Meet the man on a mission
- Posted Thursday, 7th, 2016 By: admin Category: Articles The tags: colorado, COPMOBA, fruita, kokopelli trail system, mountain biking, tourism
Mike Bennett is the Fruita City Manager and he is tasked with many things. One of them is to keep Fruita as a top mountain biking destination. Another is to make sure everyone knows it. Fruitamountainbiking.com thought it was a good idea for local biking enthusiasts to get to know Mike and understand what he is doing to make things happen in our fair city.
Could you give me a brief bio of who you are?
I am a lucky husband with an amazing wife, father of three awesome kids, outdoor enthusiast (specifically fly-fishing, mountain biking, hiking and skiing) and a purpose-oriented leader.
Where did you grow up?
My father was a military officer and I grew up all over. Born in Germany and then lived in Georgia (twice), Texas, Kansas and Alaska before moving to Cheyenne, Wyoming where I went to high school and developed a love for the state of Colorado.
Where did you go to school?
I went to my first year of college at Weber State University in Ogden, UT, then went on a two-year service mission for my Church in Ukraine. After that, I returned home and my parents retired in Idaho so my dad could be a fly-fishing guide for years to come in Idaho and Montana. I received my bachelor’s degree from Utah State University and after working in marketing for four years, I decided to get a Master of Public Administration from BYU.
Where did you work before here and how did you end up here?
Upon graduation we went to North Carolina where I worked for the City of Hickory for nearly nine years before coming to Fruita. When the Fruita job came open, I became very interested because of the location and quality of life the area offers. The more I researched Fruita, and especially after visiting for the interview process, I was sold. Sold on the awesome welcoming people, the funky vibe downtown, the amazing riding and trail systems within minutes, the Colorado National Monument and some of the food I ate at local establishments. I was also intrigued by how safe the community is, how many young families live here, the connectivity of the neighborhoods to schools and throughout the community and all the fun events that take place here. After the community interview, I walked out and enjoyed the concert in the park and could picture my family loving it here. The next day after subsequent interviews I went hiking and mountain biking and was hooked. I was especially excited about the direction the City was heading, the progressive nature of the City Council and the amazing staff I would be able to work with.
What is your official job title and what are your duties?
My official title is the City Manager. The City of Fruita is a home rule City and is governed by the Fruita City Charter as well as local ordinances and state laws. The City Charter designates the City Manager as the chief administrative officer of the City. This responsibility includes implementation of City Council goals, policies and directives.
Is the city making biking tourism a priority?
Biking Tourism definitely has a huge positive impact on Fruita whether you bike or not. Mountain bikers clearly help sustain a number of our local business and provide the City with sales tax revenue that translates into the City providing a high quality of services to residents.
Has anyone ever calculated what it means to the local economy?
While it is difficult to put an actual number to it, we know that sales tax revenue definitely spikes in the Spring and Fall when the majority of our mountain bike tourists are here. It is a key component to the City’s top priorities. It is clear that one of the major factors in people choosing to live in, visit or bring their company to Fruita is due to the vast array of outdoor recreation offered right out our doors here, coupled with a family-friendly, safe and fun atmosphere. Whether it is rafting, hiking, equestrian riding, taking in the Colorado National Monument or Dinosaur attractions and paleo areas, ATV riding or mountain biking, we have access to top quality trails in abundance and within minutes. Elevation Outdoors rated Fruita in an online poll by readers the Best Colorado Adventure Town over 9,000 in population in 2015 and their recent poll this year ranked the Colorado National Monument as the best road cycling trail. Mountain bike trails in the area were also in the running for the top spot. In 2015, Fruita was also designated as one of the 20 Coolest Outdoor Towns in the country. We have found that as a City we don’t need completely different approaches to residential life, tourism and economic development, but need to promote who we actually are as a community—our main assets, which include cycling. By doing this we can see that as we work to add trails in the City, connections to the trailheads and help get more trails outside of the City, we can have a positive impact on all three focus areas.
What is the City doing to keep Fruita a top biking destination?
We are doing a number of things. The City has three major trail projects we are working on. We are currently constructing a 10 ft. wide concrete trail along Little Salt Wash that connects north and south Fruita by following the wash from Gewont Lane south under the highway, under the railroad and under Interstate 70 eventually connecting to the James E. Robb Colorado State Park. The State Park is then building a trail through the park to their entry. This is the beginning of a western extension to the Colorado Riverfront Trail that heads east from Fruita all the way to Grand Junction and on to Palisade. Second we are aggressively pursuing to large grants to obtain $3.3 million to construct a trail from the Little Salt Wash Trail 4.5 miles west to get people from Fruita to access the Kokopelli Trail system. We see this as a huge bonus to actually ride from downtown Fruita or the camping locations in Fruita, or Fruita’s south side business area to the mountain biking trails. Along the way this trail goes through the business park we are also aggressively recruiting business to relocate to providing trail access and lake access for recreation al purposes along the trail and for the businesses. Third, we are partnering with BLM, COPMOBA, Colorado Backcountry Biker, Over the Edge Sports and the Hot Tomato to get more mountain biking trails built. The first project with this partnership is 6+ miles on Mack Ridge of new trail. A huge hurdle for trails to be built on BLM land is to get funding for required environmental studies before construction can occur. Thanks to COPMOBA and the businesses, COPMOBA is contracting in April Olsson Associates to complete the studies so BLM can do their work and then we get moving on trail building. CBB stepped up big time by running a successful fundraiser that paid the lions share of the business match required.
The City is also marketing to the Cycling Industry with direct email blasts inviting the industry to consider Fruita for business relocation, business retreats, product launches and press camps. We just hosted a business retreat last weekend of two companies.
The City’s marketing efforts focus heavily on mountain biking tourism, placing ads in publications and popular cycling websites and encouraging all riders and visitors to use the hash tag #gofruita when sharing their photos from trips in Fruita. We also support events like Fat Tire Festival every April to bring in all the bike manufacturers to demo their bikes and other festivals like the new Gear Up Festival a week before Fat Tire that brings in manufacturers of outdoor gear to Fruita. We strive to attend various cycling related trade shows like Outerbike, Interbike and the OR Show to promote Fruita as a destination for businesses, residents and tourists.
Do you ever find time to ride?
Yes, I try to get in a pattern of riding a minimum of once a week and sometimes three times if I get lucky. The beauty of living here is I can fit in a quick ride early in the morning during certain times of the year and still be to work on time. A late afternoon/evening ride or a quick lunch ride are a bonus occasionally.
What’s your favorite trail?
My favorite trail depends on the mood I am in. Sometimes I love to head up Prime Cut and flow down PBR, then head back up and fly down MoJo. Joe’s Ridge is a lot of fun too. Some days I feel more like the Kokopelli trails and especially like Mary’s out and back or hitting up Steve’s or Horsethief loops. Rustlers is my go-to quick fun morning ride.
What is the best bike shop in Fruita? (HA! Just kidding on that one!)
That’s a good one! I think we are fortunate to have two premier bike shops in Fruita that offer a high level of services and specialized expertise.
written by Kevin Godar, “The Hut Guy”