Colorado Springs mountain biker Harry Hamill stopped riding the Chutes years ago.
Flowing through the woods in the city’s southwest mountains and widely considered the fastest thrill around, the trail hasn’t been worth it to him. Not with the ever-present risk of crashing into hikers coming up blind curves.
“I can’t ride it as fast as I want to ride it,” Hamill says, “and I don’t want to ruin somebody’s experience, and it’s ruining mine, so it’s like, fine. I’ll just skip it.”
But in the near future, he’ll return to the plunge.
He’s just waiting for when the Chutes becomes designated for downhill bikers only, no one on foot or horse allowed.
“It’s not gonna happen overnight, it’s not gonna happen tomorrow,” said David Deitemeyer, the city park planner. “But it’s one of our goals for this summer.”
By the end, the Chutes will become the Springs’ first single-use, single-direction trail.
“It’ll be our first experience with it. It’ll be interesting,” said Hamill, a leader with local nonprofit Medicine Wheel Trail Advocates, which is rallying volunteers to work on the project.
The plan is three-pronged, involving also realignments to adjoining paths known as Gold Hill and Ladders. Those two will climb to Gold Camp Road, giving hikers continued access to the overlook where the Chutes starts its swooping tumble. The new Chutes trailhead at the top will be less than 30 yards from the current one, paralleling the familiar route’s upper portion for about 1,500 feet before rejoining the existing trail.
The project is outlined in the North Cheyenne Cañon master plan that was approved last year after a lengthy public process.
“Bike-optimized trails” have been emerging in the West, with Jefferson County but one example of a Front Range park system exploring the concept. Along with a pilot project there, Deitemeyer said local leaders are taking cues from ski resorts expanding singletrack networks.
A Bureau of Land Management guide laying out modern approaches to trails explains that single-use has historically been reserved for hikers — there are plenty of examples in the Springs. But now another category should be considered, the BLM says.
“For mountain biking die-hards, the experience of riding a narrow roller-coaster trail with a rocking rhythm of twists and turns unfolding under their wheels is a highly valued prize,” the guide reads.
That aptly describes the Chutes, which has long been deemed dangerous for uphill travelers.
“It’s about time Colorado Springs came into the 21st century,” said Mike Rigney, a Medicine Wheel volunteer who also serves on the Trails and Open Space Coalition. He has noticed “a reluctance” to bike-only, directional paths, but “we’ve got the terrain for it,” he said, “and I think we want Colorado Springs to be a mountain bike haven like it should be.
“We really like this multiuse trail concept, where everybody shares the trail. But it’s getting to the point where we’ve got an awful lot of people doing different things on the trail.”
Increased popularity means “user conflict is likely to increase,” Deitemeyer said. And more downhill, bike-only trails are on the way, with two set for construction this season on Ute Valley Park’s east side. The project is led by Salida-based Tony Boone, a highly respected singletrack builder who has also been subcontracted by El Paso County for Jones Park’s master plan.
In a room full of interested enthusiasts last November, Boone said directionality “should be considered in our conversations.” That was heard by shaking heads in a moment that captured the Springs’ multiuse pride.
Among dissenters was former state Sen. Michael Merrifield.
“There’s a finite amount of possibilities for trails, and as an avid hiker and mountain biker, I am totally behind the multiuse philosophy,” he said.
But the Chutes is “the one exception,” he said in a recent call. “I’ve always thought it should be one way, downhill for mountain bikers.”
Merrifield loves the Chutes also for the uphill workout. Keeping the Ladders a multiuse two-way will preserve that.
Jessi Michael recently churned her way up the Chutes and noticed the ribbons tied to branches deeper in the woods, marking the planned reroutes.
“I’m definitely excited about what’s happening,” she said.
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