New Minturn Mile trail opens
MINTURN — A two-year project, the reroute of the Cougar Ridge trail is now open to hikers, bikers and horseback riders.
The so-called “Minturn Mile” of summer recreation, Cougar Ridge between Minturn and Vail Mountain contained — up until Sunday — one area which was prone to runoff and generally unsustainable.
For mountain bikers, that section was “just a brake burner, basically,” said Mike Beach with the U.S. Forest Service. “So we’re trying to improve the experience for all users.”
In 2015 a two-year project was undertaken by the U.S. Forest Service, the Vail Valley Mountain Bike Association and Volunteers for Outdoor Colorado to create a .3-mile switchback section around the unsustainable portion of Cougar Ridge and decommission the existing trail.
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Wrapping up on Sunday afternoon, the Volunteers for Outdoor Colorado team left what was their final project on the Western Slope this season after taking on approximately 100 projects across the state in 2016, projects manager Dan Williams said on Sunday. The Cougar Ridge project was funded in part by the National Forest Foundation’s Ski Conservation Fund grant, where Vail and Beaver Creek mountains and other ski-related businesses collect $1 donations from their guests to support conservation and restoration work on local National Forests. In donating to a Volunteers for Outdoor Colorado project, the Ski Conservation Fund stipulated that the project had to be undertaken in Eagle or Summit County; Vail Valley Mountain Bike Association submitted a bid for Cougar Ridge which was accepted.
In addition to completing the reroute, the crews performed general maintenance on the trail from the trailhead in Minturn to the rerouted section.
‘ARMY OF VOLUNTEERS’
The Cougar Ridge restoration was also a Mike O’Brien Memorial project, meaning part of the funding also came from a trust set up by former Volunteers for Outdoor Colorado volunteer Mike O’Brien, a mountain biker and proponent of recreational access to trails.
About half of the volunteers who registered with Volunteers for Outdoor Colorado to help out over the weekend were members of the Vail Valley Mountain Bike Association, Williams said.
For many of the Vail Valley Mountain Bike Association volunteers, Saturday and Sunday were two of many volunteer days spent on local trails in recent months. Funding efforts for a local adopt-a-trail program were undertaken by the association over the last year, and the program went into effect in summer of 2016, freeing up the forest service to work on larger projects.
“We’ve got an incredible new army of volunteers here in the valley,” Vail Valley Mountain Bike Association president Jamie Malin said Sunday. “We now have adopted out 30 trails through our adopt-a-trail program this year, thanks to the generous support of our community that funded that program.”
Williams said the sad truth is that Forest Service districts like Eagle County’s Eagle/Holy Cross ranger district are going to see less and less of their budgets available for staff in the coming years.
“So they’re going to need groups like Volunteers for Outdoor Colorado — and of course our main partner here, the Vail Valley Mountain Bike Association — coordinating with them to bring out volunteers as a labor force to actually get any of the needed trail work done,” Williams said. “There’s all sorts of maintenance needs, and additional construction needs, all sorts of projects in the works, but very difficult to see how they’re going to be able to do it with just staff, so finding ways to get volunteers out to work on trails in the region is really important.”
Larry Kunkle did some trail work with Volunteers for Outdoor Colorado a couple of decades ago.
“It was in Black Canyon of the Gunnison, just beautiful,” he said.
Now, he lives in one of the properties near base of the Minturn Mile trailhead.
“It’s surprising how much use this trail gets,” he said. “Really fantastic to get the VOC out here helping, it’s tremendous what they’ve done.”
Local mountain biker Andrew Wight was one of the first to cruise down the rerouted section of Cougar Ridge on Sunday evening.
“It’s really technical and switchbacky,” he said. “You can tell it will be way more sustainable than the old washout route.”