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Ride the Rockies finds rough road in Aspen area for June 12-14 event

Cyclists in Ride the Rockies soak in the scenery while on McLain Flats Road in June 2016. The annual event will return to the Aspen area June 12-14, assuming organizers supply information for necessary permits.
Aspen Times file photo

Colorado’s iconic Ride the Rockies bicycle event is scheduled to roll through the Roaring Fork Valley next week, assuming it doesn’t get derailed from what local officials contend is a lack of planning and communication.

The ride attracts hundreds of riders on a different route through the Colorado Rockies each year. This year’s 36th annual ride lands in Glenwood Springs at the end of day one on Sunday, June 12. It is scheduled to go Basalt via Missouri Heights for an overnight stay on June 13, then ascend upvalley, through Aspen and over Independence Pass on June 14.

Officials with Basalt and Pitkin County said Ride the Rockies organizers were slow to communicate their specific plans and make arrangements for special event permits.

“We have all been communicating (with them) and putting the pressure on,” said Basalt Town Manager Ryan Mahoney. “We don’t quite have all that we need yet, but Monday should be the day for everything.”

The event is trying to secure use of Lions Park near downtown for an end-of-the-day gathering. They are also seeking permission to allow camping on the Basalt Elementary School lawn.

Pitkin County officials also expressed frustration Friday about lack of communication from ride organizers.

“We have no idea what their plan is. We have not heard a word from them,” said Pitkin County commissioner chair Patti Clapper.

Suzanne Wolff, assistant planning director for the county, said additional information was requested on Friday.

Clapper said one of the biggest concerns is arrangements with first responders in case of an accident or medical emergency. She noted riders will be undertaking the grueling climb over Independence Pass, so a plan has to be in place for evacuating a rider in case of medical emergency.

The county commissioners have tentatively scheduled a closed executive session with their attorney to discuss Ride the Rockies on Tuesday. The purpose, Clapper said, is to consider options if organizers haven’t adequately responded by then.

The Aspen Times made numerous attempts to reach Chrissy Terrell, senior director of communications for the ride organizer, via telephone and email messages. She didn’t respond.

Mahoney said the lack of communication appears to stem from a change in direction with the event.

“They’ve been behind the eight ball because of new management,” he said.

The Denver Post Community Foundation operated Ride the Rockies for years. The event was acquired last year by Ventures Endurance Events, a subsidiary of Gannett’s USA Today Network Ventures, according to a statement released in November.

Mahoney said it appears the tough going in the first year extends beyond communicating with host towns. The ride has historically been capped at about 2,000 riders. Organizers told Basalt officials this year’s event will draw about 950 riders.

Assuming all permits are acquired in time, here’s how the ride will impact the Roaring Fork Valley region:

After climbing Fremont and Tennessee passes after leaving Copper Mountain Resort on Sunday, the ride goes through Glenwood Canyon on the bike path, which opened for Memorial Day Weekend. As long as the path remains open and isn’t closed by high water, as often happens during runoff, the ride will be able to use the route, according to a representative of the Colorado Department of Transportation. If the path is closed, the riders must be shuttled into Glenwood Springs.

On day two, Monday, June 13, riders will depart from an overnight in Glenwood Springs on the Rio Grande Trail, turn onto Spring Valley Road, climb past the Colorado Mountain College campus, use a network of county roads in Missouri Heights before hurling down El Jebel Road onto the valley floor. From there they will connect to Willits Lane and back to the Rio Grande to head to Basalt for refreshments. Some riders will camp in town.

Mahoney said many riders have made arrangements to stay in Snowmass Village hotels, so they will continue upvalley on the Rio Grande. The map on the ride website shows organizers routing riders into the outskirts of Aspen, then having them backtrack to Snowmass Village via the Owl Creek bike path.

Route details are posted at ridetherockies.com/2022-route.

On day three, Tuesday, June 14, riders will stream out of Basalt and Snowmass Village, pass through Aspen before tackling the Queen Stage with a climb of Independence Pass. They will land in Salida that night.

The rest of the route takes them to Breckenridge and an ending on Friday in Golden.

The event has visited the Roaring Fork Valley before, most recently in June 2016. It is a recreational ride, not a race. Motorists must be aware that they will encounter more cyclists than usual.

This year’s 436-mile event features two 100-mile plus days, four ascents above 11,000 feet, five crossings of the Continental Divide and a first-ever spin through Glenwood Canyon. An optional ascent of Ute Pass pushes the total mileage to 476 and boosts the total vertical gain from 27,000 to 30,000 feet.

scondon@aspentimes.com

Restoration and riding in unique experiment in historic Crystal Valley

Trina Ortega rides down Bear Ridge Trail in the Coal Basin Ranch community trail system in Redstone on July 29.
Kelsey Brunner / The Aspen Times

A private landowner is welcoming mountain bikers with open arms in a unique experiment in the Crystal Valley.

