to ride from Park City to the Heber Valley and down to Salt Lake, touching pavement only once as you cross Guardsman Pass Road.
The pandemic forced all of Mountain Trails’ popular events—like the Jupiter Peak Steeplechase and Round Valley Rambler—to go virtual in 2020. What’s the status of events for this summer?
Since our summer events are both fundraisers and costly to stage, we decided it would be prudent to run this summer’s events virtually, too, except for maybe the Tour des Suds (a seven-mile mountain bike race running from City Park to Guardsman Pass, scheduled for September 12).
Finally, what’s your favorite way to get out on the trails and your favorite route?
Trail running, but mountain biking is a very close second. It’s hard to pick just one route, but I do love to take the free city bus from the Old Town Transit Center to Deer Valley’s Empire Lodge. From there, I run the Mid Mountain Trail to Armstrong and back to my car at Park City Mountain’s First Time parking lot.