The Airline Climbing Trail project is edging toward completion this fall.
Two Roaring Fork Outdoor Volunteer projects are scheduled Aug. 13 and Aug. 27 to assist with finish work, rock armoring and seeding of disturbed areas, according Ted O’Brien, manager of Pitkin County Open Space and Trails Resource and Trails. The events will be led in collaboration with Open Space and Trails and the Roaring Fork Mountain Biking Association.
On Aug. 13, volunteers will be refining the trails cut by Open Space and Trails. That process involves removing large roots and punji sticks (hazardous sticks poking up near the trail resulting from the cutting process), finishing the back slope, raking the trail, cutting sight-lines and completing any other finishing touches on the trail, according to RFOV program director Melissa Daniels.
After the first RFOV trail workday, the bottom third of the climbing trail will likely be opened to the public, according to O’Brien. The upper two-thirds will remain closed and unusable until the fall opening date.
At the second trail workday, on Aug. 27, volunteers will be focusing more on rock work for the trail.
“We always have a good little group of volunteers that really enjoy rock work, so we’re saving a lot of that work to do with volunteers,” O’Brien said.
Following the conclusion of the second workday, RFOV and OST will evaluate the progress and consider adding another day of trail work if necessary, according to Daniels.
RFOV will partner with RFMBA and Sacred Cycle, which works to provide “affordable counseling for survivors of sexual trauma through mountain biking,” according to the organization’s website. Members of the partner organizations will join the 40 volunteers who signed up through RFOV, according to Daniels.
“The thing that I really love about working here is that we really value partnerships with other organizations and we believe that we don’t get anything done independently; everything is done in partnership with other people,” Daniels said. “We wanted to spread the word about what they do and engage with their communities.”
The climbing trail is built parallel to the existing Airline Trail, which will be restricted to downhill traffic once the new trail opens. The new climbing trail will be for uphill bicycle traffic and bidirectional foot traffic.
The plans for the climbing trail were drawn up last year in response to urging by RFMBA, one of the major shareholders for Sky Mountain Park, according to O’Brien.
“It was a concern that RFMBA really pushed over the years and we got to finally address that push during the update to the Sky Mountain Park management plan,” O’Brien said.
During the process for creating an updated master plan for Sky Mountain Park, which occurs every five years, RFMBA voiced their concerns during the public comment period.
“Everything we do is based on public comment and the public process,” O’Brien said.
In the past, the existing Airline Trail has been used for both uphill and downhill traffic. The Sky Mountain Park saw its greatest usage in 2020 with 79,000 visitors, according to the management plan. The most common usage of the park is for mountain biking.
“With the amount of use the park gets, having one bidirectional trail invited the opportunity for conflict or collision to occur on that trail,” O’Brien said.
Although no collisions were ever officially reported, O’Brien said OST heard “through the grapevine” about some minor collisions occurring on the trail.
The major challenge for the project, according to O’Brien, was clearing out the thick vegetation that grew where the trail will be. OST’s trails and maintenance crew began that process in mid-July, finishing it last week. On Aug. 2, the outside contractor for the project, Gumption Trail Works, began machine work on the trail.
“We’re moving along, progressing … ahead of schedule so we’re happy about that,” O’Brien said.
The Roaring Fork community has been very supportive of the project, according to Daniels.
“I’m really excited that there’s so much community enthusiasm for this trail,” Daniels said. “I know it’s been a long time coming and people have spent a lot of time working on getting this open and so we’re really excited to be working on it. We hope to get it open for people as soon as possible.”
Anna Meyer is an editorial intern at The Aspen Times for part of the summer. She will be a sophomore at Vassar College this fall.