New midvalley Vasten trail quickly becoming a favorite of mountain bikers

The Vasten Trail is a new 6-mile jug handle route on the Crown in the midvalley. It tops out at nearly 8,000 feet so wildflowers remained well into August, when this photo was taken.
Scott Condon/The Aspen Times

Several local organizations collaborated to create a new “jug handle” trail that is delighting mountain bikers in the midvalley.

The Vasten Trail on public land known as the Crown opened in mid-August. The 6-mile route ties into the Glassier Trail on Pitkin County open space on the east and the Buckhorn Traverse on Bureau of Land Management property on the west.

“Everybody who has been riding it has been very complimentary,” said George Trantow, a longtime member of the Mid Valley Trails Committee, which contributed about half the funds for the $100,000-plus project.

The growing population of the midvalley has resulted in more mountain bikers heading onto the Glassier-Buckhorn Traverse-Buckhorn trail network, which can be accessed off the Rio Grande Trail in the Emma area. Adding the Vasten Trail to the network provides more options and disperse riders better, said Mike Pritchard, executive director of the Roaring Fork Mountain Bike Association, which helped plan and coordinate the trail construction.

The Vasten Trail was named after a family who homesteaded the area. The BLM continues to refer to a grazing unit on the Crown after the family.

The trail climbs from both access points. It’s a shorter, gentler climb from the Glassier Trail connection and that leads to a thrilling descent on the western side. Climbing from the Buckhorn Traverse connection results in a challenging but pleasant climb.

“It remains to be seen how people will ride it,” Pritchard said.

Part of the appeal is the trail was hand-built by the Rocky Mountain Youth Corp., so it’s a little more ragged than many of the machine-made trails built lately in the Roaring Fork Valley, Trantow said.

“Vasten is a great intermediate trail,” he said. “It’s like a pure intermediate downhill.”

A lot of the trail goes through sagebrush and oak brush that dominates on the Crown, but the higher stretches go through darker timber that shades meadows and wildflowers. The trail tops out just shy of 8,000 feet. Climbing the Vasten Trail from Buckhorn Traverse was particularly rewarding on Saturday because some of the oak brush and other vegetation is exploding into vibrant reds and yellows.

The trail was approved as part of the BLM’s Crown Special Recreation Management Area planning that was approved in the spring. That planning effort identified areas where trails could be added for mountain bikers, hikers and trail runners as well as routes for motorized uses and equestrians.

Once that plan was approved, the mountain bike association took the lead on building a coalition to get the trail done. Mid Valley Trails has contributed $40,000 and committed to another $10,000. Pitkin County Open Space and Trails contributed $10,000. Garfield County contributed in-kind work by dedicating time they contracted with Rocky Mountain Youth Corp. Basalt contributed $5,000 and the Carbondale-based Catena Foundation gave $30,000.

The trails crew from Roaring Fork Mountain Bike Association cleared the route through brush while workers from Rocky Mountain Youth Corp. spent 11 weeks creating the actual trail, Pritchard said.

The funding from the three counties of the valley reflects how the trail crosses each of them up in the high ground of the Crown.

Trantow said it was appropriate for Mid Valley Trails, which is an entity of Eagle County, to chip in. The Glassier-Vasten-Buckhorn network is particularly popular with Eagle County residents of the midvalley because its in their backyard, he said.

The Vasten Trail will be subject to the same winter closure as many other trails on BLM lands in the valley. The closure will be in effect Dec. 1 through April 15.