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Bend Bicyclists Blaze New Business

Despite what your senses may be telling you, it is spring — even with the winter storms and snow Friday across Portland and parts of Oregon. In Bend, mountain bikers are tuning up their bikes, and hikers are putting away their snowshoes. But mountain trails represent  a whole new possibility this year, particularly for a pair of outdoorsman in central Oregon. Ethan Lindsey caught up with them in Bend and filed this report.

A hiking trail may seem like the most basic terrain imaginable. To most of us.

"I'm Eric Sageser. And I'm Kent Howes."

But to this pair of  friends on a hike two miles outside of Bend, a trail is both exciting…and highly technical.

Kent Howes: "Because we build trail. Let's just keep walking, and I'll just ask you guys some questions."

Because Howes says there are many different types of trails, my first question was what kind of trail this was.

He said this trail was named Phil's trail. I thought I was just walking along a pretty typical hiking trail, but to Howes, it's a 'multi-use single track' gauged trail.

Kent Howes: "Mostly it's a rather narrow gauged trail, wide enough for one, maybe two people side-by-side. But generally one cyclist, hiker, walker."

Howes  and Sageser helped build this trail as volunteers with the Central Oregon Trail Alliance. COTA, as its called, is a group of mountain bikers who work with the forest service and other agencies to build trails on public lands.

But after years of volunteering their time and energy, these two saw a business opportunity.

Lots of homebuyers moved here to central Oregon specifically because they could buy lots and lots of land. Howes and Sageser thought they knew what was going through those peoples' minds.

Kent Howes: "Hey, I've got 10 acres or 6 acres, and I want to at least enjoy my property, so instead of beatin' my way through the bitter brush, it'd be nice to have a trail."

The two started a trail building company last summer - and named it Treadwerks. They sell trail design, consulting, construction and maintenance.

Sageser says they've already landed a few small  contracts.

Eric Sageser: "If you had an ideal mile like this, 2-thousand dollars would probably buy you some really sweet single track and machine built with hand finish. 40-thousand would get you trail that's a mile-long at Mount Bachelor."

But these two pals are by no means the first to have come up with the idea of a trailbuilding trade.

In fact, in 1976, trail builders formed a professional organization to specifically advance their industry and skills.

Back then, customers included the U-S Forest Service and many government agencies. But Howes and Sageser say now they expect 90 percent of their business to come from private landowners and developers.

Sageser says you might think all the trails on forest service land means business is good.

Eric Sageser: "Except with the Forest Service's budget shrinking every year. Now, developers both nationally and locally are looking at trails being a real value added amenity for their property."

Sageser and Howes say trail building has spoiled walking and biking for them in a way. They can no longer just hike or bike. The say they're are always thinking about the trail construction.

Kent Howes: "Thinking about water. It really is, that's all, that flow of water. Going through your head. And its like, what's going to keep the water off the trail. You get a little rain and next thing you know, you've got a channel. It's all about getting water off the trail."

Howes says besides turning a hiking trail into a river, water also can undo a lot of the work of a trail builder.

Some businesses in Bend say they are worried about  the housing slowdown and a possible recession. But Howes and Sageser say the growth in the region has been so explosive over the past decade they think the market is still ripe.

And they say a lot of the new residents are early retirees and baby boomers who love the outdoors and will pay a premium for green-friendly products.

And, as Howes asks,  what could be greener than a good, healthy hike?

Kent Howes: "Yeah, being outside, a little physical labor. We started as volunteers, you know, stewardship and all that, but then its like I am getting stoked up and hopefully that stoke will keep other people stoked, you know?"