Summit County Off-Road Riders fight for legitimacy near Breckenridge
July 15, 2016
Golden Horseshoe volunteer day
What: A morning of hand-tool trail work on routes in the Golden Horseshoe area, a section between Breckenridge and Keystone once filled with unmarked social trails
When: Saturday, July 16 at 8:30 a.m.
Where: French Creek 7-11, County Road 450 and Highway 9 in Breckenridge
The volunteer day is open to people of all ages and hosted by Friends of the Dillon Ranger District. Registration is recommended. All volunteers will meet at the 7-11 and travel to the worksite as a group. Work usually ends by 1-2 p.m. Bring a lunch, water, sunscreen and clothing for a day of hand labor. For more info or to register, see http://www.fdrd.org/volunteer.
About 30 minutes before our photo shoot on a sweet, cloudless day in Frisco, I got a call from Tim Nixon, an avid moto rider and president of the nonprofit Summit County Off-Road Riders.
"Well," he said, "it looks like the trail I had in mind is no longer open to motorized travel. I haven't been back here in a while, buti the last time I wasi it was open. Now they have a sign out there."
Scratch that, I thought. Earlier in the week, I met with Nixon to get a bird's-eye view of the Summit County off-road and moto scene. He recommended we meet for a quick photo shoot in the Rainbow Lake area, where the popular Jeep road Miners Creek intersects with more than a half-dozen trails: Peaks Trail, Rainbow Lake Trail, Masontown Trail, the Summit County recpath and several numbered U.S. Forest Service trails, like the unofficial Ophir Mountain route Nixon had in mind for the shoot.
At first, Nixon selected this small, close-to-town portion of trail for two reasons: One, it's gorgeous, with incredible views of Peak One through thick aspen and pine groves; two, it's found within minutes of downtown Frisco, and yet it's just secluded enough that he doesn't feel like a criminal for revving his engine to rip around the trails, few of which are open to licensed dirt bikes. Even fewer are open to four-wheelers or ATVs.
"The goal is always legitimacy," he told me earlier in the week when we met over coffee to talk about SCORR, the group's mission and the state of moto in Summit County. "I've felt like I'm a criminal when I'm riding sometimes, and I never want to feel that way. I love my sport, and, if I come to a trail that says it's closed, I won't go on it. That's the same as ducking ropes on a ski slope — you don't do it."
A place in the master plan
So we improvised. Again, not every trail in the Rainbow Lake area is closed to motorized travel. Miners Creek Road (a Jeep road) is open to dirt bikes, along with standard highway vehicles (if your suspension is beefy) and non-motorized travel like horses. It leads deep into the forests at the base of the Tenmile Range, where it parallels non-moto routes like the Peaks Trail and portions of the Colorado Trail.
Nixon rode up and down, up and down, popping a few wheelies before letting the dust settle. Small groups of mountain bikers rode past. When they did, he usually cut the engine to go silent. After meeting about six or seven other bikers and two cars, the road felt crowded. That can get real old, real fast —and real dangerous.
"We're fighting against a lot of people protecting their own sport," said Nixon, who's gotten into the habit of cutting his engine around bikers and horses. "People want to walk out their back door and not hear a motor, and I get that. I've been in the Grand Canyon before, and you have helicopters buzzing right over you. It makes you wonder, 'Can you go anywhere to get away from it all?'"
The two of us met for photos just a day before the town of Frisco held an open house to review its trails master plan. Dubbed the Frisco Trails Master Plan, it's an overarching document meant to "be used as a resource by the White River National Forest as they make any and all decisions, along with their primary stakeholders, about any potential trail development in and around the Frisco area," according to a release from the town.
Those trails include a numbered U.S Forest Service route dubbed Ophir Mountain trail. It's a steep and formerly log-strewn bit of singletrack that Nixon loved simply because it was so steep and cluttered. The terrain was once a burden for mountain bikers (it's been cleared), and so he went there to have fun without interrupting his neighbor's peace and quiet.
"We want to enjoy ourselves, we want to be challenged, and speed isn't the issue anymore when we're on singletrack," Nixon said. "Do I want people coming from across the world and the country to ride these trails? No, because they're secret, and mountain bikers don't often get in trouble because they're quiet."
Introducing Golden Horseshoe
In the past three or four years, he and the boardmembers with SCORR have worked nonstop to build and, in some cases, repair relationships across Summit County. Today, the grant-funded nonprofit works closely with Friends of the Dillon Ranger District and Ken Waugh, recreation officer for the Dillon Ranger District, on trail projects and trail planning.
"He has been our greatest advocate," Nixon says of Waugh, noting that the two have often worked together on trail projects in the past few years. "We've become part of the community. We originally felt like the bad guys, but we want to be good stewards. We want to be good neighbors — it's how it works."
And it begins with getting down and dirty for the cause. Over the past two summers, volunteers with FDRD and SCORR have met up several times to complete trail work on multi-use trails in two areas: the Golden Horseshoe area between Breckenridge and Keystone as well as Tenderfoot Mountain between Dillon and Keystone. Both projects are funded in part with grant money secured by SCORR, and the group regularly brings a small crew to the trail-work days — not to mention free Red Bull and a visit from the Wings Girls.
"It's quite a rush to build trail that you're going to ride later," Nixon said. "It's a day on the mountain, in the shade, working with friends, and Red Bull really is an amazing product. They say it gives you wings, but it also builds trail."
The next volunteer day in Golden Horseshoe is this Saturday and open to anyone who wants to know exactly how singletrack is built. The area was littered with unmarked social trails in the past, and so the U.S. Forest Service's goal is to close assess and then standardize a confusing trail system. Nixon and SCORR agree.
"It was a cluster of trails back there, and, boy, was it a blast," Nixon said, although he hasn't been on the unmarked trails in years. "It's like a history lesson — there is so much mining history. You'll be going past structures that are totally different than everything else you've seen."
These mining relics are common sights for hikers and mountain bikers in the French Gulch and Sallie Barber areas — two areas closed almost completely to motorized travel. At the moment, Nixon and SCORR aren't fighting for access on trails where they've never been allowed, but rather fighting to build new trails and keep the ones they love.
"This needs to be local riders and their friends," he said of the trail work in Golden Horseshoe and elsewhere. "It doesn't need to be in a national magazine or publicized for everyone. These are for us, and the thing is we have some incredible riding that we want to keep."
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