Check out these timelines that we've begun to develop as a way for us to honor those who have started the process of enhancing outdoor recreation opportunities in our area. Please let us know if we've missed any important milestones by emailing coordinator@joinFAR.org. We all stand on the shoulders of giants...
Trail development begins with Cañon City's own inception, possibly back in the 1880s. Photos of daring explorers in ankle boots and long skirts exist in the local history center's archives. People have been hiking in and around the Royal Gorge Region for over a century. But our recent trail development began, arguably, when Guy U. Hardy lobbied for the creation of three City parks: Royal Gorge, Temple Canyon, and Red Canyon. Setting aside that land made the future of trail / recreation development in Fremont County a LOT easier than it might have been. Cities and towns across Colorado struggle to find ways to create trails that offer the connectivity and accessibility that we enjoy here. We are also continuing to work on responsibly expanding trail systems while also being sensitive to the importance of wildlife habitat in our area.
Check out these timelines that we've begun to develop as a way for us to honor those who have started the process of enhancing outdoor recreation opportunities in our area. Please let us know if we've missed any important milestones by emailing coordinator@joinFAR.org. We all stand on the shoulders of giants...
When you manage 35 million acres of land, things get tricky. Throw in multiple land uses – grazing, mining, recreation, and wilderness preservation – and you have yourself one of the most difficult jobs in the nation.
Our local Royal Gorge Field office happens to be located in Cañon City, but they manage 35 million acres of land across 37 counties in Colorado, from west of the front range, to the Wyoming and New Mexico borders. It’s a LOT.
So when someone comes to the BLM and says “Hey, I want to use that 100 acres out yonder to build a mine / mountain bike track / hunting area / amusement park”, the BLM has to figure out if said proposal will be appropriate for that land. To do this, they use what’s called a Resource Management Plan (RMP). It’s a big document that includes lots of studies about all areas within Eastern Colorado, to include plants, animals, geology, archaeology, water rights, historic land uses, etc. The last RMP was finished in 1996, and they’ve been using it ever since to make decisions about things like recreational uses and Oil & Gas Lease Sales. (We learned about those here.) But times and communities change, and it’s not in the best interest of the land to continue to use a 20 year-old document to make informed, current decisions. So, they’ve drafted a new RMP, and it’s out for our review.
The Royal Gorge Field office (RGFO) began this process in 2015 with studies, community meetings, etc. If you missed those, you’re not alone. Earlier this year, the RGFO sent their draft over to Washington DC to the National BLM office, and they sent it back with 4 ‘Alternatives’ – A, B, C, and D. Alternative A is essentially what we have now – no changes. Alternative B favors conservation. Alternative C tends to leave just about everything open to everything with no priority given to recreation or conservation. And then there’s Alternative D.
Alternative D is called the ‘Human Ecoregion’ Alternative, and essentially tries to take into consideration the VAST differences between say, the eastern plains and the Royal Gorge Region. In the plains, they’re cool with lots of extraction because there’s a ton of open land. Out here in Cañon City, we have a blossoming recreation culture that is reflected in how they’ve addressed this area.
Now, Alternative D is noted as being the ‘preferred’ option by the National BLM office, and that’s an important distinction to make. It’s also important to know that it IS possible to cherry-pick different ideas and designations from one Alternative and not another.
One of the things that you’ll read about in articles like this one is that much of the land that was originally (in the 2017 draft that was sent to Washington) slated to be designated as “wilderness quality” were severely decreased. Why is this important? When lands don’t have ‘Lands with Wilderness Characteristics’ (LCW) designation, they are susceptible to being opened up for things like Oil & Gas Lease Sales. (These then allow for exploration and extraction processes.)
What does that mean?
Well, a few months ago we asked you to comment on a public Oil & Gas Lease sale for lands near Dawson Ranch. Unfortunately, the BLM was using the old RMP, which doesn’t include Dawson Ranch, South Cañon Trails, or any of the recent developments in our area. They couldn’t take those things into consideration because they didn’t exist in the RMP. BUT NOW THEY CAN. But we need to voice our concern that these designations DON’T EXIST IN ALL ALTERNATIVES.
