The Roundup -

Watford City Resident Turns Passion Into A Career


Nick Ybarra conquering part of the Maah Daah Hey Trail.

Watford City's Nick Ybarra has managed to turn his passion for mountain biking into a career as a race director and the director of a local non-profit.

Ybarra, a Bismarck native, moved to Watford City with his wife in 2008. The couple shared a passion for mountain biking, and spent many rides together on the Maah Daah Hey Trail, located between Watford City and Medora. Ybarra made it a personal goal to bike all 100 miles of the trail in one day. Unbeknownst to him, this ride would lead him to create the BADLANDS RACE SERIES and found the non-profit, SAVE THE MAAH DAAH HEY, to bring hundreds of visitors to experience the area.

In 2009, Ybarra completed his goal of riding the 100 miles of the trail on his mountain bike. "I had no idea what I was doing, I just kept pedaling and finished that ride with nothing more than shear determination, that ride changed my life forever" Ybarra remembers. That adventure impacted Ybarra's life so much that he made a new goal, to help as many other people have the same experience. It was a pretty dry year in 2009 so the vegetation along the trail was short, making it "easy" to find, and follow the trail.

In 2010 Ybarra made the 100 mile journey again and had the idea to host the ride as an event, and to bring in other mountain bikers to experience the pristine beauty of the Maah Daah Hey trails and the surrounding area. However, due to what Ybarra refers to as the "perfect storm", the condition of the trails declined shortly after his ride. With the increase in oil drilling and a change in the internal hiring process, the US Forest Service, the government agency responsible for the upkeep of the trail, lost employees. Unusually high precipitation coupled with lowered attention left the trail unrecognizable. The Badlands were eroding, and there was "shoulder high vegetation. There were miles and miles of trail where you were pushing your bike through a jungle", Ybarra said.

Ybarra set out to restore the trail to host the first event. The first volunteers were Ybarra's family and friends, and others who believed in the vision of the race. Ybarra worked to develop a partnership with the Forest Service to use their equipment, and coordinated volunteer man power. "We have totaled over 3000 man hours. We use a brush mower to mow, weed whackers, hand saws, and hand tools to prune and shovel dirt. We've brought the trail back from extinction". Ybarra officially obtained a 501©3 non-profit designation for Save the Maah Daah Hey Trail in 2016. "We did a good job of starting small and growing it. I'm proud of what we did", Ybarra said of these accomplishments.

Nick Ybarra overlooks the badlands on the Maah Daah Hey Trail between Watford City and Medora.

Now in its 6th season, the Maah Daah Hey 100 Mountain Bike Race has expanded to include several different lengths of the mountain biking race, an additional bike race on gravel roads, a running race, winter races, and this year, a mud run. The original bike race won the attention of TREK professional mountain biker Kelly Magelky three-time champion of the event and holder the course record, and Tinker Juarez, a 56-year old Hall of Fame mountain biker, who will vie for the title this year. The race brings volunteers and participants from all over the world into the Watford City area. Ybarra has formed partnerships with local businesses and area agencies, like the Teddy Roosevelt Medora Foundation, the Roughrider Center, and local food vendors and bike shops. "The race has really grown and is really contributing to McKenzie County", Watford City Tourism Director Doug Bolken said of the events.

This year's Maah Daah Hey 100 events has over 400 participants signed up between the five different lengths, and kicks off on August 5th. Additional events are scheduled throughout the summer. To sign up for an event or to serve as a volunteer, visit


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