This story first appeared in The Outsider, the premium outdoor newsletter by Jason Blevins.
FLOYD HILL — Mike Orr skids his Yeti mountain bike into the parking lot and pumps his fist.
“It’s a good time to be alive,” Orr says to a group of fellow mountain bikers preparing to ride. “Mountain bike trails keep getting better. Mountain bikes, too. This is why I ride.”
Orr had just bombed down the brand new downhill-only trail atop Floyd Hill in Clear Creek County. The one-way-only trail was designed and built just for bikes. The 1.3 mile section, part of a plan for 12 to 14 miles of hike-and-bike trails starting at 8,000-feet winding down to Clear Creek Canyon in Jefferson County, is the first of its kind in the foothills west of Denver.
Known as Segment 4 or The Sluice, it’s got steep rocks and big jumps as it spills 700 vertical feet. There are high berms in the speedy lower section and a tangle of slower-speed options for mountain bikers eager to use all the shock-absorbing travel afforded by today’s high-end, full-suspension rides.
“The imagination and creativity in the design is just amazing,” says Gary Moore, executive director of COMBA, the Colorado Mountain Bike Association, as he prepared for his second day pedaling the new trail. “You can ride this thing 15 times and never do it the same way.”
The Sluice allows riders to test their skills without worrying about hikers, runners, dogs or other mountain bikers pedaling up. While it’s not for beginning mountain bikers, the trail has plenty of easy routes and options around the steep and rocky areas.
It is one of the few top-to-bottom bike trails in Colorado outside a ski resort built specifically for downhill pedalers. As conflicts continue to erupt on heavily trafficked multi-use trails, the Floyd Hill Open Space downhill trail delivers an option for mountain bikers seeking fast descents of technical lines. (Something that is not advised on trails with uphill traffic.)
“The mountain bike experience is not one of being constantly worried about people coming from the other direction or running over a dog,” Moore says. “It’s about the opportunity to get out there and just think about you and the trail and knowing that the trail can hold you.”
Two years ago Jefferson County and Clear Creek County jointly acquired 108 acres on Floyd Hill, providing a top-of-the-hill access to more than 600 acres of Clear Creek County open space.
The trails in the new Floyd Hill Open Space happened pretty quickly as a result of a broad partnership that involved Clear Creek County Open Space, Jefferson County Open Space, the Mountain Area Land Trust, Trust for Public Lands, Great Outdoors Colorado, the Gates Family Foundation, COMBA and several cycling clubs and bike shops.
Construction of a trail system on the parcel north of Interstate 70 along the Clear Creek-Jefferson county line began in the fall of 2017 with a short section of easily-accessible trail and a hiking-only trail.
Following several months of public meetings that winter, the Floyd Hill Open Space Trail System Master Plan was finished with a plan for about 13 miles of trails reaching down to the Peaks to Plains Trail in Clear Creek Canyon. Future plans call for the Clear Creek trails to connect with the creekside Mayhem Gulch Trailhead that climbs the canyon to the trails near JeffCo’s Centennial Cone.
About 4.5 miles of trail on Floyd Hill — including a hiking-only trail and less-challenging loops of rolling singletrack — opened last summer and the new downhill trail opened last week after about two months of construction.
Up top, the trail affords views of the Front Range, Centennial Cone and the Continental Divide. Not that cyclists are doing much gazing while pedaling. The trail has myriad options, from difficult to super-expert, as it drops toward the interstate.
FlowRide Concepts trail design and construction team — which designed technical bike parks in Frisco, Broomfield and Steamboat Springs as well as trail systems across the country — built the signature downhill trail for the open space network.
COMBA’s “Swat Team” of technical trail-building experts volunteered hundreds of hours and loaned a mini-excavator and tools to help reduce costs and speed up trail construction. That COMBA team is building multi-directional loops and other sections of trail, and is helping with the complicated engineering and construction needed to carve a high speed downhill trail into the mountainside.
The expanding expertise of professional trail designers is helping Clear Creek County establish itself as a mountain biking destination. The county is renowned for its steep, loose and dry terrain, which isn’t necessarily conducive to quality mountain biking. But the new techniques, tools and expertise offered by FlowRide and COMBA is changing that, Clear Creek County Commissioner Sean Wood says.
“The trails at Floyd Hill just seemed like a really good opportunity to take advantage of the enthusiasm out there in the mountain biking community to do something new and do something better,” Wood says.
With Idaho Springs working on a plan to develop a sustainable network of mountain bike trails in Virginia Gulch as both an economic engine and community asset, Clear Creek County is in the middle of a thorough examination of how it might foster a recreation-based economy.
The county is in the middle of a long-range planning process around recreation, studying options for new parks as well as motorized and human-powered recreation, Wood says.
“We are dedicating a lot of time to this and we want to be really intentional about what we do,” Wood says. “We are really excited about working with JeffCo and creating connections that really open a lot of opportunities. We think what’s happening on Floyd Hill adds a unique flavor to our existing trail networks.”