We have ALL worked hard to make sure that recreation opportunities grow and are allowed preference (and protection from destruction) over other uses in the Cañon City area.
Section 13 / South Cañon Trails
Here’s what concerns us:
Alternative D creates special Recreation Management Zones for most of our new trail systems in the area. That’s good because it essentially puts recreation as a priority on those areas. That’s not to say that they can’t be used for other things (because BLM lands are multi-use – they need to serve many functions / user groups at a time), but recreation will be given priority in any user conflict. It makes us a little nervous that these areas are included in Alternative D, but not in some of the others. See the difference here:
This is essentially the current plan, which includes broad swaths of recreation management areas (SRMA’s) in our area.
Yikes! Where did all of our trail systems go? Notice that this does not include South Cañon, Oil Well Flats, the Royal Gorge’s South Rim, or Salida Trails and Buena Vista’s Midland Hills trail systems.
This alternative allows for some very specific management goals for our area’s trail systems / recreation areas, and also for the ones we enjoy upstream. This still leaves the surrounding area open to alternative uses (like mineral / resource extraction), which isn’t ideal. The good thing is that it designates some areas as ‘Recreation Management Zones’, which give extra preference to recreation over other uses (though not necessarily exclusive rights).
Here’s what we’re writing about this area:
As one of the main stakeholders in trail systems in the area, we at Fremont Adventure Recreation have put a significant amount of time, money, resources, and volunteer hours into making certain that the South Cañon Trail System, Oil Well Flats Trail System, and Royal Gorge Trail System (adjacent to BLM South Rim property) have become community assets. We would like to see these included in ALL alternatives as SRMAs and / or special RMZs.
We appreciate the new inclusion of the Royal Gorge and South Cañon Trails systems in the Special Recreation Management Areas. We would like to voice our support for the inclusion of these areas in all / the selected alternative(s). The Royal Gorge land is adjacent to an established system of trails that is not only community funded, but also community maintained. Prioritizing recreation in this area would allow the continued development of existing recreation opportunities for our community. Similarly, the continued designation of the surrounding areas (including Temple Canyon and Grape Creek) as Wilderness Study Areas would preserve the scenic qualities of the viewshed and also wildlife habitat.
In the case of these areas, please be sure that only quiet-use recreation is allowed (with the exception of lower Oil Well Flats, which has traditionally allowed motorized traffic traffic on double-track roads but not on singletrack trails. We fully support this multi-use agreement). The mileage of these community-supported trail systems does not support a motorized population and the degradation to trails caused by OHV use would be detrimental.
South Cañon Trails are located adjacent to the Dawson Ranch housing area, and the introduction of motorized use would threaten the peaceful quality of their investment. Quiet recreation allows for an appropriate balance of recreation and continued wildlife viewing / use.
The Arkansas River and Grape Creek
Here’s what concerns us:
When the 2015 draft (which our local field office – including people who live, work, and play here - created) went to Washington, it included over 189,981 acres of protected land – given stricter regulations for things like mineral extraction. These areas were called ‘Lands with Wilderness Characteristics’, which means that they a.) must be over 5,000 acres in size, b.) must exhibit a high degree of naturalness, c.) outstanding opportunities for solitude, or primitive and unconfined types of recreation when the sights, sounds, and evidence of other people are rare or infrequent, and / or d.) ecological, geological, or other features of scientific, educational, scenic, or historical value (from BLM Eastern Colorado Resource Management Plan, Volume 4, B-311).
In the new plan, that number has dwindled to very little, and none in the some of the important areas closest to us in Cañon City. There are a few areas that we’d like to see keep those special designations so that they are protected to the fullest extent possible. Those areas include Grape Creek and the Arkansas River, among others. Note that, by definition, LWC's cannot have development of nearly any kind, including trails. As we push forward with mineral extraction, development, and recreation, (thereby impacting wildlife habitat) it IS IMPORTANT to keep some places wild. These are some of the most scenic in Colorado, and we prefer to keep them that way.
These areas a incredibly scenic and important to our area! They deserve to be protected from mineral extraction and other potentially harmful uses.
Eek! Where did they all go? This concerns us because it potentially opens up these natural areas to alternative uses that may be harmful to the watershed, the visual landscape, and wildlife.
