Proposed trail from Grand Mesa to valley floor generates excitement
Palisade may today look enviously down valley when it comes to attracting mountain biking tourists to the small town.
But in reality, it’s sitting on a natural asset that neither Fruita nor Grand Junction can claim — the potential of a long, gravity-aided ride that would cover a massive elevation change, from the top of Grand Mesa to the Colorado River below.
Consider it Palisade’s peachy alternative to the famous “Whole Enchilada” ride in Moab — a world-class connection of various trails that draws people from all over who are eager to drop from the heights of the scenic La Sal Mountains all the way to the valley floor.
Call the potential local version a “Grand Enchilada,” maybe.
“Palisade holds a very enviable position geographically,” said Scott Winans, president of the Colorado Plateau Mountain Bike Trail Association and the co-owner of Rapid Creek Cycles in Palisade, where a potential Enchilada-style ride might end up.
“(The Whole Enchilada) is a trail that hundreds of people on a weekend are riding. Oftentimes, they are paying 30 to 40 dollars for a shuttle to the top of that trail, so they can ride their bike down,” Winans recently told Palisade town trustees.
“They are spending a day, or multiple days, in that region riding on trails,” he said.
Winans called the opportunity to develop a ride locally that begins at roughly 10,800 feet and ends at about 4,700 feet “money in the bank for our small town.”
PARTIAL TRAIL NETWORK IN PLACE
It’s a long stretch from the top of Grand Mesa down to Palisade, but a number of key trail sections already exist along the way.
The proposed route would begin with the current Mesa Top Trail and end in the popular Palisade Rim Trail network just above town. Both are already developed trail systems.
In between, the proposed ride flirts with Lands End Road, runs conspicuously close to a number of potential and exciting trail development areas, crosses a number of drainages and basins and, by its very nature, ropes in a number of stakeholders and landowners. Much of the proposed route can be ridden today on trail sections that don’t see a lot of traffic and would require extensive trail work to potentially serve lots of riders.
“What we’re all trying to do is to look at what’s out there now, so you don’t have to re-create something — look at the inventory of all the trails that can be resurrected, reused, reconnected,” said Rondo Buecheler, co-owner of Rapid Creek Cycles. “This could be the summer of connecting the dots of what’s out there.”
Touching on BLM and Forest Service lands, to parcels owned by the city of Grand Junction, to sections of great value to the town of Palisade, the quilt of properties along the proposed route has planners thinking a lot about collaboration if they want their idea to come to fruition.
“This is the time that we need to sit down and get these partnerships going,” Winans said. “So that it can be completed and constructed with all partners on deck.”
They’ve got the Whole Enchilada on their mind here, as well. Winans recounted how that famous ride was at first illegally developed, and the U.S. Forest Service had to step in retroactively to formalize the route. That’s something Winans and COPMOBA are actively trying to avoid.
Nearer to the bottom of the proposed route, Winans and his fellow riding enthusiasts are particularly intrigued with a long ridgeline on the western edge of the Cottonwood Creek drainage. It has some topography that lends itself to a potentially epic singletrack descent.
“It would be incredible,” Buecheler said.
TOWN WORRIED ABOUT WATERSHED
It’s the Cottonwood Creek and Rapid Creek drainage areas that have the town of Palisade most concerned.
“The town, since its inception, has spent millions of dollars on that hill for that watershed,” Mayor Roger Granat said, expressing serious reservations about the trail network idea.
“That watershed that is up there — any municipality in this state or in this nation would give their eye teeth to have that,” Granat said. “We need to protect it and safeguard it as best we can.”
But biking trails and watersheds aren’t necessarily incompatible, says Dave Grossman, coordinator of the Grand Valley Trails Alliance.
“Well-designed trails can not only be compatible with vital watersheds, but actually enhance them,” Grossman said, citing established sustainable trail design methods.
Trails like that “instill a sense of ownership and love of the land in a community,” he said, “and are maybe the most effective way to protect important public resources.”
MOUNTAIN BIKING ‘STRATOSPHERE’?
If enthusiasm for developing trail networks on untapped sections of the Grand Mesa was the only driver, the top-to-bottom trail would have been built yesterday and ridden many times over by now.
It’s the kind of resource that could take Grand Valley mountain biking to the next level, many believe.
“The views, wildlife, elevation profile and proximity to an already world-class mountain bike destination makes (this proposal) even more appealing,” Ryan Cranston, owner of Ruby Canyon Cycles in Grand Junction, wrote in an email.
“This route or routes — if done right — has the potential to be far better than the ‘Whole Enchilada’ ride in Moab, in my opinion,” Cranston wrote. He drew a comparison to the Monarch Crest Trail near Salida, considered one of the nation’s great rides.
Grossman said the effort could “create a marquee trail that will drive huge visitorship from around the world.”
“Tied to an event, it would help take the Grand Valley into the mountain biking stratosphere,” he said.
Hyperbole and excitement aside, Winans sees a tremendous, yet practical, growth opportunity when it comes to cycling and the town of Palisade.
For one thing, the town has the unique feature of multiple trail heads within riding distance of downtown, he said.
Palisade has “the ability for a visitor to stay in town, ride to those trail heads, plus be able to ride their cruiser through the vineyards or visit a winery,” Winans told town trustees.
“We have a broad range of biking opportunity — not just mountain biking and trails,” he said. “I think it really has the opportunity to become a significant driver of economic growth for our community.”