Hikers, bikers will soon salivate over new trails in Snowmass, Emma

Scott Condon
The Aspen Times
Josh Fanshel climbs the Airline Trail into Sky Mountain Park last spring. Sky Mountain Park gets heavy use because it dries out faster than other upper valley routes. A new loop off the Rim Trail could ease congestion by the end of this summer.
Jeremy Wallace/The Aspen Times |

As Roaring Fork Valley residents make the transition from skiing to cycling, they can look forward to three new trails scheduled to be constructed before summer’s end.

One of the new trails will create a thrilling new loop in Snowmass Village that could relieve pressure on Sky Mountain Park.

A rerouted trail in the midvalley will create a more viable, sustainable access to the Crown from the north and eliminate an incredibly steep path that only a masochist could love.

The third trail planned this year will connect a gem of open space in the Emma area to federal lands in the Crown and set the table for a new singletrack loop that could become reality by next year.

New loop in Snowmass

The town of Snowmass Village and Pitkin County Open Space and Trails are teaming to build the Seven Star Trail, a 4-mile singletrack route between the existing Rim Trail and the Brush Creek Valley floor. It will allow riders to extend the northern portion of Rim Trail. Seven Star also will allow riders to make a 7-mile loop by combining the new trail with the existing Rim Trailhead near the Rodeo Lot and Snowmass Recreation Center.

The county open space program has put the project out for bid. The alignment must be adjusted, but generally the new trail will depart from the Rim Trail near the top, traverse the north mesa of Seven Star Ranch and eventually drop into Seven Star Valley, according to Gary Tennenbaum, assistant director of the Pitkin County Open Space and Trails program. The upper part of the trail will flow over dips and rises without major climbs, he said.

“It’s amazing trail,” Tennenbaum. “I think it’s going to be a great loop.”

The new loop would start and end at the recreation center and could be ridden in either direction. The Seven Star Trail will be a machine-built route with grades similar to the Cozy Line Trail that provides access to Sky Mountain Park.

In an earlier interview, Tennenbaum said the new loop has the potential to relieve pressure off Sky Mountain Park — the part of the Seven Star Ranch that was purchased as open space and developed with a trail network that has proved immensely popular.

Work on the Seven Star Trail could start in June, weather permitting, and finish in August. If all goes as planned, it will be open to cyclists by fall, Tennenbaum said. Dogs will be prohibited on the new trail.

In addition to the county open space program and Snowmass Village, the Roaring Fork Mountain Bike Association has pledged funds to the new route, thanks to an anonymous donations through the Aspen Community Foundation, according to Mike Pritchard, the association’s executive director.

Emma-area trails underway

The Pitkin County Open Space and Trails program has placed a second project out for bids in the Emma area. It is going to build a 2-mile trail for hikers and bikers through the Glassier Open Space into the Crown, lands administered by the Bureau of Land Management. There also will be a separate 1½-mile equestrian trail.

Cyclists can expect a challenging but manageable climb. It will be less than 8 percent grade in most places but there will be spurts of between 8 and 10 percent.

“It will be a little steeper than Cozy Line. It will be kind of Hummingbird-esque,” Tennenbaum said, referring to a trail added last year in Hunter Creek Valley.

A couple of miles away, a trail construction firm is mobilizing to reroute the lower Buckhorn Trail, a nasty lung-searing route that climbs off the Rio Grande Trail near Rock Bottom Ranch, takes riders over long swathes of rounded rock and only relents to a minor degree. To make matters worse, it crosses some private property.

“I don’t think it’s a favorite of anyone and it was responsible for a few heart attacks,” Pritchard said.

The Mid Valley Trails Committee supplied funds to reroute the trail onto BLM property that kisses the Rio Grande right of way, according to Pritchard. The mountain-bike association is working with contractor Tony Boone of Salida on the project. Boone built the Airline and Hummingbird trails, among others, according to Pritchard.

The reroute will cover 1.4 miles to where the Buckhorn Trail becomes more manageable.

“We should see the majority of that project finished in about one month,” Pritchard said.

The missing link

Last fall, a spur trail called the Buckhorn Traverse was brought into the official trail network by the BLM and Youth Corp. Workers made it a more sustainable route.

Existing roads on the Crown can be used to connect the future Glassier Trail and the Buckhorn Traverse, but it’s not an ideal situation, acknowledged Tennenbaum and Pritchard. Many of the roads are steep and rutted.

Pritchard said the BLM has started the environmental study necessary to allow construction of a critical 3-mile stretch of singletrack that would fill in the middle of an 8-mile loop. If all goes well, that trail could be approved for next year, Pritchard said

Tennenbaum said the route would give midvalley residents a viable ride in their backyard without necessarily driving to a trailhead.

“It would be an incredible after-work loop,” he said.