Arkansas Mountain in Badger Creek South of Coaldale with Arkansas River Visible. There is tremendous value in terms of ecological, geological, educational, and scenic qualities. This photo is courtesy of Eco Flight.
Wild Connections has put out a great fact sheet that will help you to understand some of the concerns that wilderness advocates have with the new plan. You can find it here: http://www.wildconnections.org/images/BLM_ECRMP_Fact_Sheet_20190723_Updated.pdf
Here’s what we’re writing about these areas:
The Arkansas River has long been a recreational playground in the Cañon City area. Despite historic abuses that include riverbank strengthening with unnatural materials and the littering of construction and pipeline refuse – reclamation of this area has been ongoing, and the river corridor has never looked better. Hundreds of thousands of people across the country come to the Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area to recreate, enjoy the incredible scenery, and watch wildlife in their natural habitat. As an organization invested in the continued protection of all areas, but specifically recreation areas, we’d like to see these areas protected. “Areas of special designation require extra attention to protect exceptional resource values such as historic, cultural or scenic values, or there may be sensitive, threatened, or endangered species living there. Areas of special designation are designated either congressionally or administratively” (BLM Draft Eastern Colorado RMP Story Map). We believe the following areas within Fremont County qualify for these designations.
We would like to see the areas Echo Canyon, Badger Creek (North & South), North of Coaldale, Bear Mountain, Eightmile Mountain, Red Canyon, Cooper Mountain, and Cucharas Canyon to remain closed to all oil and gas lease sales. These should be considered as Lands with Wilderness Characteristics (LWC’s), given their incredible fish habitat, unmatched scenic value, and susceptibility to watershed pollution. Additionally, these areas include an incredible array of geological formations that should be protected and preserved. We strongly support the plan set forth in Alternative B, to include ALL of the areas labeled, especially with regard to Echo Canyon, Waugh Mountain, North Badger Creek, Badger Creek, Eightmile Mountain, Cooper Mountain, Upper Red Canyon, and Turkey Canyon.
The Wild & Scenic River designation of the Arkansas River stretching from Buena Vista to Cañon City (in all Alternatives) would be well served to include the areas surrounding the river as LWC’s, to include the larger geographic area that is outlined in Alternative A. Those who use this river to seek an un unobstructed foray into nature and its majesty would not be pleased with added traffic, decreased wildlife sightings, and potential inroads to mining or extraction facilities.
Additionally, Grape Creek is a pristine wilderness area that should remain so. As they are currently designated as an Area of Critical Environmental Concern, we would like to see them given the utmost protection from potential development by either continuing this designation or as a WSA. Alternatively, section 1,2, and 3 of this area fulfill the requirements for a Wild and Scenic River (as denoted in Alternative B), and should be designated as such. This area is a tributary of the Arkansas River and every effort should be made to safeguard its pristine water quality, viewshed, and wilderness characteristics. As part of a contiguous large area of BLM-managed lands, it should remain a Wilderness Study Area in order to preserve the If not designated as a WSA, it should be considered for the Backcountry Conservation Area, as the area is a recognized fishing area that is valued by our community. The health of that particular waterway directly effects the health of the Arkansas River also.
The RMP is an exeptionally LARGE document that consists of five chapters and 1,500 pages. Why that’s good: BLM employs expert geologists, biologists, etc. and they are thorough in their studies. Why that’s rough: It’s a LOT to get through.
https://eplanning.blm.gov/epl-front-office/eplanning/planAndProjectSite.do?methodName=dispatchToPatternPage¤tPageId=53991 (Incidentally, this is also where you can add electronic comments. You can also send them in – the address is listed at the bottom of this article.)
We’ve placed a reference copy at the Cañon City public library if you’re interested in reading the whole thing. If not, you can view the online version here.
Draft a letter and submit it via mail or email.
Why? Because YOUR VOICE carries JUST AS MUCH WEIGHT as a group, organization, or business. Each comment is considered to the same extent as anther, and a specific, educated comment is better than a comment that simply says, “I don’t like this”. Please find our below letter and FEEL FREE to use some of what we’ve learned / said to create comments of your own. It’s not a great idea to copy and paste, but voice your concerns if they echo ours.
