Gnarly, controversial trail coming to Cañon City will feature nearly 2,000 feet of elevation gain

Scott Eckstrom of Cañon City rides a trail Tuesday, April 29, 2014, on the 200-foot cliffs in the Oil Well Flats area north of Cañon City. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock) CHRISTIAN MURDOCK, THE GAZETTE

The trail revolution continues around Cañon City. And not in recent years has a project seemed so minimal yet so meaningful and controversial.

That’s the impression you get in talking to Ashlee Sack about a 2-mile segment that will realize a vision long held by the group she represents, Fremont Adventure Recreation (FAR), which has spent more than a decade transforming the region into a mountain biking mecca.

An idea born in 2008 will become a reality in the coming months, as recently announced: Travelers on foot and wheels will be able to trek from town and connect to the spectacular trails of Royal Gorge Park.

“People might be like, ‘Oh, 2 miles,’” Sack said, “but there was so much work.”

And through that work comes a caveat.

The trail — to be funded by the city and likely built by fall — will be closed in June and July for bighorn sheep lambing. In September and October, it will be open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. for all except licensed hunters, who will be free to roam in the prime hours of dawn. Historically, less than 10 permits have been issued for the Bureau of Land Management area.

“There’s gonna be a lot of bristling,” Sack said. “Why should we be locked out of this trail? Why should we pay for this when we can’t use it? And it’s because the BLM manages for multiple uses, and that is a cold, hard fact.”

Still, FAR is marking the trail as a win. It will be, by Sack’s description, “gnarly.”

From town, Tunnel Drive leads to the banks of the Arkansas River within the Royal Gorge, and that’s where the trail will scamper sharply up the exposed, rock-festooned terrain. It promises to be a lung-busting ascent of 1,800 feet and a thrilling descent on bike.

“Where Manitou has the Incline, we’re gonna have this bad boy,” Sack said, “and it’s gonna be fabulous.”

It will lead to the Summit View Trail built along Fremont Peak, built as part of the nearly 20-mile network of Royal Gorge Park. With last year’s finishing touches on the icon’s north rim, the network capped a trifecta for FAR, responsible also for the beloved Oil Well Flats and South Cañon trails.

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