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Dryness means long summer for mountain bikers

Shauna Farnell

Those still lamenting what seemed like a very short winter can look forward to what is gearing up to be an unusually long mountain biking season.

In early May, trail maintenance organizations would typically be holding out for trails to thaw before opening them to any trail user. That wasn’t necessary this year for a large portion of Summit County’s trails.

“I can vouch for an unusual season,” said Todd Robertson, Open Space and Trails Director for Summit County government. “There’s not a ton of mountain bike single-track trails under our jurisdiction, but we oversee and manage the bike path system and connectors and feeders into National Forest trails – the lower elevation-type stuff. Usually we’re more into late May until things get opened.”

The bike path, save the portion through Ten Mile Canyon between Frisco and Copper Mountain, has been dry since early April, Robertson said. There are areas on that stretch that Summit government has to sweep of debris from rock slides and avalanches in the canyon. And although there are no barriers preventing people from using the path there, it’s not officially open.

Following “normal” winters, the bike path is typically the only option for mountain bikers this time of year. But many individuals feel that mud season was skipped entirely this time around.

“Things are drying out so fast, we’re basically going from snow to dirt,” said JD Donovan, president of Summit Fat Tire Society, the predominant organization for trail preservation and maintenance in Summit County.

“We’re almost missing the mud season. The ground water is not what it should be. It’s not good for the land, as far as fire dangers and (drought), but it’s great for riding.”

The Frisco Peninsula, like the lake around it, is “bone dry” Donovan said.

Almost every other popular riding area in lower parts of the county is also open.

“Salt Lick is almost all dry, Old Dillon Reservoir is open, Saints John is almost completely dry …” he said. “We’re a full month ahead of schedule it seems like. We’re riding stuff now that’s sometimes not ridable until mid-season.”

Other riding areas include the Oro Grande Trail in Dillon. Summit Fat Tire officials pointed out that the trail was decimated and unridable last Fall in the portion above the landfill due to landfill expansion. However, the group, along with the Summit Open Space department, rerouted the trail and it is now better than ever for spring riding.

“It’s got two sections on either side now,” Donovan said. “It’s a nice little reroute. We got it out of the landfill a little more, so you don’t feel like you’re riding through it.”

Additionally, most of the Flume trails in Breckenridge are already open, as well as Soda Creek to Tiger Road. Although there are more trail options for bikers this “mud season,” maintenance groups still warn against riding higher trails that are still wet.

“This time of year, you’re usually not allowed to ride above 7,000 feet,” said Dan Vardamis, advocacy coordinator for the International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA) in Boulder. “We’re definitely ahead of schedule, but I’d still encourage people to be cautious. The first point is, even if it’s wet, you always want to stay on the trail. Trails are great because they prevent habitat fragmentation. They keep people recreating in one area.”

Anyone who’s spent a fair amount of time on single-tracks are familiar with “shoulder” sections that are mysteriously wider than the rest of the trail.

“It’s more like a water issue,” Donovan said. “A bike tire tends to channel water off the trail. We like to tell people not to ride on wet trails, to get off and walk. The worst thing you can do is ride around stuff. When you ride something, it can beat the ruts out of it. Trying to fix it is a nightmare. It destroys the single-track aspect of a trail. Instead it feels like you’re on a miniature road.”

Mountain bikers aren’t the only type of recreationists that can ruin wet single-tracks. Hikers and horses have the same effect.

“When there’s water on the trail, water causes erosion,” Vardamis said. “Any trail user can break up the sediment. It’s best to stay off the trail if it’s wet and let it dry out. Just being out there causes the soil to move. It’s a fact of physics.”

Portions of the Colorado Trail are dry, but the higher, shaded areas are unridable. Donovan said cyclists will have to wait three to four weeks until the Peaks Trail, or any heavily forested trail in the county, is open.

Shauna Farnell can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 236, or at sfarnell@summitdaily.com.


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