HELENA – On Friday morning, the first Trail Rider shuttle of the year rolled into downtown Helena. The free service carries mountain bikers and others to nearby trailheads from May through September.
“We absolutely promote this free shuttle service to all users – bikers as well as trail runners and hikers,” said Andrea Opitz, executive director of the Helena Tourism Alliance, which manages Bike Helena.
Bike Helena is kicking off this year’s Trail Rider season with the Spring Shuttle Fest. Shuttles will run every half-hour from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday. They will run every 45 minutes to one hour from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Sunday.
Organizers say they expanded Spring Shuttle Fest after the success of last year’s event.
“Last year, we found that we had an abundance of trail users, and so we added a second shuttle,” Opitz said.
The owners of Huckwagons, a company in western Washington state, contributed one of their custom-built mountain bike shuttle trailers.
One of the shuttles will run to the Mt. Helena Ridge trailhead, while the other will run to a trailhead off Arrowroot Drive, leading to Mt. Ascension. Because of the ongoing construction work on West Main Street, the Mt. Helena Ridge shuttle will take an alternate route through Davis Gulch.
No foot or bicycle traffic will be allowed on West Main Street during construction hours. Bicyclists and pedestrians will have to ride in a pilot car. Bike Helena says they can still use the same trails in the Mt. Helena Ridge area, but they will need to wait for the pilot car or find an alternate way to get back to town.
Despite some rain Friday, Opitz said the trails remain in good condition. She said she’s hopeful people will still be ready to hit the trail.
Coinciding with Shuttle Fest is the eighth annual Ales for Trails Brew Fest, Friday night at Pioneer Park downtown. 20 breweries and other producers provided craft beverage samples for the event, which raises money for expanding and improving the Helena trail system.
Starting next week, the Trail Rider shuttle will begin its regular schedule, running several times a day Wednesday through Sunday. A full schedule can be found on the Bike Helena website.
Opitz said Helena’s trail system has become a major asset for the community. She said the system had about 65,000 users last year, and that those from outside Helena brought more than $4 million in business into the area.
She said she hopes the Trail Rider program can highlight the value of the system.
“It is amazing,” she said. “I think it is a testament to what Helena offers as far as our trails and the scenic beauty.”
The Trail Rider shuttle is sponsored by a number of Helena businesses, including Blackfoot River Brewing, Lewis & Clark Brewing Company, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Montana and Broadwater Hot Springs. Capital Transit, Helena’s public bus system, operates the shuttle.