[Why the area is important to you]
[What you’d like to see changed / altered.]
[Add any additional comments or thank them for their work.]
Click on this link and hit the 'Comment on Document' Button to the right of the document.
Mail-in or hand delivery:
Eastern Colorado RMP/EIS
BLM Royal Gorge Field Office
3028 E. Main Street
Cañon City, CO 81212
When runBlossom was created back in 2004, the course meandered through the streets of Cañon City. It was a fun race and one that blossomed (sorry, couldn't help it) into an event that now hosts over 600 runners a year. It's not just the size that's changed, however. The course moved from the asphalt city streets to the Arkansas Riverwalk, a wide, dirt trail. Runners now follow the river, passing budding Cottonwoods, historic farmland, and beautiful open spaces. It was one of Cañon City's first established 'trails', and it makes for a great race course.
Now in 2019, the Royal Gorge Region boasts over 53 miles of singletrack trail, providing course opportunities for all kinds of races, including trail races. If you ask Runner's World magazine, trail running offers a plethora of health benefits that may even surpass road running. You use more / different muscles on a trail run, which makes it easier on your body - though the elevation gain might make you think otherwise. Being a nature-based activity, your mind is free to wander and enjoy the benefits of fresh air, open spaces, and the wonder of the outdoors. It goes without saying that the views on a trail run are second to none. As you work up to longer and more difficult trail runs, the rewards are absolutely incredible. Soaring vistas, mountaintop viewpoints...the destinations are endless.
Those of us who enjoy trail running can tell you that all of this is true - with or without the research. We just feel better after a trail run. Your body may feel exhausted, but your mind is clear and alive. Trails aren't just good for your legs and heart - they're good for your soul.
On July 27th, we invite you to join us for the third annual 'Run the Rim' trail run at the Royal Gorge Park. Notice it's not called a "race". Why? We want you to not only enjoy all of the health benefits associated with a trail run, but we also want to take away the connotations. You're not racing a clock, a PR (personal record), or anyone else. You're just out there to see as much of the trail and the landscape as possible.
Heck, we'll even give you a commemorative Sili-pint cup so that every time you drink out of it, you're reminded that you accomplished something pretty cool. And that trail? It's yours to enjoy every day...
Hope to see you there!
The history of the Royal Gorge Park is the stuff of Cañon City legend - local Congressman Guy U. Hardy petitioned to have over 5,000 acres of land ceded from the federal government to the City in 1906. Now in 2019, over 18 miles of trail exist, thanks to the efforts of the City of Cañon City, Terra Firma Trails, and FAR's 1% for Trails program. Thanks to this convenient and scenic trail system, the public has unprecedented access, via singletrack trails, to over 30% of the Royal Gore Park's incredible topography. From easy S'mores (a green trail that rings the East Ridge Campground), to technical Darkside of the Moon, the Royal Gorge Park Trails offer something for everyone.
Whether hiking, biking, or trail running, individuals of all ages and abilities will find themselves awestruck at the beauty of 'Colorado's Natural Wonder' - the Royal Gorge and Arkansas River.
In early 2019, the City of Cañon City voted to pay for the refurbishment of two historic train trestles on City property. Previously used by the Point Alta Vista Scenic Railway, the trestles were abandoned after the railway shut down in 2012 after 52 years of service. Business and new property owner of the former Buckskin Joe town, Ty Seufer has pledged to refurbish and re-deck the three trestles that lie on his property. Seufer's property shares a boundary with the Royal Gorge Park property, and privately-constructed trails on the new Royal Gorge Ranch & Resort will link up with public trails.
Also spanning the two properties are a wealth of climbing and bouldering areas. Seufer plans to add slacklining facilities to the list of adventure amenities within the Royal Gorge Park area.
