Benjamin Sonntag would have turned 40 years old Thursday. Durango Trails gave the community a present in his honor.
Durango Trails, formerly known as Trails 2000, rebuilt a trail in the Horse Gulch system and has named it Ben’s Down N Out in honor of the professional cyclist who was killed March 4 when he was riding his bike and struck by a motorist on a remote gravel road southwest of Durango.
“Almost immediately after the tragedy with Ben, we knew he wanted a trail named to honor him, and we wanted to do that,” said Sonntag’s girlfriend Sarah Alsgaard. “It means a whole lot to us. It’s an emotional day. I think having a trail named after Ben not only recognizes what an exceptional athlete he was but how much he means to the people in our community.”
Ben’s Down N Out is an advanced trail with 367 feet of elevation change in a little less than half of a mile.
It serves as a connector between Raider Ridge and Horse Gulch Road and can be found between Extended Ridge and Hyper Extended Ridge within the Progressive Ridge area that also includes Snake Charmer, Milky Way, Rocky Road and Medicine Trail.
“The old Down N Out was unsustainable. We had proposed rebuilding the trail in order to deal with erosion,” said Durango Trails Executive Director Mary Monroe Brown. “There was some super cool slick rock slabs and boulders we wanted to utilize. We proposed rebuilding it a couple of years ago to the city since it is in City of Durango open space. It was a complete rebuild that allowed us to lessen the grade a bit, add and move a great deal of rock usable for the tread and come up with a super cool alignment.
“Ben was a big mountain biker and Durango Trails supporter. He was on the trails every day, and he had a very strong connection to the trails. This trail is a style Ben would have appreciated.”
Sonntag was a professional cyclist originally from Germany. Fort Lewis College drew him to Durango. He graduated from FLC in 2010 and remained a prominent figure in Durango’s famed mountain biking community.
He was on a training ride March 4 on County Road 105 west of Marvel in southwest La Plata County when he was struck by 19-year-old motorist Cordell Schneider, who was driving a 1991 Ford Ranger pickup truck. An accident report from Colorado State Patrol estimated Schneider was traveling 65 mph in a 35 mph zone when he lost control of the truck. Sonntag was pronounced dead on the scene.
Schneider was charged with vehicular homicide, a Class 4 felony, as well as reckless driving. He pleaded not guilty and is awaiting trial.
While Sonntag’s friends and loved ones continued to mourn his death on what would have been his birthday Thursday, the gesture from Durango Trails served as a beautiful reminder of what he meant to the community.
“Ben’s family, friends and I are so grateful Mary Monroe Brown backed us from the get-go and made it happen,” Aslgaard said. “All of Ben’s circle, we all have such good memories of riding with Ben in the Gulch. It’s somewhere he really loved to ride. For us, this trail is a lasting legacy where we get to go remember him.
“Ben would all want us out there riding. I know that’s what I will be doing.”