TRINIDAD • Hiking through the pinon-juniper forest above town, three women reach a place they’ve been before. Now, the scene looks different.

“This is all new,” says one, Kristina Birt.

Now at this junction of Fishers Peak State Park, the trails keep going.

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Three hikers make their way up Upper Lone Cub Trail, part of 11 miles of new trail at Fishers Peak State Park.

The available mileage has gone from 2 — the initial, “first look” paths unveiled soon after the park’s establishment in 2019 — to 13, reaching as far as the rocky precipice called Osita Point. Gov. Jared Polis, proud to announce Colorado’s second-biggest state park three years ago, was here to cut a ribbon on the new trails in late October.

People are still discovering them here by the state’s southern border, this “banana belt” known for relatively drier conditions in the winter. People like Birt and her friends, self-described weekday warriors from Pueblo who travel for trails near and far. “North Cheyenne Cañon (in Colorado Springs), that used to be our go-to,” Birt says. “Now with these trails here, this is it.”

This expansion came as a pleasant surprise to the group — as it did for the park’s manager.

“The last state park, Staunton, the story goes it took something like 20 years to open that park,” Crystal Dreiling says.

Leadership above, including Polis, urged a much shorter timeline this time. Studies and visits with scientists and tribes began in earnest, with particular focus on these roughly 1,000 acres of the park’s 19,200-acre entirety. Old ranch roads in this portion made travel efficient.

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The Spanish Peaks and Trinidad Lake are seen from Fishers Peak State Park in Trinidad early this month.

“We did not build on anything that wasn’t surveyed archaeologically or biologically,” Dreiling says. “We didn’t cut any corners, but we went pretty quickly.”

The construction crew with Singletrack Trails worked faster than most optimistic ambitions. To open the new network now or later? Dreiling wondered in the fall.

She thought about neighbors around Trinidad. Having been around for close to a decade, Dreiling deeply understood the longing for the town’s symbolic landmark.

“We have older folks who’ve lived here for a long time who, very frankly, have asked me to my face: ‘Well, am I gonna be able to walk a trail out there in my lifetime?’ If the last state park took 20 years, am I ever gonna be able to hike out there?”

So they are.

Finally, after generations of the land in private hands, locals are getting never-before-seen views of Fishers Peak. En route to Osita Point, the scenery goes beyond that castle-like summit.

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A bird sits on a branch in a section of Fishers Peak Trail-Osita Ridge Section weaving through a forested area at Fishers Peak State Park in Trinidad.

The Sangre de Cristo peaks scrape the sky like shattered glass toward the twin Spanish Peaks, which appear to float over Trinidad Lake. Higher, one looks out to volcanic mounds spotting New Mexico. Higher, between sandstone bluffs and hoodoos, the canyons fold and the vast forest is seen rolling up to the ancient, lava crust of Fishers Peak.

The summit is almost in reach. Trail construction could be finished and the long journey to the top available in the late summer or fall of next year, Dreiling says. (Because of Peregrine falcons nesting in the cliffs, the uppermost trail will be seasonally closed from March through July.)

For now, locals and visitors alike are feeling spoiled.

“These trails are something nobody else has got in terms of viewscape and experience,” says Juan Delaroca, who moved to Trinidad in 2015 after years around Boulder and Denver.

He moved, partly, for the mountain biking potential he saw across untapped terrain. The Poison Canyon Trail scratches the surface. It’s a swooping, 1½-mile section for downhill bikes only, reached via the Lone Cub Trail, which is also open to downhill bikes (previously posted as uphill only). Goldenrod Trail — sharing a name with the uncommon plant growing tall and yellow — is a longer, 3½-mile tour for hikers and runners. Like the Lone Cub Trail, Goldenrod connects to the trail out to Osita Point.

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Snowcapped peaks are seen beyond sandstone bluffs at Fishers Peak State Park in Trinidad, Colo., on Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2022. (The Gazette, Parker Seibold)

Osita is a term for female bear. Bears roam around the trails; we spotted signs of elk and mountain lion as well. Across the broader landscape, more surprising residents have been recorded: the elusive ovenbird, named for the oven-shaped nests they build; the endangered New Mexico meadow jumping mouse; trees believed to be more than 300 years old, survivors of logging, mining and ranching eras.

“The diversity of the landscape is really compelling,” says Jennifer Green, who leads Trinidad Trails Alliance. “You’re really going through some changing country.”

Higher and higher to more sights demanding admiration. Dreiling has heard the appreciation.

“A common thing I hear people say is, ‘This is such a gift,’” she says.

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