This month, we learned that we were the very first recipients of the International Mountain Biking Association’s Local Leadership Award. We were invited to receive our award at Outerbike and IMBA’s 30th Anniversary Party in Bentonville, Arkansas. Five FAR representatives loaded up an RV, packed some snacks (thanks, FAR mom, Shirley), and pulled an all-night 13-hour drive to the Ozarks. Not only were we honored to receive the award, but we also used the opportunity to ride as much of the famed Bentonville ‘Slaughter Pen’ and ‘Back 40’ trail systems as we could. While we had a tremendous amount of fun (and even weathered a few scrapes and bruises), we also learned a great deal. We weren’t just riding; we were observing, taking notes, and absorbing the culture of one of Arkansas’ mountain bike communities. Here’s what we’d like to report back to our own community:
Trails aren’t just for fun in Bentonville. They utilize connections between schools, parks, neighborhoods, stores, downtown districts, and trailheads to create a network of viable alternatives to vehicular traffic. Due to the very nature of the trails weaving through residential and business districts, they offer a safe and off-road alternative for pedestrian and bicycle traffic that is accessible from dozens of points along the system. Even from our campground in nearby Bella Vista, we could ride to parks, other trail systems, and other businesses, all while encountering very minimal (if any) cars. Trails in Bentonville often run parallel to roads (with a nice, wide berth). While this isn’t always the most aesthetically pleasing situation, it definitely got the job done. Trails also often weaved through neighborhoods and next to utility areas (like water treatment plants). We can imagine that these trails required a great deal of persuasion and logistical figuring, but the value of those agreements was obviously invaluable.
One of the most interesting connections was to their local art museum and children’s museum. Families, including small children, could ride safely from parking areas, the downtown retail and restaurant district, and even home in order to visit either location. While we did note that this created a bit of a hazard in terms of mixed-use trails, we think that this could have been exacerbated by the traffic from the event. Additional signage may have been helpful to remind bikers to dismount or ride under a specified speed limit.
What locations within our community would you like to see connected by trails?
A Cohesive Approach to Cycle Tourism
Of course we picked up local trail maps before riding, and Bentonville is well plugged into the popular apps like Trailforks and MTB Project, and STRAVA, but there was also another piece of available literature that we found particularly interesting. It was a booklet that touted the 37 best places to ride in the state of Arkansas. We only had a few days this time, but each of us left Bentonville with dreams of a return trip to Arkansas including Hot Springs, Mountain View, and other locations added to our itinerary. Supporting other communities (we thought of our neighbors in Pueblo, Salida, Buena Vista, and Westcliffe) with growing mountain bike systems seems like a win-win situation: we all see economic growth but keep overcrowding at bay.
How do you see Cañon City fitting into a larger mountain bike ‘circuit’?
Mountain Biking Matters to Local Economies
Sometimes, an info-graphic says it all. According to recent data, bicycling in Northwest Arkansas contributed $137 million in benefits to the economy in 2017 alone. That’s a sustainable, positive, robust industry! At the campground we stayed at, located at the trailhead for The Back 40 trails, well over half of the sites were booked by mountain bikers. The campground was almost completely full on a fall (“shoulder season”) day in late October. We could envision this kind of success in our own town and would love to see more hotels embrace ‘bike culture’ by marketing to bikers and offering amenities such as bike lockers and maintenance stations. In the downtown district, restaurants seemed to have a high percentage of mountain bikers and vacationing families.
Do you own a business in Cañon City that has seen increased sales due to trail usage?
Cycle Amenities are Cool!
Trails do not exist in a vacuum in Bentonville. Riders are supported throughout their stay in the area and also along their ride. There is evidence not only of established support, like quality parking areas and well-maintained trails, but there are also scattered amenities that remind bikers, hikers, and runners that their safety and enjoyment is a priority. Trial signs and kiosks were prevalent. Even though paper maps were made available to us, and a few of us had downloaded the regional guides via our cell phones, the kiosks were still very helpful. Posts with steel signs were located at junctures, allowing trail users to navigate with relative ease, despite the complex array of trails.
Intermittently, we found mechanic stations with tools necessary to pump tires, fix wobbly seats and chains, and other minor issues. There were even racks that allow riders to assess and fix their bike easily. Water fountains were located at intervals as well, including bottle filling stations.
Despite all of these wonderful additions to the trails, the one that may have moved us the most was a simple Coleman cooler left by one of the intersections of a trail. Inside were bottles of water and a handwritten sign that said, “Remember to hydrate! 😉”
What amenities do you think should be prioritized as we look to improve trail systems in the Royal Gorge Region?
