Boulder discovers illegal, 'extreme' mountain bike trail on Flagstaff
Rangers: 'Angry Ranger Trail' sits in protected eagle nesting area
By Heath Urie Camera Staff Writer
Posted: 03/28/2011 07:40:34 PM MDT
An elaborate, illegal mountain bike trail has been uncovered by Boulder open space rangers on the north side of Flagstaff Mountain -- in nearly the same spot as a rogue trail that the city destroyed a decade ago.
Boulder Open Space and Mountain Parks rangers discovered the trail March 19. A ranger who was checking on the property -- which is closed to protect nesting golden eagles and is designated a sensitive wildlife habitat -- spotted someone riding a mountain bike down the hill.
The ranger ticketed the rider and found a mile-long trail that stretches from the summit of Flagstaff Mountain nearly to Eben G. Fine Park.
"It was built by somebody with some knowledge of trail construction," said Steve Mertz, a spokesman for Open Space and Mountain Parks. "But it was not built to be sustainable. We're already seeing people go off of this trail and causing braiding," or segments of new sub-trails.
'Angry Ranger Trail' resurfaces
The path is clear of most rocks and vegetation and is about 18 inches wide all the way up the mountain. It's aligned almost entirely straight downhill, along the fall line of the mountain.
"It's a pretty extreme mountain bike trail," Mertz said. "This is not a trail that we would have
ever built." Ranger Geoff Jasper views part of an illegal trail that mountain bikers have been riding on Flagstaff Mountain. The trail is known within the cycling community as the 'Angry Ranger Trail,' a newer version of an illegal bike trail destroyed by the city a decade ago. ( Chancey Bush )
The extreme design is among the many reasons why open space officials are worried about the trail.
"When you build a trail right down a fall line, it will cause eroding over time," Mertz said.
Indeed, rainwater and snow runoff has begun to dig large trenches along the bare dirt. Tire marks from bikes are also imprinted along sections of the trail, a fallen tree has been shredded into mulch by chain rings and a steep section has been ground to bare dirt by braking rear tires.
Mertz said it could take "hundreds of hours" of work to restore the property, and rangers will begin monitoring the site for violators.
He said he believes the trail is known within the cycling community as the "Angry Ranger Trail" -- hardly an official title -- which began as an illegal biking trail about 10 years ago. The city destroyed the trail after it was first discovered.
He said the new trail appears to follow some of the same segments as the one a decade ago, but whoever constructed this one moved most of it to new locations.
'A higher standard' in raptor areas
Joe Reale, ranger supervisor for Open Space and Mountain Parks, said the "first and the biggest problem" with the trail is that the starting point near the summit is close to nesting golden eagles.
"Raptors are very susceptible to disturbance," he said, adding that the "entire section of land there that this trail goes through was designated as a habitat conservation area."
When raptors aren't nesting, the north face of Flagstaff Mountain is accessible to hikers, but only after applying for a permit.
"There's a higher standard and high expectation in terms of visitor behavior," Reale said of the area.
The rider who was stopped by the ranger March 19 was ticketed for using a mountain bike in a prohibited area and for violating the raptor closure order. Both charges are municipal offenses that carry fines up to $1,000 each and possible jail time.
Open space and other city officials refused to release the cyclist's name Monday.
Patrick von Keyserling, a city spokesman, said it is city policy to require an open-records request for such information, which could take several days for a response. The city, however, routinely releases information through verbal requests or news releases about people who are ticketed or arrested.
Illegal trailbuilding 'not going to end'
News of the trail's discovery comes just days before the Boulder City Council is set to decide whether to allow mountain bikes access within the West Trail Study Area -- which sits west of Boulder and includes some of the most popular open space in the county.
The proposal headed to the council includes two possible mountain bike trails. One would connect Eldorado Canyon with Walker Ranch, and one would connect Boulder Canyon to Flagstaff Mountain via Chapman Drive. The proposal does not include mountain bike access to the rest of the system.
Jason Vogel, president of the Boulder Mountainbike Alliance, said the group would never support building or riding on illegal trails.
"We certainly don't condone any illegal trailbuilding or trespassing or any of the other things that we know are happening," he said. "We work to educate our membership and the public as to what the rules are."
He said he isn't concerned about the Flagstaff trail influencing the City Council's decision because he thinks the current climate is against mountain bikes anyway.
"The political winds are so unfavorable for mountain bikers on the West TSA that I don't think there's a whole lot that can happen out there to make the situation worse," Vogel said.
He also said that, if the council decides against allowing mountain bikers wider access to the city's trail system, more illegal trails would probably pop up.
"You're going to see illegal trails built in Boulder County well past the day that I die," he said. "This is not going to end."
Dick Harris, a member of PLAN-Boulder County and the citizen group Save Open Space Boulder, said he was disturbed by news of the illegal trail.
"I guess it just disappoints me, what the city has found," he said. "It's especially disappointing ... because it means a lot of people knew about it."
Representatives at several Boulder-area bike shops contacted Monday said they knew about -- or have heard stories about -- the "Angry Ranger Trail." No one wanted to comment about it, however.
Contact Camera staff writer Heath Urie at 303-473-1328, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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