A coal miner with a bicycle and a dream.
That’s all 39-year-old David Bauer was before he shifted his dream into full gear, found a suitable parcel of land and brought his idea to Campbell County Commissioners in April.
The commissioners signed off on his idea to make biking trails on a 640-acre plot just north of town.
Since then, Bauer and his group, Energy Addicts, have created an outdoor recreation gem for Gillette, a space where cyclists can have the freedom to bounce up and around the hills, rocks, valleys and prairies of the Centennial Section.
“You get to escape,” Bauer said. “Before you know it, you’ve worked out for three hours and you’ve enjoyed it. You hear the birds chirping. You see the prairie dogs, antelope. I mean, you just get to see so much more.”
Bauer was born and raised in Gillette and then moved to Alaska as a young man. He moved back to Gillette and eventually owned his own contracting business before becoming a coal miner.
The coal mining career gave him a little extra free time and got him back on his bike. Now he rides almost anytime he gets a break. He has bicycles of all types — mountain bikes, a gravel bike, a fat bike and even a tandem he rides with his wife, Krystal Bauer, while hauling a dog trailer from time to time.
It’s something he’s had a love for since childhood, cruising around with his buddies on the crisscrossing roads around Gillette.
“I’ve been riding bike since I was probably 5 years old. I had a little He-Man bike,” Bauer said. “A lot of people don’t realize that when they were little kids and they would go around the neighborhood, they’d ride their bike all day.
“There wasn’t a step counter or a distance tracker back in the ’80s and ’90s like there are today. If I strapped one on my kid and figured out what he did all day, he would be 30, 40, 50 miles easy.”
Cycling has a particular draw for Bauer because it’s something anyone can do for nearly their entire lives — from the time they are on training wheels as toddlers to cruising along with gray hair flowing with the wind as senior citizens. There are even models with three wheels and hand pedals for those with disabilities.
“It’s something that I can do to strengthen where I come from and hopefully build it up for other families and let them know that this is a lifelong sport,” Bauer said.
Bauer was a part of the Sports Tourism Advisory Team in Gillette, headed by Mary Silvernell, and that’s where his idea originated. He hopped on his hunting GPS and started searching around for a possible open area that could be good for a trails system.
The Centennial Section was highlighted in blue on the GPS, so he went there, hopped the fence and stumbled around the hills.
The area was perfect and the only purpose the land served was as a place for the Gillette College rodeo program’s roughstock broncs to graze, he said.
“There’s valleys, there’s rocks, it’s everything that we need. It’s perfect,” Bauer told Silvernell after he found the spot.
Silvernell signed off and Bauer went to the Campbell County Commissioners. He pitched the idea that the land could become a place for all sorts of outdoor recreation like mountain biking, youth cycling, cross-country runs, obstacle course racing and Nordic skiing.
What’s more, it could bring tourism dollars to Gillette if developed properly.
Then Bauer and his group, Energy Addicts, created three trails: the 0.7-mile Red Rock Overlook Trail, the 2.1-mile long Antelope Loop and the 12-mile Jackalope Loop.
Bauer said he doesn’t want to over-develop the area because it would take away from the character of the trails, but he wants to create more trails, berms, jumps and build some wood bridges as well.
“That’s what’s going to bring a huge event here and make people want to come and ride these trails,” Bauer said. “And then we’ll get the weekend travelers: people from Buffalo, people from Sheridan.”
The main goal for the Centennial Section, in the immediate future, is to create a gravel parking lot so about 80 vehicles can park for people to use the trails.
Bauer has two sons who also ride: 15-year-old Lacion and 11-year-old Korbin. Korbin lives with him in Gillette and isn’t as into bat and ball sports like his older brother.
“I’ve had him in soccer. I had him in hockey and he didn’t like any of them,” Bauer said about Korbin. “He’s not super competitive. He doesn’t want to smash somebody up against the glass.”
Stemming from his son’s situation, Bauer also wants to create and coach a youth cycling club for kids who either are cut from a traditional sports team or just aren’t attracted to those kinds of sports. He already has a nonprofit created for the club.
“There’s a lot of kids that don’t have an outlet to go and do that. They just go,” Bauer said.
Bauer also organizes the annual Coal Country Gravel Grinder, a long-distance cycling race that takes place on the dirt roads surrounding Gillette. It started out in 2017 with nine cyclists and has grown to more than 100 in the latest event.
Moving ahead, Bauer and the Energy Addicts face some uncertainty in that the county may end up using the Centennial Section for a road extension or something else.
“I want to see it go from nothing to something,” he said. “I don’t know if it will pan out to be what I’d like it to because the county wants to do this, Parks and Rec wants to do this. Who knows? I’m just going to keep doing what I do to make it great.”