Cycling takes center stage with new midvalley trail; Sky Mtn Park opens Monday | AspenTimes.com

Cycling takes center stage with new midvalley trail; Sky Mtn Park opens Monday

Greg Wolfgang of the Bureau of Land Management, left, and Roaring Fork Mountain Bike Association board of directors member Todd Fugate climb one of the steeper climbs on the rerouted Lower Buckhorn Trail this week.
Mike Pritchard/courtesy photo |

STAY OUT OF THE MUD

Pitkin County Open Space and Trails officials are urging mountain bikers to proceed with caution when Sky Mountain Park’s trails open on Monday.

Riders might encounter muddy sections when snow stayed longer in the shade or rain pooled. When riders see a muddy spot, they should dismount and walk through it. “If you see an entire section of mud, turn around,” said Gary Tennenbaum, assistant director of Pitkin County Open Space and Trails.

Ted O’Brien, the resource manager for open space, said riders shouldn’t go outside muddy areas because that widens the trail. “Keep singletrack single,” he said.

The officials said Viewline should be mostly dry. Airline will be muddy at the start but dry above and “pocked up” from heavy elk use. Deadline will be a mix of dry and muddy. Rim North will be drier than a lot of Rim South.

A number of trails between Snowmass and Buttermilk remain closed. Government Trail East of Elk Camp Work Road, Anaerobic Nightmare, Sequel and Tom Blake are closed until June 21 for the benefit of wildlife.

Riding some popular mountain-bike trails is going to take a little more patience in the upper Roaring Fork Valley, but a highly anticipated new trail has made its debut in the midvalley.

Sky Mountain Park’s winter closure for wildlife ends Monday. Sky Mountain Park is one of the most popular early-season riding areas in the upper valley because the trails dry out faster than more heavily forested terrain. Sky Mountain Park is between Brush Creek Valley and Owl Creek Valley.

There was concern that the trails might be too wet from lingering rain and snow this spring, but Pitkin County Open Space and Trails Assistant Director Gary Tennenbaum said the organization will stick with the Monday opening.

“We don’t want to tweak the closure dates because we want it to be consistent,” he said. Riders will be asked to use common sense and avoid muddy areas (see sidebar).

Tennenbaum said there has been heavy use of Sky Mountain Park by elk this spring. They have been slow to move off the slopes because higher ground remains covered in snow.

However, Sky Mountain is not calving ground, so opening the trails Monday won’t disrupt the herd. History shows that the elk are moving off Sky Mountain by mid-May.

Rim Trail North in Snowmass Village also will open Monday. Rim Trail South remains open year-round.

Midvalley trail reroute

Riders can rejoice this weekend over an addition to the midvalley trail network that will make it easier to access the Crown — the rolling terrain between the Roaring Fork Valley floor and Mount Sopris — from the Basalt and El Jebel side.

About 1.6 miles of the Lower Buckhorn Trail was rerouted off of the Rio Grande Trail just past the second winter-closure gate alongside Rock Bottom Ranch.

The old trail was a gut-buster — climbing steeply through a trail littered with softball-sized rocks. The trail was becoming rutted. Its biggest drawback was that it was on private land. It simply wasn’t sustainable, said Mike Pritchard, executive director of Roaring Fork Mountain Bike Association.

The association teamed with the Mid Valley Trails Committee of Eagle County and Bureau of Land Management for the reroute. The trails committee raised the bulk of the funds. The bike association led the effort to find the alignment and worked with the contractor.

The new trail was approved through National Environmental Policy Act review. The Bureau of Land Management in 2015 designated a Special Recreation Management Area on The Crown.

“Rerouting unsustainable trails is a priority for us, but funding is tight,” said Greg Wolfgang, a recreation planner for the BLM’s Colorado River Valley Field Office. “The only way to get this done is through partnerships.”

The new trail is entirely on BLM property and has grades of 4 to 8 percent.

Buffed-out singletrack

George Trantow, an avid cyclist and longtime member of the Mid Valley Trails Committee, said the concept for the rerouted Lower Buckhorn Trail originated in 2000. It picked up steam when the BLM held a series of public meetings about uses on the Crown in 2009, and finally became a top priority for the agency once its land-use planning process was concluded in 2015.

“Our main goal of creating permanent, high-quality access to federal lands has finally been achieved,” Trantow said in a prepared statement.

The mountain-bike association hired Tony Boone Trails, a contractor based in Salida, to construct the reroute. The firm has previously built the Tom Blake, Ajax, Airline and Hummingbird trails as well as others, according to Pritchard.

The trail crew used specialized equipment including a 30-inch wide mini-dozer, a mini-excavator and dirt bikes with harrows to sculpt the trail. A significant amount of hand work followed to buff out the trail. It was built in an area with almost no rocks, leading to a continuous ribbon of smooth singletrack that features changes in the grade and small bermed turns.

Pritchard said he has seen some social media exchanges fueled by some rider lamenting that all trails being built are buffed up and not very technical. Some riders also clamor for more directional trails so they can zoom down some unimpeded and climb without worrying about someone bombing down.

Pritchard said Lower Buckhorn had to be relocated because the old trail was neither sustainable nor legal. It’s a prime example of a gateway trail needed to provide multi-use, nonmotorized access to federal lands.

More trails planned

Pritchard said the Roaring Fork Mountain Bike Association is working with the BLM to study additional trails on higher elevations of the Crown. More challenging trails and some directional routes will be integrated, he said.

The mountain-bike association took the lead last fall in hiring Rocky Mountain Youth Corp. to improve the existing 1.4-mile Buckhorn Traverse Trail, which connects with Lower Buckhorn. The bike association is seeking a 3-mile extension of the Buckhorn Traverse, which would tie into a trail on the Glassier Open Space that Pitkin County Open Space and Trails plans to build late this summer. The Glassier Trail is slated to start July 31 and be finished by the end of August.

Once all segments are completed, 8 miles of singletrack would create a “jug-handle loop” off the Rio Grande Trail, Pritchard said.


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