Trails: More than an amenity

Jim Maggio cleans the lower Spring Canyon bridge.

As residents of western Colorado, we enjoy the proximity of public lands managed by state and federal agencies. For the most part, those lands are open for us to visit in a respectful manner. With the COVID 19 pandemic came restrictions that made many pause for a minute and think about how important that access is.

The governor’s stay-at-home order has exacerbated the normal spring time edition of cabin fever. Many are heading to local trails to get some exercise, fresh air, and sunshine. Fortunately, visiting local trails does not fly in the face of social distancing recommendations. But, the more popular trailheads are getting crowded at times, testing the limits of avoiding contact with others.

On several occasions in the last few weeks I have joined my wife, Kathy, on bike rides along the bike path that winds along the Uncompahgre River. The trail has its northern terminus near the new Colorado Outdoors development adjacent to the Justice Center. The trail passes through Cerise and Baldridge parks as it winds along the river for over five miles before reaching the Ute Indian Museum.

We can access the trail from our home using pedestrian paths and the newly-opened bike path that goes to the Montrose Recreation Center. The concrete trail goes under Townsend Avenue, eliminating a busy street crossing.

We have encountered a lot of people using the trail system. Even during weekdays, the trails are filled with people. With the schools closed and many people not working, folks are getting outside to pass the time and get fit. Everyone was keeping their distance from other trail users, so it seems most folks are taking the pandemic seriously.

One of the local trail systems experiencing a lot of traffic is the Buzzard Gulch and Spring Canyon system. Jim Maggio and I rode the trail system recently. I was sure we would encounter a crowd at the trailhead, but when I arrived, there were only five vehicles parked. Jim was already at the trailhead when I arrived, so I quickly unloaded my bike and we hit the trail.

The trail climbed for almost four miles before we reached Dave Wood Road. It was a cool, clear morning — perfect conditions for a good workout. Just up the road, we encountered the Lower Spring Creek trailhead, then dropped into Spring Creek Canyon. The trail into the canyon is steep with tight switchbacks. Jim and I choose to walk a good chunk of it.

Once past “the qualifier”, the trail settled into some sweet singletrack that wound its way along the benches and arroyos in the canyon. We soon reached Spring Creek. Since the trails in Spring Canyon were built several years ago, crossing the creek during spring runoff was problematic, effectively cutting the trail system in half during the best season to ride the trails.

Thanks to a grant from Colorado Parks and Wildlife, two bridges were built and installed along Spring Creek last winter. The Montrose/Uncompahgre Trails (MUT) chapter of the Colorado Plateau Mountain Bike Trail Association was awarded the grant, then hired Canyon Bridges LLC to design, build and install the bridges. Finishing touches were done by MUT volunteers on the winter solstice and again this spring, so now trail users can cross the creek without fear of being washed away in a roaring torrent.

If the number of tire tracks and footprints we saw on the trail is any indication of how popular the Spring Canyon trail system is, the expense of the bridges was well worth the cost. The scenery in classic canyon country with sandstone cliffs and dense pinyon-juniper forest.

As Jim and I reached the primitive road leading back to our vehicles, we rode side-by-side and chatted about how fun the ride was. Jim is a regular rider of the bike trails in Montrose. We agreed that having a variety of trails was a fantastic benefit of living in western Colorado.

I would go one step further beyond that statement. Trails in and around our community are more than just an amenity, an optional perk.

Trails are a critical part of any community, providing an easily accessible way to get outdoors, destress, stay fit and maintain a positive outlook on life. I think the COVID 19 pandemic has made that fact quite clear.

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