All Types of Bikers are Welcome
Whether you ride a road bike, a mountain bike, or a 12” balance bike, riders of all types and abilities will find trails and paths that are appropriate for their needs. Trails include green (beginner), blue (intermediate), and black (advanced) sections. There are even downhill-specific trails that allow for one-way traffic for speed and jumps. Within Bentonville’s extensive trails systems, many paved paths help link points, including adjacent systems, parks, schools, and cultural centers, to one another. Also located within the systems are skills parks that help developing riders gain confidence in a low-stakes environment before heading out on the trails.
There are a number of cities across Colorado that are doing a fantastic job of integrating mountain biking into their communities and cultures. It was educational and inspirational to see one already at work in Bentonville. They have enjoyed a great deal of community and financial support from donors, which we haven’t been able to match yet. Nevertheless, we are inspired by their model and hope to learn from their successes. Trails strengthen communities, and we can’t wait to go FAR.
Anyone who has watched children or a garden grow can tell you: it's hard to see the growth day to day, but you look back over half a decade and realize that change has come.
On October 10, 2010, three friends - Brian VanIwarden, Joanna McIntyre, and Chris McIntyre, came together in a leap of faith and formed Fremont Adventure Recreation. Between them, they had a shared passion for outdoor recreation and a plethora of other talents - race directing, internet communication, coaching, and event organization. Their first task was to assist with the burgeoning runBlossom races, which was gaining traction in its third year and needed to evolve. To assist in this endeavor, they needed money. Timing software, technical equipment, and course materials weren't cheap.
The board approached their first sponsor, The Winery at Holy Cross Abbey, with the hopes of acquiring the funds to get FAR off the ground. It was Larry Oddo who launched the organization with their first donation, making it possible for FAR to buy the generator that would power the timing equipment necessary for runBlossom. The board President's own mom, Shirley, even pitched in to buy FAR's first trailer, which you see today at races across the county.
Little by little, hard-earned money began stacking up in FAR's account, and they were able to add events to their calendar. They also welcomed new board members, each who brought invaluable talents to the small group. As their budget and capacity grew, they added new events. This included Bikes & Brews, their first truly independent event, in 2012. The annual runBlossom race now welcomes over 500 runners to Cañon City each year, and features the city's only half-marathon race. They time for the spectacular Rim to Rim every year, assist with the Whitewater Festival, and have added smaller events, such as movie nights, socials, kids and ladies' mountain bike clinics, and a scholarship program to their list of community contributions.
As outdoor recreation continued to grow in the Royal Gorge Region, FAR gradually recognized a need for quality trail systems in addition to events. Partnering with the BLM, Recreation District, and the City of Cañon City, FAR worked to raise funds (including putting forth money from races as well as hiring a grant writer) to identify, design, and develop additional trails in the area. It was the introduction of the '1% for Trails' initiative in 2015, however, which helped to launch FAR into the business of building significant, extensive, world-class trail systems. Putting their trust and faith in the organization, Whitewater Bar & Grill and Red Canyon Cycles were the first to sign on to the program and invest in the future of Cañon City. Today, the Hogbacks, the Royal Gorge Trail System, South Cañon Trails, and additional work in Oil Well Flats bear the mark of those first businesses, board members, and McCloud-wielding volunteers who made them possible. As additional businesses sign on, FAR is looking forward to helping the Royal Gorge Region community to expand their hiking, biking, and riding miles.
It's been six years, seventy-two board meetings, hundreds of hours at local events, several changes of tires on the trailer, and thousands of happy runners / bikers. As with any organization, there have been changes, tense moments, disappointments, and setbacks. Not every decision has been easy, and not every opportunity has been met with success. But if you smile when you ride the Cañon Rim Trail, if you enjoy a quiet stroll with your dog on in South Cañon, or if you high-five someone in a FAR t-shirt at the finish line of a local race...you'll know why they do what they do. Because they love it, too.
Thank you, Cañon City, for your faith in our organization, your many selfless volunteer hours, your contributions to our fundraising efforts, your patronage of the businesses who support us, and for your encouraging compliments. We hope to serve you for decades to come.
