Summer Sunday: Ridgway Area Trails Does It Right

Summer Sunday: Ridgway Area Trails Does It Right

Mid-July is the peak time for mountain biking on the high-alpine terrain in Telluride. The trails are tacky, the wildflowers are blooming and our legs have the early summer miles that boost our endurance. However, summer is also the perfect time to get out of our valley to explore new regional trails and return to old favorites.

Thanks to the Ridgway Area Trails (RAT), we don’t have to go far. Right down the road lies the RAT trail network with about 12 new miles of swoopy, playful single track  and according to the RAT website, the possibility of linking trails for 20-miles and 2,300 vertical feet of riding. The Ridgway Area Trails Group is working daily to add 8.5 more miles of trail to complete the system.


The RAT trails are located to the east off highway 550 about a mile outside of Ridgway toward Montrose on County Road 10. On the other side of the highway (western side, same side as Ridgway State Park), closer to Ridgway is the Dennis Weaver Memorial Park with a smaller trail system, perfect for linking. See the map here.

The Ridgway Area Trails are worth knowing about for two reasons. The first is that they are super fun – as in giggly fun. The trails are multi-use trails accessible for bikers, hikers, runner and horses. As such, they swoop and wind across BLM land giving users scenic views of the Ridgway Reservoir and Cimarron and Sneffels Mountain Ranges.

The trails were painstakingly planned out over an eleven-year process and created by volunteers and professionals. Everything is perfect – the turn radiuses, the steepness of the climbs, the signage, the sight lines. They are a combination of Boggy Draw and Phil’s World, but buffer, faster and more playful.


The second reason they are worth knowing about is because they are an example that if done correctly, communities can get trails built and regional, state and national money to do so.

The idea for the trails began in 2004. Ridgway resident and former BLM employee Richard Dunan moved to Ridgway and wanted single track for running and riding. He recognized that much of the land around Ridgway was public land, which gave it great potential for a trail system.

Dunan knew from his experience working for the BLM that building rogue trails would just end up in a battle with the land agency and that if he wanted a sustainable trail network he needed to work within the system. Working within the system meant completing preliminary work such as creating a GPS inventory of existing trails, garnering public support, educating volunteers on proper trail building and creating a conceptual trail plan. For this last step, the local trails group raised money to hire Singletrack Trails, a professional trail planning group that designs systems all over the country.


As the project moved forward, it gained tremendous public support. Dunan recalled 60 people showing up to one of the early public comment meetings to show support. He also realized the importance of establishing a relationship of trust with the BLM and working with established and credible national and regional cycling organizations such as IMBA (International Mountain Biking Association) and COPMOBA (Colorado Plateau Mountain Bike Trail Association).

COPMOBA works all over the western slope and is the organization involved in planning, funding and building the nationally popular trails built in Fruita and Grand Junction.

“It was a good move for us,” Dunan says of becoming a chapter of the organization. “Rather than trying to earn the trust of the BLM and Forest Service, which is hard to do, COPMOBA already has the relationship—that knowledge.”

Because of their due diligence, Dunan and the Ridgway Trails Group were able to organize and successfully work with the BLM and Ridgway State Park to plan, fund and create a sustainable trail system that includes both state park land and BLM land.

“Our ability to apply for grants was because we did it the right way,” Dunan said. “We had a trail plan, done by professional trail planner, had a budget. You have to work with land agencies. If you haven’t talked to them, they’ll shut you down.”

In 2009, the Ridgway Trails Group received a Great Outdoors Colorado Grant (GoCo) to help finance a required NEPA study; in 2014 VOC (Volunteers for Outdoor Colorado), BLM and RAT began construction of the trails on County Road 10 and with the help of AmeriCorps volunteers completed ten consecutive weeks of trail construction; and in 2015 the project received construction funding to complete five miles of trail in the Ridgway State Park and a $200,000 large trail construction grant from Colorado Parks and Wildlife to complete the trails and infrastructure on the BLM land off Country Road 10.


Bureaucracy is not always fast. The process to build these trails began in 2004, however, over the past 11 years the Trails Group has garnered the funds and support to finish a sustainable trail system supported and largely paid for by state and national land agencies and grants.

Over the last three years, Dunan has had much less involvement in the project and the Ridgway Area Trails Group is seeing it to its completion and it is full steam ahead to finish 8.5 more miles of trails.

The RAT trails systems not only offers flowy, fun, high-desert riding options for regional cyclists, but a great paradigm and inspiration for Telluride cyclists, runners, hikers and equestrians to get organized and educated on how to get more trails built in our own valley.

Last weekend San Miguel Bike Association (SMBA) brought representatives from IMBA and local land agencies together for a trail building class. After, volunteers along with IMBA and Forest Service representatives built a reroute of the Smurf Trail off of the Prospect Trail. Don’t build rogue trails. Get involved and join San Miguel Bike Association and/or Telluride Mountain Club.  (And become a member of Telluride Mountain Club when you attend is 1st annual pig roast on Thursday. More on that here.)


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