Cooperation Brings New Trails to National Conservation Area

Photo:  Devon Balet

New mountain bike trails in McInnis Canyons National Conservation Area are a good example of what can happen when a federal land agency, a municipality, and community members all work together.

As part of its nationwide “Connecting Communities” effort to engage local communities, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) reached out to Fruita residents to learn what they envisioned for their nearby public lands. 

“We started meeting with the BLM a few years ago after looking at our priorities,” Fruita City Manager Michael Bennett explains. “We identified trails on Mack Ridge on Kokopelli’s trail system. One of our strengths is mountain biking – we’re a worldwide brand.”

The Kokopelli area, located within McInnis Canyons NCA, is popular for its proximity to town and gorgeous views overlooking the Colorado River. The 142-mile Kokopelli Trail stretches from Loma to Moab, Utah, with several other trails ­— Steve’s, Mary’s, Horsethief, and Wrangler — looping off of the main stem. 

As part of its 2004 Resource Management Plan, the BLM had identified potential new trails in McInnis Canyons but lacked the financial resources to complete the projects. Three Fruita businesses – Over the Edge Sports, Colorado Backcountry Bikes, and Hot Tomato Café – stepped up, along with city leaders and the Colorado Plateau Mountain Bike Trail Association (COPMOBA), to help raise money to build five new trails. The BLM donated funding and staff time as well.

Colorado Backcountry Bikes, Hot Tomato, and COPMOBA paid for an environmental assessment which was completed in 2016, allowing the BLM to give formal approval for the trails. A portion of the Wrangler Trail was rerouted, and the full extent of the Hawkeye Trail has been completed.

Photo: Devon Balet

Photo: Devon Balet

Another upcoming project is the lower Moore Fun Trail. This section will cover 6/10 of a mile and give riders an option to cut off from the more technical upper part of Moore Fun Trail. A second trail project will extend the Wrangler Trail to connect with the Mack saddle area.

The third remaining project, dubbed Steve’s Reroute, will construct a new single-track trail near an old uranium prospecting road. “There are a lot of old uranium exploration roads out there that turned into mountain bike trails,” starting in the late 1980s, says John Howe, a Grand Junction attorney and president of COPMOBA’s Grand Valley Canyons chapter. 

Hot Tomato co-owner Anne Keller says new trails will benefit the area. “Mountain biking is a major driver of Fruita’s economy,” she notes. “It directly affects our business. New trails will continue to bring people here.”

To begin the next phase of trail building, organizers are applying for a $72,000 grant from Colorado Parks and Wildlife. The city of Fruita, Over the Edge Sports, and Colorado Backcountry Biker have all pledged financial support toward the required matching funds.

“We like to encourage communities to help us find ways to implement these types of projects,” which are not limited to mountain bike trails, says Collin Ewing, the BLM’s National Conservation Area manager for the McInnis Canyons NCA. “We’re trying to be good neighbors and respond to the needs of local communities.”