About 20 years ago, a few like-minded people gathered to discuss the need for developing a comprehensive system of walking and cycling trails in Billings.
During a meeting at Yellowstone Valley Brewing Co., George Moncure, the brewery’s owner, suggested organizing a brew festival to raise money for trail development. As Moncure’s idea started fermenting, those gathered soon realized that many people who like trails also enjoy a beer now and then.
Mike Tuss, one of the attendees, suggested naming the fundraiser Ales to Trails, a back-handed tribute to the rails-to-trails movement in which historic railroad corridors have been repurposed for walking and cycling paths. His initial suggestion received a minor edit, and Ales for Trails was born.
Tuss, a principal at CTA Architects Engineers, is happy to have been in on the ground floor of a local movement that led to the creation of Billings TrailNet, a non-profit trail advocacy organization that now has 1,124 members and has been instrumental in the development of 45 miles of trails in the Billings area. Over the ensuing years, the annual Ales for Trails festival has raised more than $715,000 for Billings trails.
CTA was one of Billings TrailNet’s first corporate sponsors. Tuss said it was an easy decision, in part because the company believes that trails make the community more livable, and thus more attractive to people who are thinking of moving here.
Recruiters for the two Billings hospitals say that medical professionals thinking about moving to Billings consistently look for community assets such as quality schools, cultural offerings and recreation infrastructure like trails.
Likewise, the Billings Chamber of Commerce’s decision to advocate for trail development has given a significant boost for trail development, Tuss said.
“If you want to attract people to Billings, you’ve got to have a good trail system,” he said.
Tuss is an avid cyclist in addition to being a long-time trail advocate. On most mornings, summer or winter, one can see Tuss pedaling his classic Klein mountain bike through downtown Billings, on his way to work. Riding home for lunch helps him relax and clear his mind, he said.
Tuss is encouraged by how much progress that Billings has made in trail development over the past 20 years. But in hindsight, the community would have benefited even more if trail advocates had gotten busy a few years earlier, when more sources of funding were available.