After more than 30 years, Durango Trails has evolved from a small group of community members with a passion for mountain biking into the caretakers of a world-class trail system with more than 300 miles of trails within 30 minutes from downtown Durango.
Durango Trails started in 1990 as Trails 2000 with Ed Zink, David Bode, Bob Allen, Mike Finney and Scott Fleming. Zink reached out to the Bureau of Land Management regional director Sally Wisely to discuss the formation of an independent trail group that would interface with local land agencies, which became Trails 2000.
Trails 2000 was chosen as the name because the group hoped to build more than 200 miles of trails by the year 2000. Another of the organization’s original goals was to preserve and protect existing trail groups.
“The mission was focused on planning, building and maintaining trails, as well as educating trail users and creating connections,” said Durango Trails board President Christina Rinderle.
Not long after a board of directors was formed, trail work commenced on the Telegraph Trail System, near Durango’s eastern boundaries.
Working with the BLM, U.S. Forest Service, city of Durango’s Open Space Preservation Program, La Plata County and private landowners, Durango Trails has created a system of trails that expand from Durango’s urban areas all the way to high-country trails.
Aside from trained and certified crew leaders, Durango Trails has between 400 and 600 people volunteer each season. Over the past 25 years, Rinderle said Durango Trails has logged over 125,000 volunteer hours.
Rinderle said that on average, trails made by the nonprofit are visited by 100,000 people each season. Visitor data was collected through a trail intercept study in 2018. Rinderle said there has been an estimated 40% increase in trail use since the pandemic.
“The trails are designed to sustain a lot of use, but it also takes a lot to manage and maintain them,” she said. “So we created this message called Durango Trail Love to help people understand trail etiquette and ethics.”
A partnership with Fort Lewis College to develop an economic impact analysis is in the works to develop the value of trails in the community, Rinderle said.
One of Durango Trails’ partnerships is with the city of Durango. With sales tax money and funding through Great Outdoors Colorado, the city has been able to purchase and provide land to Durango Trails.
Durango Trails’ ability to negotiate and partner with different land agencies is what sets it apart from other trail organizations, Rinderle said.
“You can ride on a trail that might cross city land, BLM, Forest Service, and private land and loop back to a trailhead. Most people don’t realize what went into negotiating access, planning and building those trails.” she said.
Another member of Durango Trails’ board, Gary Provencher, who works at 2nd Ave Sports, said Durango Trails’ high-country trails are some of the best in the world.
“I think what sets Durango apart is the love of the trails,” Provencher said. “We have a pretty small community, and I feel like the majority of the people who live in this community live here because of our trails.”
In the last two seasons, Durango Trails has completed SkyRaider, Down N Out, Ben’s Trail, Star Wars ReRoute, Perins Gulch ReRoute; installed drainage on Ned’s Hill in Overend Mountain Park; rerouted Sale Barn Trail; and kicked off construction on the Cutthroat Trail above the East Fork of Hermosa Creek.
“Our crew has really done some great things,” Provencher said. “I feel like a lot of things have been happening this year, and I really appreciate our trail crew. They’ve done a great job.”
Volunteers cleared about 600 downed trees that fell from various wind events on the Colorado Trail, Pass Trail, Engineer Mountain Trail and others.
“What we’re looking forward to in the future is continuing to create a world-class trail system,” Rinderle said.
Provencher said one of Durango Trails’ goals for the future is creating more connectivity.
“Connectivity is, I think, what sets us apart from other communities,” Provencher said. “We don’t drive to trailheads. People hop on their bikes and ride to trailheads. If you’re on a trail and you can get from one side of town to another without even coming out, it would be really nice.”