Old Spanish Trail is a good reason to climb back in the saddle again

Michael Headlee of Fairplay, a member of the Grand Mesa Chapter of the Backcountry Horseman of America, rides on the Old Spanish Trail in Whitewater on Saturday afternoon during the Back to the Trail event for the Old Spanish Trail.

Bobbi Alpha and Eileen Lepisto had only one problem with their Saturday morning bike ride on the Old Spanish and Gunnison Bluffs trails outside Whitewater.

They found the views of the Gunnison River irresistible, and just had to stop for photos — over and over again.

“Too many stops,” Lepisto said. “Gorgeous views.”

The women, all smiles after their loop, were exactly the target audience for Saturday’s Back to the Trail event. Both longtime Grand Junction residents, Alpha and Lepisto had heard that the Old Spanish Trail and Gunnison Bluffs Trail existed, but neither had visited before.

“It’s still kind of an unknown trail in the valley,” Alpha said.

If the planners of Saturday’s event have anything to say about it, the Old Spanish Trail won’t remain unknown for long. A grant from the National Park Foundation will pay for a “wayside exhibit” to be reinstalled at both trail heads, to provide a detailed map and some history about the trail — a history that Vicki Felmlee, Colorado director of the Old Spanish Trail Association, said is a main draw.

Now with trail heads at B and 28 1/2 roads on Orchard Mesa and on Coffman Road near Whitewater, the Old Spanish Trail was used as a trade route for Spanish, Mexican and Native American travelers centuries ago. Mesa County’s part of the trail, which is dedicated to hikers, bicyclists and horseback riders, is a small branch of a major historic thoroughfare that winds from New Mexico to California.

“Some people (who visit) really do know a lot about the history,” Felmlee said, but others don’t.

The trail is also about to receive a signage overhaul, said Coreen Donnelly, a landscape architect with the National Park Service who attended the event.

The National Park Foundation grant, which paid for Saturday’s event, will also fund more road signs pointing to the trail heads, Donnelly said.

“It’s going to be a big step up in visibility,” Donnelly said.

Felmlee said Mesa County residents like Alpha and Lepisto — who described themselves as “beginning” level mountain bikers — will likely enjoy the trail’s gentleness.

“Kokopelli is the testosterone trail, the Old Spanish Trail is not,” Felmlee said. “(It’s a) very easy ride with great views of the Gunnison River.”

Sherry Schenk, a leader of Great Old Broads for Wilderness, said the trail’s location is also attractive.

“I like that it’s close and convenient to town,” Schenk said, adding that the trail “could use more use.”

Grand Junction City Councilor Bennett Boeschenstein, who prepped for his hike at the event with a quick yoga lesson from instructor Dea Jacobson, agreed.

“This is really great, it raises public awareness of the trail,” said Boeschenstein, who hopes to eventually see the Mesa County trails connect to Delta. “It’s really a good trail. Hopefully it will be protected and just used as a trail.”


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