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New trail gets ‘progressive’

SHAUN STANLEY/Durango Herald

Trail builder Tyson Swasey of Moab, Utah, watches a mountain biker traverse the new “progressive” trail in Horse Gulch. The trail is meant to provide bikers with a system to advance their skills progressively.

By Shane Benjamin Herald staff writer

Mountain-bike riders of most skill levels will soon have a new trail to play on in the Horse Gulch recreational area east of downtown Durango.

The trail, just short of a mile long, is considered a “progressive trail,” meaning it offers different terrain options to riders of different skill levels. It includes three “option lines,” which are short diverging splits that allow riders to go down an easy or more advanced way before rejoining the main trail.

Trails 2000 is overseeing the project, but it was designed by Tyson Swasey of Moab, who has built other progressive trails, including the 4.3-mile Captain Ahab Trail near Moab, Utah.

The city of Durango chipped in $2,500 for Swasey’s services.

He has been working on the trail for a total of four weeks with help from volunteers on 16 days, said Mary Monroe Brown, Trails 2000’s executive director.

“We couldn’t have done it without them,” she said.

The trail is scheduled to formally open Sunday.

It will be called Snakecharmer, which earned the most votes on Trails 2000’s Facebook page. Other contenders included Rattler, Mindbender and Virtue. The city must formally sign off on the name.

The trail is accessible by riding up Horse Gulch Road and taking Rocky Road trail up Raider Ridge. More experienced riders can access it via the Skyline extended trail. It pops out on Horse Gulch Road, about a fourth of the way up.

It offers views of the Horse Gulch meadow, Telegraph Trail, the La Plata Mountains, and for careful observers, the dam at Lake Nighthorse.

Riders will roll over a mix of dirt, slickrock and cobbled-together rock.

Swasey used a hand-powered grip hoist to move several large, flat rocks into place to create a puzzle-like surface on certain sections – called “rock armoring” – which helps preserve steeper sections that are prone to erosion.

Horse Gulch has seen a number of uses during the decades, including as a landfill, rock quarry, coal mining and four-wheel driving. Riders on Snakecharmer will see evidence of the different uses as the dirt turns black from coal slag and red from rock that was heated from an underground coal fire.

There also is a large slickrock area, in which riders traverse over slabs of sandstone. The rock has good grip – like sandpaper – for bikers, but horses tend to lose their footing on it, which is how it got its name, Swasey said.

The trail can be used for two-way travel, but one-way is recommended and encouraged.

A progressive trail is designed to help riders improve their skills and technical ability. More timid riders can make it down the easy way, and when they feel ready, can take an expert line that might offer a jump, step-down and other technical features.

Colored signs, similar to those used at a ski area, will denote levels of difficulty – blue circles for intermediate and black circles for expert terrain.

Swasey recommends bikers go down it a few times, stop at the splits and decide if they want to challenge themselves.

Coming this weekend, Swasey will help Trails 2000 create a video with a remote-controlled helicopter to show off the work that went into making the trail and the fun riders will have going down it.

shane@durangoherald.com

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