Colorado High School Cycling League Director Kate Rau has never seen anything like it before.
“This is the first time that I know of that a trail is being made specifically for a CHSC race,” she said.
And it’s not just any race. The approximately 6-mile trail in Eagle will host the state championship race in which an estimated 350 high school riders will compete Oct. 20.
“It’s pretty common to see existing trails modified for a race, but not this,” Rau said. “It’s unique to have a partnership between public and private entities and a race promoter to create a trail that will remain open for the public.”
Construction has already started on the loop trail, which sits entirely on the privately owned Haymeadow property adjacent to the Eagle Pool and Ice Rink.
Eagle Mayor Yuri Kostick said he’s been working on this deal for three years. The town negotiated a “revocable license agreement” with Haymeadow owner Ric Newman that allows the town to build the trail and grants public access. If Newman ever revokes the license, the town will be reimbursed for its investment on a sliding scale. Eagle Town Board voted, 6-1, April 9 to allocate $60,000 for the trail’s construction.
“The synergy that’s happening between the Eagle Outdoor Festival (May 10-11) and this race is really elevating what’s happening in the community,” Kostick said Monday when he walked the trail’s route with Rau and others, following miles of pink survey flags through sage and juniper.
“There isn’t an official name for the trail yet,” Kostick said. “People are calling it the Haymeadow Trail but there are a few ideas.”
Rau was along to provide input for the difficulty level of the course. Other people along on the hike were Eagle Open Space Director John Staight, Eagle Trustee Scott Turnipseed, Eagle resident, former professional mountain bike racer and veteran trail consultant John Bailey, and Scott Schlosser, who is a member of the ECO Trails committee and is also an experienced biker.
“It’s kind of like having a ski slope in your backyard,” said Schlosser, who was there as an unofficial consultant for Newman.
Staight said the trail will be open to the public for biking and hiking.
Bailey has been mountain biking since the 1980s and started racing about the same time he started his career at Vail Resorts, where he still works as a general manager. He raced professionally from 1990 to 1992 and all those elements in his life ultimately put him on a path to the Olympics.
“The Vail Valley Foundation wanted to host the world championships for mountain bike racing, but to do that, Vail had to prove itself by hosting a World Cup event,” he said.
He was enlisted to help design a course in Vail that was appealing and challenging to riders, and also conducive to spectators – requirements for any good race course. They came up with a clover design in which looped riders through the heart of town several times during one lap.
Vail has hosted two world championships since then, Bailey said.
The success and people he met in Vail took Bailey to the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, Ga. It was the first time mountain biking was included in the Games and Bailey helped design and build the race course.
“It took a couple of years to put that course together,” he said. “It was a small venue – a horse park – and it didn’t have much elevation gain. I learned a lot about how to use terrain. We needed parts to make it difficult, places for riders to eat and rest and make it spectator friendly.”
Besides those considerations, a lot of thought also goes into being environmentally conscious.
“We have to consider potential wildlife issues, and things like water retention and runoff,” Bailey said.
On Monday there were parts of an existing single-track trail that Bailey said would be moved to cut down on the trail’s visibility (a trail on flat ground is less visible than one angling up a hillside) and make it more sustainable (a trail on flat ground is not as prone to erosion).
“It’s pretty amazing we have a resource like Bailey,” Schlosser said.
Momentum Trail Concepts started construction Saturday. The company is based in Denver and has become known for it’s reputable work for big events all over the country since it started five years ago. It consists entirely of three friends who do all the work together – Steve Wentz, Matt Thompson and Mihai Moga. The men have built bike trails since 1998.
“We met as professional downhill bike racers,” Moga said. “We had other jobs but we started this company together because this is what we love.”
The work demands a strong back and tough hands as well as some heavy machinery. There are three primary roles, which the men alternate. One of them leads, creating the trail’s foundation with a backhoe. The second man smooths out the general path and the third puts all the finishing touches on it.
“I really like polishing the trail,” Moga said. “There are things on the trail you can’t see with your eyes but you can feel them on a bike.”
Sometimes the challenge is creating a feature that isn’t felt on a bike, like a slight out-slope that will direct water off the side of the path.
“That’s important because otherwise the water will run down the middle of the path and wash it out,” Moga said.
The construction will take about 45 days. Volunteers are likely to be enlisted at some point – Eagle’s Hardscrabble Trails Coalition is ready to help with that – but Moga said they won’t be needed for most of the construction.
“Volunteers are generally most useful for the cleanup stage, when we disburse the leftover debris like branches and rocks that we moved out of the way and piled up on the side,” he said. “For the trail construction itself, it’s better to have fewer people so that we can control the quality.”
The trail is entirely on Haymeadow property, though it will connect with the Pool and Ice Rink Trail – on Bureau of Land Management property to the north – at two or three points.
“We would need a permit to use BLM land, and that’s a closed process right now because the agency is updating its travel management plan,” Kostick said. “The BLM also charges a per-user fee for events like this race. The idea for this course is that it is 100 percent on town land.”
The trail is designed to have two loops. One loop is shorter for the junior varsity riders, which will cut off some distance as well as elevation gain.
“We need 1.5 to 2 miles of crux for the varsity riders,” Rau said, pointing out other concerns, such as how much speed riders will have when crossing a bridge.
Two bridges are currently needed for the course as planned. Kostick hopes to have them made with beetle-kill wood. A long, buried culvert might be the safer option that is needed, however.
Since there is a wide range of ability among high school riders, the course will be intermediate as far as technical obstacles go. Most of the challenge will be in the distance and hill climbs, including a big climb and descent at the end.
“There will be a mix of single and double track so that there are areas for passing,” Rau said. “We also want safe and easy access in case there are any injuries.”
The race will start in the dirt lot between the Eagle Pool and Ice Rink and the BMX bike track.
“We’ll have about 40 teams and all their tents there,” Rau said.
Kostick said that the event will bring about 500 people to town.
As the group hiked the course, they noted several areas where spectators will “camp” with good views of the action. There are certainly many good views all along the loop.
“This is a huge investment for the town of Eagle,” Rau said. “People don’t know yet how good the mountain biking is here.”