Voices: It’s time to wheel this baby out!

Three years after conception, a long-awaited day has finally arrived for us at the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. Cycle Greater Yellowstone debuts tonight with our opening festivities in West Yellowstone.

The childbirth analogy is apt, for my feeling today hearkens back to when I was an expectant father more years ago than I care to count. Eighteen months of brainstorming followed by 18 months of stitching together a million moving parts have brought us here.

Nearly 700 cyclists from 44 states have converged on the region. Joining them are 80 volunteers who came on their own time and their own dime to support a unique fusion of conservation, community and recreation. And let’s not forget the embrace of the communities along the seven-day, 460-mile route — West Yellowstone, Ennis, Three Forks, Manhattan, Livingston, Gardiner, Cooke City/Silver Gate, Cody, Powell, Belfry and Red Lodge — some of which are providing up to 100 volunteers to ensure our visitors have a first-class, full-service experience.

From a planning standpoint, it is as daunting as it sounds, like staging weddings for 1,000 guests on seven consecutive days in seven different towns. To shift any burden from our tourist-friendly yet resource-strapped neighbors, we are using regional vendors to provide 21 meals, hot showers, camping space with some Sherpa service, clean Porta-Potties, innovative recycling, medical support and numerous amenities.

The riders simply ride. The communities simply enjoy the riders’ desire to eat, drink, shop and discover what makes them tick.

It is, as Vogue magazine described it when touting CGY as one of eight Slightly Fanatical Fitness Vacations, “Glamping”.

For GYC, a Bozeman-based non-profit celebrating our 30th anniversary, it means a seven-figure investment — one we envision will provide lasting returns of inspiration and education, goodwill in our communities and, eventually, funding for our work on behalf of Greater Yellowstone’s lands, waters, wildlife and incomparable quality of life.

A calculated risk, sure, and yet also so promising.

After all, as America’s Voice for a Greater Yellowstone, what better way for GYC to showcase the extraordinary place we live, work and play — and to tell the stories behind it — than at 15 mph? What better way to experience, appreciate and absorb the values of the Lee Metcalf and Absaroka-Beartooth wilderness areas, our magical trout streams, iconic wildlife such as grizzly bears and Yellowstone bison, and uncommon landscapes like the Gallatin Range, than from the saddle of a bicycle — even if from spotting-scope range?

Equally important, how better to build a thriving ecological, economic and spiritual future for our children and grandchildren than to bridge the cultural gaps that blind us to the values that bind us?

To that end, Cycle Greater Yellowstone has the potential to transcend the traditional bicycle tour.

My enduring image of a similar tour in northeastern Oregon three years ago is of a man clad in Wranglers, Stetson hat, plaid shirt and dusty boots on a barstool next to a visiting cyclist in Lycra shorts and the rainbow colors of a cycling jersey. They were hoisting a beverage to each other, toasting their commonalities, respecting their differences and exorcising their long-held assumptions.

It was then — and after learning of Cycle Oregon’s staggering regional economic impact — that I knew we needed such an event here.

For what it gives back to its communities, Cycle Oregon is more than just another great adventure. It is now part of the state’s cultural fabric — as inextricably linked as salmon, Douglas firs, and Pinot noir.

If we do this right, Cycle Greater Yellowstone, too, will become a signature event — as inextricably linked to our world as free-flowing trout streams, bugling elk and ranch brands.

If so, we will have inspired people from around the world to engage in keeping Greater Yellowstone precious. We will have built enduring rapport between GYC, communities and cyclists. We will have left only memories, energy and dollars along the way.

Time will tell.

For now, after nurturing this baby for three years, it’s time to bring Cycle Greater Yellowstone into the world.

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