How is a trail system on some of the most beautiful and iconic land in Southern Colorado even possible? In an era of wild-west land-grabbing and rapid development, how did the area around the Royal Gorge remain largely untouched? As it turns out, the land at the Park was thoughtfully preserved by one particular visionary, and it has been owned by the City of Cañon City for over 100 years.
For well over a century, visitors from all over Colorado and the country have been visiting the "Grand Canyon of the Arkansas". It has always been beautiful, but the gorge and surrounding areas have not always been accessible. In the early 1800's, visitors to the area were relegated to the bottom of the Gorge, and were not treated to the sweeping vistas and glorious views that we can see from Fremont Peak and the rim today. It was simply to difficult of a journey for most people to make. In fact, in the late 1800's, it was over a full day's journey from downtown Cañon City just to get to the rim of the Royal Gorge. Most travelers simply rode the train or walked up a defunct rail line to access the deep canyon.
At the turn of the century, the founding fathers of Cañon City realized what a financial asset the Gorge could be to the residents of the area. One particular resident, Mr. Guy U. Hardy, took a special interest in the area. Hardy was the original publisher of the Cañon City Record (later called the Cañon City Daily Record), and took it upon himself to secure the land surrounding the Gorge. He didn't want it for himself, however, he wanted the City to own it. With his own time and money, he drafted a bill and left for Washington D.C., where he was able to convince Congress to cede the land to Cañon City. The bill passed and reads (in part):
"Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of American in Congress assembled, That there is hereby granted to the city of Cañon City, all lands now belonging to the United States of America located in sections...along and on either side of the Arkansas River...and containing thereon a certain canon designated as the Royal Gorge; the said lands to be held by the said city solely for park purposes and for the use and benefit of the public.." - Public Bill No. 222; June 11, 1906
Convicts from the local penitentiary built a road up to the newly acquired land, but most vehicles of the day could not climb the steep grade. The land remained mostly untouched until 1927 when an enterprising Texan - Lon P. Piper - was granted permission to build a bridge (you may have heard of it) across the chasm. The City leased him a small portion of the park for annual rent of $1,000. The attractions and amusement park - and the agreement with The Royal Gorge Bridge and Amusement Company - remains today. The company is an active member of the community and is known to sponsor, assist with, and participate in a number of events.
At one point, a group even petitioned to have the Royal Gorge admitted into the National Park system. The bill eventually failed, but evidences the community's pride in their park.
"The Royal Gorge Park Association was organized in Pueblo in September, 1939 for the purpose of attaining national recognition of the Royal Gorge area and advancing development of the recreational resources there. […] A U.S. Weather Bureau report showed that the facility could be a year round proposition since the mean temperature there is fifty-four degrees and it is protected from excessive cold by the natural flow of air. […] Although the sponsors of the memorial were unsuccessful in their attempts to make the Royal Gorge part of a national park, they did draw attention to the area." (Campbell, 183)
In the years following, attempts were made to create attractions for tourists, but the city was unable to "meet the recognized need for drives, trails, and picnic places in its two mile wide and four mile long park" (Campbell, 183). In recent years, the City has added campgrounds, overlooks, restrooms, and improved roads in the areas. In 2014, FAR helped complete the 1.7-mile Canyon Rim Trail - the first recorded public trail in the Royal Gorge Park (outside of the leased area).
It was through the generosity, foresight, and good will of Guy U. Hardy and the citizens of Cañon City that the eight square miles (four long and two wide) surrounding the majestic Royal Gorge belongs to the citizenry. Were it not for him, the land would most likely have been sold in sections to private owners, thus making a trail system virtually impossible.
* Campbell, Rosemae Wells. 'From Trappers to Tourists', 1972.
** Image courtesy of the New York Public Library Digital Collections
To create a great trail system, a few things need to be in place: an informed plan, a funding source, a group of dedicated volunteers, and a supportive community. FAR is committed to helping to develop and maintain trail systems in the Royal Gorge Region. This often requires a very specific skill set, one that city or state departments often don't have the staff or resources to fulfill. Trails don't just "happen", they require ecological studies, topographical planning, runnoff mitigation, heavy machinery (for cutting the actual trail), and hours of work maintaining brush and overgrowth.
