The discipline of freeride mountain biking – downhill focused trails with jumps and challenging features – was born in the forests of British Columbia. Since, trail groups across the world have took inspiration from the Canadian trails to cater to a gravity-fueled clientele.
Durango, and its rich history of bicycle culture, is certainly not lacking mountain bike trails. However, some mountain bikers wish there were more challenging trails to ride.
Patrick Wenger founded the 4 Corners Freeride Coalition in 2017 with the mission to preserve technical trails and bring more challenging trails into Durango’s system.
“What we have is this amazing, interconnected trail system,” Wenger said. “The trails themselves lack that challenging aspect to them. There’s very little that have jumps on them, very little that you can push your technical ability.”
Part of the impetus for creating the group was the closure of Long Hollow Trail in Hermosa. The mountain bike trail was illegally built, and as a result closed by the San Juan National Forest.
“That kind of sparked a lot of outburst and frustrations from the community,” Wenger said.
4CFC talked with forest management and got approval to maintain trails in the high country. Last summer, the group worked on Graysill Trail to improve water erosion and round out corners to avoid erosion from bikes braking too much.
This year, the group has put in hours clearing downed trees, but most of the work has been on the planning end, Wenger said.
One goal for the near future is to improve and add-on to an existing trail in the Log Chutes trail system on the west side of Junction Creek Road. The plan is to add features and re-route unsustainable portions of the existing route and build about a mile-long extension above the trail following an old bulldozer track.
Wenger says the forest service is willing to treat the trail design as meant for predominantly downhill mountain bike use.
Log Chutes is an example of an area that is appropriate for downhill mountain bike trails, said Matt Janowiak, Columbine District Ranger for the San Juan National Forest.
Janowiak said trails specifically designed for mountain bike use are a realistic opportunity as long as they are in the right place where trail user conflicts will be kept to a minimum. Log Chutes is one of those places, as well as at Purgatory Resort.
In addition, a more long-term goal is a joint project with the Bureau of Land Management and Trails 2000 to improve the trails on Animas City Mountain. The plan to is create loops meant for hikers, a multi-use trail and trails intended for mountain bikers.
While their missions are slightly different, the relationship between Trails 2000 and 4CFC is not a contentious rivalry.
“Mary (Monroe Brown) does an awesome job creating interconnectivity in trails; they’ve done a great job,” Wenger said.
One of Trails 2000’s primary goals is to connect the community through trails for all user groups. Wenger’s group wants to build off Durango’s existing trail system in a more mountain bike focused manner.
Wenger says that a huge part of what he would like to see is directional trails that spread people out among the trail systems to avoid conflicts.
“Right now, everything works for everybody unless a biker’s coming down it really fast,” he said.
In his vision, echoing Janowiak of the Forest Service, there would be trails with advanced mountain bike features such as jumps and rocks that are meant to be traveled in the downhill direction. This would allow bikers to ride fast without fear of running into a hiker or equestrian.
In addition to expert-level trails, Wenger said Durango has a need for areas for beginner and intermediate riders to practice features such as jumps before tackling harder trails.
Monroe Brown, director of Trails 2000, pointed to projects that are in the works for the downhill crowd.
Purgatory Resort has worked to rejuvenate its bike park since the creation of the Divinity Flow Trail in 2015. Now, the park is managed by Hogan Koesis, who previously helped turn the Angel Fire Bike Park in New Mexico into a top mountain bike destination in the country.
In town, a marquee project for the cycling community has been a bike park with trails and mountain bike features. The idea is being considered as a part of the development of Ewing Mesa.
The group’s desires aren’t unheard of. Wenger said he takes inspiration from places such as Spokane, Washington, and Park City, Utah, which have trail systems like the one he describes. Wenger also has a background in trail building from working at Winter Park when they were first developing what is now Trestle Bike Park, one of the predominant bike parks in the state.
A caveat to talking about building new trails is the time that it takes to plan, build and maintain them. The time from original idea to finished product can take multiple years.
For instance, trail ideas have to go through an environmental assessment as mandated by the National Environmental Policy Act, said Monroe Brown. Janowiak adds that maintenance can be a burden because of existing workloads and limited resources.
“If someone has a brilliant trail idea, they need to bring it forward with some idea as to who in the community and what user group might take care of the trail if we allow it to be built,” Janowiak said.
Janowiak and Monroe Brown both said that new ideas are always welcomed.
Wenger and two other 4CFC board members continue to think of ways to improve the cycling opportunities in Durango.
“Durango’s a really cool spot,” he said. “It’s a really awesome culture built around cycling. I want to see it pushed a little bit further and preserve the technical trail we do have and keep preserving the trails up high.”