Coal Basin Ranch opened a 5-mile trail network in mid-July that is open to the public at no cost. Riders, trail runners and hikers are welcome seven days a week.

“The whole model of private property being open to the public is unique in Colorado and the West,” said Trina Ortega, manager of the ranch and trail system.

Coal Basin Ranch is owned by the Catena Foundation, which was established by the Walton family, owners of the Walmart empire. Several family members own homes in the Roaring Fork and Crystal valleys.

The Waltons’ Crystal Basin Holdings LLC obtained approval from Pitkin County in October 2018 to build the compact trail network on their 221-acre ranch. An easement on the trails was granted to Pitkin County Open Space and Trails to ensure the system remains public.

The ranch is about 4 miles up Coal Basin Road from Highway 133. While only 5 miles, variety is the spice of the trail network.

“When I think about the trail system as it is, I think about all riders,” Ortega said.

The system has appeal for riders of all levels of ability and is especially accommodating for families. The youngest riders can hone their skills on strider and entry-level bikes on a series of pump track loops and jump line trails that encircle two ponds on the lower ranch.

The Dutch Creek and Bear Ridge trails combine to provide about 4 miles of riding with a nice climb and fast descent with just enough technical spots, short grunts and drops to keep riders on their toes.

Ortega said the setup is ideal for families because one parent can hang with young kids at the easiest trails around the ponds while the other parent can ride the longer loop solo or with kids possessing more advanced skills.

The setting is superb because soaring ridges carved with deep gorges form a horseshoe around Coal Basin, where there were active coalmines until 1991. The trails wind through aspen and conifer forests and pop into open meadows. A sharp eye can spot waterfalls in distant gullies.

There are a couple of stream crossings and ponds just off the route. The elevation gain on the Dutch Creek Trail is nearly 900 feet over slightly more than 2 miles. The Bear Ridge Trail shoots riders back to the valley floor over an expertly contoured series of switchbacks.

Signs of the old mining operations abound along the trails. The most prominent are the old lamp house, where miners would report to work, pick up their gear and leave personal belongs in lockers before descending underground. On a hillside directly behind the lamp house is an erect water tower.

An information board at the parking lot said Mid-Continent operated five mines at the site from 1956 to 1991.

At one point, the trail switchbacks up a hillside created where waste rock from the coalmines was dumped. The ranch has undertaken extensive rehabilitation of its 221 acres.

“With its mountain bike-centric trails, Coal Basin Ranch was designed as a demonstration site to show how recreation and restoration can come together to promote healthy landscapes and healthy lifestyles,” says the information board at the parking lot. “Our goal is to work with the community to continue restoring the land and provide a place where community members can recreate and experience the outdoors, ultimately discovering how they, too, fit into Coal Basin’s unique story of transformation.”

Ortega said barren patches and hillsides have been seeded with native vegetation as part of the rehab effort. She plans to organize a community volunteer day for the next round of seeding. Longer term she envisions planting willows in riparian areas and creating wetlands.

“I think the restoration resonates with people,” she said.

The riding resonates, as well. Roaring Fork Mountain Bike Association has helped with some restoration work and has eagerly promoted the trail network.

If You Go

What: Coal Basin Ranch is private property with a 5-mile trail network open to the public for mountain biking, hiking and trail running. The variety of trails are family friendly.

Where: 4 miles west of Redstone

Hours: 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Cost: Free

Mike Pritchard, RFMBA executive director, said it is great to see young riders show up to work on skills on the pump track and jump line trails at the lower section of the ranch. Young riders also are doing the climb and quick descent on the bigger loop.

“It sure seems that our next generation of local riders will be much more adept at bike handling than previous generations,” he said.

The trail network also provides access to legal routes in the White River National Forest. At the point where the Dutch Creek Trail tops out and the Bear Ridge descent begins, there’s a connection to the Coal Basin Trail. A rider can add 4 miles out and 4 miles back to get back on the Coal Basin Ranch network.

“The Coal Basin Trail is an old, wide mining road that has an obvious singletrack path down the middle,” he said.

More ambitious riders can take the Coal Basin Trail onto a route called Coal Basin North, “a singletrack where the adventure really ramps up since the old roads are left behind,” Pritchard said.

Ortega said ranch visitation has been spotty so far. Traffic is best Saturdays and Sundays. Warm temperatures have deferred riders during middays, and mudslides on Highway 133 have likely deterred the curious.

Some people have visited from outside the area and combined a trip to the ranch’s trail network with other activities. Locals also have taken note of the opportunity.

“There are definitely some Redstone locals that are happy to have singletrack in their backyards,” she said.

Ortega sees her mission this year as working out kinks, testing the model and assessing changes for the future. While expansion of the trail network is a possibility in the future, the goal is to remain small scale.

“We don’t want to flood Coal Basin with tons and tons of people,” Ortega said.

scondon@aspentimes.com