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Building the Missing Link Trail

Good Dirt

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With the Pikes Peak Atlas spread across the counter at King's Chef Diner, Cory Sutela asked for another splash of black coffee and talked about the future of mountain biking in Colorado Springs.

And the future is the Missing Link Trail, a 4.5 mile ribbon of singletrack that will connect Barr Trail to the Jones Park/Cheyenne Cañon trail network. The Missing Link creates cycling opportunities that riders have dreamed of for 20 years. Medicine Wheel Trail Advocates, a nonprofit dedicated to building trails, is slated to begin work on the Missing Link this summer. The trail crosses Pike National Forest land and Colorado Springs Utilities property on the south slope of Pikes Peak. If all goes well, it will be completed in two years.

It's been a long grind. When Jim Schwerin, former president and longtime member of Medicine Wheel, began exploring the idea sometime in the early '90s, there was no process for requesting access to CSU land.

"It wasn't that the application for access was rejected," said current Medicine Wheel President Sutela, pointing to CSU property on the map. "There was no way to even ask."

Stakeholders eventually created a process for access in 1999, but the 9/11 attack brought plans for mountain bike trails through CSU's South Slope watershed to a skidding halt.

Nearly a decade later, Medicine Wheel gained permission to begin trail construction following the creation of the South Slope Recreation Plan. But there were more problems. A lawsuit aimed at protecting the threatened greenback cutthroat trout, Colorado's state fish, which swims and spawns in Bear Creek, halted the project. Missing Link riders would eventually land on the trails surrounding Bear Creek and the additional bike traffic would need to be addressed.

The ebb and flow of backcountry trails projects can be frustrating, but Medicine Wheel remained persistent. Members attended meetings for three more years, all to assure that the project met requirements to protect trout waters from trail erosion.

Finally, with recent permission from the Forest Service, plus a go-ahead from the state railway commission to cross the Pikes Peak Cog Railway, the Missing Link project is a go. The heavy work will be performed by a professional trail builder who can work quickly with a machine resembling a small bulldozer. Sutela said volunteers will be needed and he hopes to organize camping trips that include trail construction and some great riding.

Longtime Medicine Wheel member Harry Hamill said the process has been arduous, but worth it. He became involved about 10 years ago.

"It has been a long time coming," Hamill said. "Our goal was to get it open before we were too old to ride. I'm 53, so it's getting down to the wire."

Hamill imagines a ride that begins at Elk Park, just above timberline on Pikes Peak's northeast flank. From there riders will begin a 7,500-foot descent through multiple microclimates of dark spruce forests, open meadows and stands of stately ponderosa. Cyclists will pass by Barr Camp, then descend down Trail 671 to cross the cog tracks near Mountain View. They'll eventually drop out at the bottom of The Chutes trail in Stratton Open Space just off South 21st Street.

"This will change the way people look at recreation on Pikes Peak. It's a complete backcountry experience," Hamill says.

And it will be an economic driver. Medicine Wheel plans to apply for a "Ride Center" status from the International Mountain Biking Association that will help draw attention to the area's singletrack opportunities. "This will be a regional and national destination ride," Sutela says.

The Missing Link comes with a $120,000 price tag. Medicine Wheel hopes to persuade the business community to help, and the organization plans to raise more funds in the 2016 GIVE! Campaign.

Cam Chambers, a pro bike racer who has ridden trails across the U.S. said the Missing Link — which can be ridden in a loop from Colorado Springs — will change the mountain biking game in the Pikes Peak region.

"The Missing Link is aptly named not only in connecting Barr and Jones Park but also being the puzzle piece that opens up Colorado Springs riding to a huge audience," Chambers says.

Check out medwheel.org for more information, or find it on Facebook.

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