Spoke: Taking the Palisade Plunge

Imagine riding a mountain bike down a 32-mile trail that starts atop Grand Mesa in alpine tundra and ends up in the high-desert town of Palisade, an elevation drop of 6,000 feet. The Palisade Plunge is a new mountain bike trail being planned for the Grand Valley’s east end.

A trail of this length, with this much elevation change, ending in a municipality is uncommon, says Scott Winans, president of Colorado Plateau Mountain Bike Association, Inc. (COPMOBA). “There are only a handful of trails of this style around the world.” 

Those unique features caught the attention of Colorado governor John Hickenlooper, who included the project in his Colorado the Beautiful’s “16 in 2016” initiative, which was created to support trails and promote outdoor recreation across Colorado. The program identifies the state’s highest priority projects and also includes the Grand Valley’s Colorado Riverfront Trail. 

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“The Palisade Plunge is incredibly unique to connect tundra to high desert,” Colorado the Beautiful Project Manager Chris Kehmeier says. “You have all those different climate zones that it descends through. There’s nothing like it.”

The proposed trail would begin at 10,700 feet elevation at the Mesa Top Trailhead (U.S. Forest Service land), cross Lands End Road and the Whitewater Creek drainage, descend Bureau of Land Management property to the Colorado River, and then pass near the Palisade Rim Trail before ending up at 4,700 feet elevation in Palisade. 

The BLM is currently conducting biological, paleontological, and raptor surveys of the proposed route to ensure compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act – a process the BLM expects to finish by next spring, Winans says. Construction of the trail is slated to begin in 2019, with its completion expected in 2020.

“It’s another gem in our mountain biking opportunities here,” Palisade town administrator Rick Sales says. “We hope it will be an economic boost.” Supporters estimate the trail will infuse $1.9 million annually into Palisade’s economy and $5 million annually into the broader Grand Valley economy.

Both Palisade and Mesa County secured grant money to pay for initial trail planning and for conducting surveys of the proposed routes. Organizers will seek additional funds from Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO) and Colorado Parks and Wildlife for the construction phase. GOCO is investing $30 million in trails over the next four years as part of an initiative to improve walkable and bikeable paths and trails in Colorado. The Colorado Department of Local Affairs is another possible funding source. Being recognized as one of the state’s 16 priority projects enhances prospects for tapping into those available state funds, Kehmeier says.

“We’ll also need to do some local fundraising, including solicitation of in-kind donations, for raising the required matching funds,” Winans says. “We’ll start that process this year.”

Existing infrastructure was considered when planning the trail. Such elements included the Mesa Top Trailhead, as well as a historic path created by the legendary Colorado National Monument founder John Otto. The latter became “a pivotal part of the route, where riders will come off an abrupt edge of the Mesa,” Winans says. The nearby I-70 corridor and Palisade’s foodservices were also factors that made the Palisade Plunge an attractive project.

Once completed, interpretive signage will highlight various historic features along the way. In addition to the John Otto trail, there’s the Raber Cow Camp – cabins and a corral that provide a glimpse of the ranching life on Grand Mesa in the 1940s and 1950s.

The governor considered different criteria in selecting the 16 projects, including economic development potential; the capability for partnerships across all levels of government, nonprofits and the private sector; and the project’s proximity to underserved communities. 

COPMOBA is a volunteer-driven, nonprofit organization that builds, maintains and advocates for sustainable single-track trails in Western Colorado. Its members worked with the BLM and the forest service in planning the project. Other partners included Grand Junction and Palisade municipalities, Mesa County, and state agencies “It’s such a unique project to have such a wide array of partners,” Winans said. Meetings also included discussions with cattle ranchers and hunting operators who lease property from Grand Junction. 

For more information regarding events, activities or chapter meetings, or to become a member of COPMOBA, visit www.copmoba.org.

Photo Credit to Cat Mayer.