So how to great trail systems come to be? The process is a long one that can take years, but with creativity, healthy partnerships, and dedication, new trail systems can be a valuable asset to our community at large.
1. Concept - The Royal Gorge Region is a veritable playground of outdoor recreation opportunities. Unfortunately, hiking and biking aren't easy to do when trails don't exist. Rogue trails can also be damaging to the ecosystem. Trail systems begin when an individual looks over a plot of land and thinks, "This would be a great, beneficial, and beautiful place to invite others to hike, bike, and play."
2. Partnership - FAR contacts the appropriate government or private entities who own the land. In many cases, the land is operated by BLM, and FAR is proud to partner with our local Royal Gorge Office. In fact, Oil Well Flats (located just 10 miles north of Cañon City) was the brainchild of resident, BLM adviser, and biking enthusiast Kalem Lenard. The BLM provided a significant amount of funding to help bring the project to fruition, and FAR provided additional funding and manual labor. The 7-mile system is now one of the most popular in our area. Sometimes private citizens offer an easement through their land so trail connections can be made - as did the Schepp family in the case of the South Cañon trail system. We are always incredibly grateful to those selfless individuals who offer their faith in our organization, trails, and the community at large.
3. Studies - Before land can be utilized, in many cases studies must be conducted to make sure that no flora or fauna will be adversely effected by the plans. These studies are conducted by an experts in the field.
4. Financial Consideration - Trails cost about $3-$7 per foot (and possibly more), depending on many factors, including the difficulty of the terrain. We rely heavily on money earned from our events (like runBlossom, Bikes & Brews, and the Whitewater Festival) to help us fund trail work. You'll find board members Brian V., Chris, Joanna, and Megan assisting with all of these crucial events. FAR also rolled out our 1% for Trails initiative in 2014, which has been gaining momentum. Our community partners have been incredibly generous in opting into the program, which provides a 1% donation toward our trail funds with each purchase. When we can, we also apply for state and local grants. Our grant writer, Kristyn, is instrumental in this step of the process. She puts in long hours researching and writing the grants.
5. Planning - This is both a science and an art. Board member Brian L. is a skilled engineer and utilizes his understanding of mapping, flood mitigation, and other environmental concerns to plot a trail that is both sensitive to the area and also fun. As a hiker and bicyclist, Brian plans trail systems that will be fun to ride, hike, and explore, but also sensitive to the ecosystem.
6. Flagging - The next step is to head out to the trail site and 'flag' the trail. You may sometimes see bright orange flags dotting the landscape in a proposed trail area. These have been carefully placed either by the BLM, Brian and/or Board member Thom to correspond to the best route given the above considerations.
7. Cutting - Cutting a trail can be done by hand, but for maximum progress, a trail cutting machine is often used. We partner with the City of Cañon to use a machine that makes each foot of trail the correct width. It takes the place of hand tools that would take volunteers hours of effort. FAR utilizes the expertise of other individuals and groups to aid in this step. For instance, Volunteers for Outdoor Colorado and the Youth Corps have helped cut trail in our area. We have also recently contracted with a professional trail cutter to help us work on some longer stretches of trail. Our amazing FAR volunteers, often led by board members Adam, Thom, Scott, or Brian, have also been attending Second Sunday Singletrack Workdays to help us create more trail in the Hogbacks, Oil Well Flats, and Section 13 areas. Your help is invaluable, as manual labor is much easier with many hands.
8. Promotion - If no one hears about a trail, it isn't a benefit to the community. FAR has worked hard in the last year to create our Recreation & Trail Guide. A resource for locals and visitors alike, the new publication is geared toward guiding hikers, bikers, whitewater enthusiasts, and and rock climbers to our local gems. We also promote outdoor recreation in the Royal Gorge Region at area events in Cañon City and Colorado Springs.
9. Maintenance - The environment has a funny way of reclaiming land. Oftentimes, trees will fall into the trail, brush grows over areas, and rocks fall into the paths. Our volunteers meet every Second Sunday of the month to work on particular areas or trail systems in order to keep them free of debris and ruts.
Stay tuned for more information on how this process is being applied to two new trail systems: South Cañon Trails and the Royal Gorge Park Trail System.