Grand Mesa can be home to many different events, niches

Grand Mesa was home to downhill skiers, Nordic skiers, snowshoers, anglers, dog sled racers, snowmobilers, tourists, campers and other recreation enthusiasts last weekend, proving the largest flattop mountain in the world can handle plenty of different activities at the same time.


Grand Mesa Cross-Country Skiing

Drive time and distance: 1 hour, 5 minutes; 49.8 miles

Length: Various loops from 2.3 K (1.43 miles) to 9.3 K (5.78 miles); combined total of 19.6 K (12.18 miles)

Skiing Time: 2-4 hours

Difficulty: Beginner to advanced on regularly groomed trails

Fish gotta swim. Birds gotta fly.

When early U.S. naturalists Gifford Pinchot and Teddy Roosevelt toyed with the idea of “multiple use,” they may not have envisioned birds and fish sharing their environment with snowmobiles, ski lifts, gas rigs, Nordic skiers, power lines or microwave towers.

Yet, their thinking precedes current forest service policy, which remains based on the utilitarian philosophy of multiple use. You know, usefulness rather than beauty.

It’s not that Pinchot or Roosevelt felt our nation’s forests weren’t beautiful. They did. And it’s not as though experiencing such “beauty” wasn’t, in itself, useful. Yet, as politicians, they knew they couldn’t sell the American public on conserving these precious lands if there were no other uses other than just “experiencing” the beauty. They believed in multiple use.

So do their present-day colleagues. Take, for example, last week, when Grand Mesa National Forest hosted downhill skiers, Nordic skiers, snowshoers, anglers, dog sled racers, snowmobilers, tourists, campers and a myriad of other recreationists.

Partially, at least, all those “users” saw the beauty of the forest, even as it’s home to microwave towers, ski lifts, gas rigs and power lines.

At other times of the year, Grand Mesa National Forest will see thousands of hunters, hundreds of thousands of anglers, cattle grazers and lumber jacks. There’s a lot you can pack into 800 square miles. Yet, those uses — at times in conflict — were something Pinchot and Roosevelt certainly contended with in their careers as stewards of our nations’ forested environs.

Pinchot, our first Forest Service Supervisor in 1905, advocated for the conservation of our forests “by planned use and renewal.”  What he called “the art of producing from the forest whatever it can yield for the service of man,” was the model of a new conservation ethic. That ethic essentially combined uses such as sustained-yield logging, watershed protection, summer livestock grazing and recreation on the same expanse of federal land.

Think about it. One hundred years ago, that was progressive thinking. Wildlife viewing and logging, hunting and livestock grazing.

Still is.

When you’re skiing along through a drop-dead beautiful stand of snow-filled aspen, winding your way around a wide-open turn in a blindingly white, pristine mountain meadow of snow, or gliding through a silent dark forest with hundred-foot evergreen sentinels on all sides, clinging to six inches of power on each branch — you have time to ponder such deep thoughts.

Thousands of like-minded people recently have done the same on Grand Mesa National Forest as this winter has delivered a plethora of snow.

In the past few weeks, I’ve reported on County Line and Ward Lake Cross Country Ski Areas. This week, I pondered these deep thoughts at the best laid Nordic track of them all — the Skyway Cross-Country Ski Area.

All three are found on the top of Grand Mesa, in the middle of the largest flattop mountain in North America.

All three are expertly groomed by the non-profit Grand Mesa Nordic Council. Skyway, however,  is THE BEST… and maybe not just The Best on top of the mesa. Arguably, Skyway is the best Nordic ski track in the Rocky Mountains.

To reach Skyway from Grand Junction, take Interstate 70 east for 20 miles to Grand Mesa/Powderhorn exit (No. 49). That’s Colorado Highway 65, a National Scenic and Historic Byway. It will take you directly to the top of Grand Mesa. Go through the town of Mesa and past Powderhorn Ski Area for 10 miles to the Skyway parking area. It’ll be on your left, or east of the highway, just after you travel up the last major hill and reach the top of the mesa. There’s a brown highway sign on your right that points to the cross-country ski trail head.

The Nordic Council does a fabulous job of grooming Skyway, County Line and Ward Lake ski trails. GMNC is a community based nonprofit organization that I’ve written about on numerous occasions, composed of cross country skiers and snowshoers from around the region. It is funded by membership fees, business sponsors, fund raising events and grants.

The standard groomed trail here is a 14-to 16-foot wide recreational skate and classic trail. Part of the trail is set for classic track skiing, with an eight-foot-wide skate lane in the center and a two-to-four foot wide section on the other side for snowshoers.

Now, that’s multiple use.

But, as U.S. Forest Service District Ranger Connie Clementson says, “It can be challenging to manage the variety of uses and interests and it isn’t always without conflict!”

It’s a delicate balance to ensure multiple use by people in light of the fact that fish still gotta swim and birds still gotta fly.


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