Big Fat Tire: Mountain biking on Summit County ‘secret trails’ |

Big Fat Tire: Mountain biking on Summit County ‘secret trails’

Rebecca Spiro (left) and Austyn Williams on Upper Flume trail in Breckenridge. When the U.S. Forest Service started IDing secret trails and other unoffiial routes for the official trail system, the Flumes network of aging water-diversion ditches from mining days became legitimate routes.
Louie Traub / Special to the Daily |

Are there any secret trails left in Summit County? There are a few, but most don’t remain secret for long, and if I told you someone would have to kill me. Most of these fabled routes become not-so-secret, fade away (I’ll get to reasons in a bit) or get assimilated into a legitimate trail system. In short, 95 percent of the secret trails out there have a limited lifespan of secrecy.

Back in the day…

There was a time when all but a few U.S. Forest Service trails were secret trails. There were maintained routes like Peaks, Spruce Creek, Wheeler and a few others, but most singletrack in Summit County and Breckenridge started as old mule trails from the mining days, old water-diversion ditches (aka flumes, also from the mining days), game trails and a few livestock routes.

The Forest Plan — a sort of zoning document that is the foundation for what use is allowed and where on Forest Service land — that preceded the one we have now had large swaths that permitted “cross country travel.” No, this doesn’t mean XC-style riding — it meant that you could ride a bike or a motor vehicle just about anywhere you wanted. When population was small in the West, when dirt bikes were more “trail” bikes, when ATVs weren’t a big thing yet and when mountain bikes where a gleam in Gary Fisher’s and Charlie Cunningham’s eyes, limiting bicycle or vehicle traffic to designated routes wasn’t something that forest planners deemed necessary. It was only when the region’s population boomed, driven by people who saw recreation as a “lifestyle” and modern equipment was made for the terrain, did traveling off trail become an issue that needed to be dealt with. (Before us tree-hugging hippies came along, preserving the land for its own sake wasn’t a high priority for most local people or land managers. Land was for consumption, not recreation.)

Times are a changin’

So, when the current Forest Plan was adopted in the early 2000s, all those old, unofficial routes — many of them “secret” — were considered for not-so-secret status. This was much to the consternation of some who liked their secret status. My feelings on the subject were, “It’s better to have trails in the open and in the system, than to have them closed.”

Why does this come to mind? During my move into my new house, I came upon old Summit Fat Tire Society documents detailing the exhaustive (and exhausting) inventory process we went through back in those days to preserve as many trails as possible that passed muster with environmental standards. The documents literally have hundreds of trails and spurs that had to be assessed and recommended for inclusion, or not.

A few of them should have been recommended for inclusion into the system, but due to the sheer volume of trails they just fell through the cracks. Since most of them didn’t get much MTB use anyway, many have faded into obscurity. A few are still out there and being used by mountain bikers, foot travelers and a few hunters in the know. Some secret trails are still being built, usually by the gravity-riding crowd seeking steeper, burlier lines, but for the most part — thanks to the effort of groups like the Summit Fat Tire Society and the decade-long trail-building orgy that the Summit County and town of Breckenridge open space departments have undertaken — there are so many legal trails of a bewildering variety that there isn’t much need to sneak around the woods with trail-building tools.

No more stashes?

Still though, a few secret trails have survived — trails connecting neighborhoods to legal trails, or a few of those older routes. While I’m generally a play-by-the-rules kind of guy, and out of personal ethic avoid the trails constructed by illicit builders — many of those get discovered and destroyed by the Forest Service recreation people, who would rather be doing other things than playing cat and mouse with bad boyz in the woods anyway — I still find myself on old trails that I rode 25 years ago that aren’t exactly sanctioned, but have been there so long they aren’t a priority for decommissioning by powers that be.

I like most of those trails, but I don’t advertise them, and there aren’t that many anyway. Some are in very wet or otherwise sensitive places, or they are way too steep and violate almost all the rules of sustainable trail building and have died a deserved death.

But there are a few out there, trails that remain secret places for those in the know. Where are they? I couldn’t say.

SFTS, Juliana Furtados and misc.

Speaking of the Summit Fat Tire Society, I’d like to thank all the people who have joined or renewed membership in the last few months. Groups like the SFTS need members and people who are involved. They need people who show up for trail projects or get involved with the board. With involved and engaged members, we can preserve our great and growing trail system.

In other news, my lovely fiancé’s bike has arrived and is being built! She will soon be the proud (and maybe somewhat anxious) owner of a Juliana Furtado (basically a women’s version of the Santa Cruz 5010). I’m really looking forward to sharing our great trail system with her and watching her build her skill portfolio (she already has a motor). We’ll start out on the easier trails and as she builds her confidence, maybe we’ll explore a secret trail or two. But I won’t be writing about those….

Mike Zobbe is lifelong gearhead and longtime mountain biker originally from Indianapolis. He serves as vice president of the Summit Fat Tire Society, a nonprofit advocacy group dedicated to access, maintenance and stewardship on local trails.

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