Royal Gorge trails the latest in Cañon City’s outdoor recreation revolution

Dan Pittz and son Tiernan Pittz, right, hike the trail above the Royal Gorge past a beautiful view of the Arkansas River last month. Photo Credit: Jerilee Bennett, The Gazette

CAÑON CITY • A father and son step off the trail, and Ashlee Sack approaches.

“Do you guys have a trail guide?” she asks for Fremont Adventure Recreation, the nonprofit that created the booklet and promotes its many miles of trails.

The man takes one. “One for a friend?” Sack proposes, to which he declines.

Then he flips through the pages. “Actually,” he says, “yeah, we’ll take two.”

What’s not to like?

Cañon City’s ongoing trail revolution can be traced to Fremont Adventure Recreation‘s birth in 2010. Soon after came Oil Well Flats, a rugged paradise of singletrack ridden year-round here upon the dry Banana Belt. That’s the case, too, at what became FAR’s next priority: trails that would define South Cañon with promising names such as Great Escape and Redemption.

Now the trifecta of networks nears completion.

Royal Gorge trails the latest in Cañon City’s outdoor recreation revolution

Ashlee Sack of Fremont Adventure Recreation crosses an old railroad bridge with brand new boards. This part of the trail is not open yet but soon will become part of the Royal Gorge Trails System. Photo Credit: Jerilee Bennett, The Gazette

All eyes are on the region’s crown jewel and the wild 5,000-plus acres surrounding it, where later this summer the final phase of construction is expected to bring the trail mileage to about 20. The Royal Gorge was placed in the city’s trust in 1906 thanks to Guy Hardy’s petition to Congress, and ever since, the vision has been of organized recreation.

“It’s finally coming to light,” Sack says.

The loops go by The Maze, Made in the Shade and Dream Weaver, among others — routes following vistas of the gorge and its bridge, the Wet Mountains and the shimmering Sangre de Cristo peaks beyond, altogether providing the speed, flow and technical bits that serious riders crave. Props goes to Steve Thomas of Terra Firma Trails, who started on the land three years ago.

“There wasn’t much up there and a lot of acreage to work with,” he recalls. “I was pretty much handed a blank slate, a trail builder’s dream.”

And once One Track Mind is finished — “a doozy” up and down the hills, Sack says — travelers will reach another dreamscape.

Where the Royal Gorge Scenic Railway used to be, the paths are pocked with mica, sparkling like some road to Oz. Now the boulder-strewn property belongs to Ty Seufer, the entrepreneur who wants to blend his latest commercial project with the bike-and-hike momentum building in his hometown.

A third of his Royal Gorge Ranch and Resort will consist of tiny homes, plots selling for $200,000 that Seufer calls “a luxury retreat for the middle class.” The other two-thirds of the 800 acres will be dedicated to open space and trails, including a 3 ½-mile loop along the old train trestles. The refurbished, elevated boardwalks will be free for all, along with the climbing area Seufer intends to develop with several bolted routes.

The trestles, expected to be finished by Labor Day, will grant a return to a historically beloved overlook: Point Alta Vista. Longtime locals share Seufer’s childhood memories at the train stop, the view of the gorge’s walls cut by the river. “It’s such an amazing spot,” he says. “I couldn’t possibly take that away.”

As for what might be lost by the tiny home neighborhood, advocates, including Ashley Smith on the City Council, are looking on the bright, public side of Seufer’s plans. “It’s a best-case scenario,” Smith says, echoing FAR, which Seufer has financially supported since the group started.

The return to Point Alta Vista represents “the grand finale” of this decade’s trail transformation around town, Smith says. She sees the benefits at TechSTART, the innovation hub that credits the outdoors for its local establishment, along with other businesses breathing new life into Main Street. The schools are using the trails to recruit teachers from afar — all part of a marketing plan to break the shadow of a prison reputation.

But Sack wonders if the greater Front Range has discovered the new Cañon City. It’s not hard to find a camping spot any given weekend around the Royal Gorge trails, and it’s common to find yourself alone on long stretches.

“I thought people really liked new trails,” Sack says, sounding frustrated by last year’s low turnout for the inaugural Royal 50 Mountain Bike Race, meant to celebrate the emerging singletrack. Sack says registration is again slow for the second race Aug. 31.

For better or worse, she says, “it’s still pretty quiet up here.”

Soon, she spots more unsuspecting visitors and approaches. “You guys want a trail guide?”



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