The Devil’s Playground – South Canyon

If you Google “mountain biking in Colorado”, Glenwood Springs does not appear on the list of popular destinations.  Those destinations include Fruita, Crested Butte, Gunnison, Salida, Winter Park, Telluride and more . . . but not Glenwood.

There is a group that is trying to change that; Roaring Fork Mountain Bike Association (RFMBA), which is a chapter of the International Mountain Biking Association (IMBA). Active since about 2008 this group plans, executes and maintains mountain biking trails throughout the Roaring Fork Valley.

Ken Keister - Red Mtn Trail

Photo courtesy of Ken Keister, Red Mountain Trail

Supporters tout the economic benefits of becoming a mountain biking destination. And one probably only needs to look to Moab or Fruita to see that mountain biking is indeed a popular sport and seems to be growing.  As a matter of fact, Glenwood Springs High School now has a mountain biking team of at least 20-30 enthusiastic young people. Several coworkers are mountain bike enthusiasts and I enjoy riding, albeit vicariously, with them through their GoPro cameras.

Last Wednesday, April 29, I attended an open house at the Glenwood Springs Community Center sponsored by RFMBA to explain their current plans for the Red Mountain/Jeanne Golay trail upgrades. The improvements on this trail seem reasonable.  It would run nearly parallel to the existing road that traverses Red Mountain to the cross. The plan, if I understand it correctly, would keep the trail at about a 5-7 percent grade and improve some fall-line trail where some erosion is taking place.  My biggest concern is parking in this area although the City owns the right-of-way that is currently being used for parking. An additional concern, with increased usage will be proper toilet facilities.  My guess is that these are not new to the RFMBA and they may have thought them through.

South Canyon Trail Proposal

Propose South Canyon Trail

At the City Council meeting of April 2 (before I was elected) Council also approved a $15,000 appropriation to study the South Canyon area for potential mountain bike trail use.  I am also aware that the Historic Preservation Commission is planning an interactive historic trail for the old South Canyon camp and settlements that were in the area.


Donald “Rusty” Ford near his the site of his former home in South Canyon.

Today, I had the privilege of a tour of the South Canyon area with Donald “Rusty” Ford.  Rusty, understands this area as few residents of this area currently do.  He spent much of his youth in this area. Rusty is a coal miner and the “son” of a coal miner.  He spent 31 years in the mines of the area, mostly in Coal Basin.  He was there when Mid Continent Resource’s Dutch Creek No 1 mine exploded. Those memories still haunt his dreams.


Smoke rising from the Coal Seam in South Canyon

Rusty loves South Canyon and the hills come alive as he tells of his escapades going into tunnels with his pal Joe Llewellyn or tossing rocks into a gaping hole left by the coal seam fire, and never hearing it hit bottom.  There is a part of South Canyon he calls the “Devil’s Playground” and it does seem to be that.  Apparently, this is the area in which the Coal Seam Fire started.

Rusty reached out to me, as a member of City Council, to express his concern for human safety.  The tunnels of the South Canyon mines criss-cross the area, some directly under the road, and many of them are burning. It will be critical, as we move forward with any plans, whether they are for historic trails or mountain bike trails, to understand this area and map it well to ensure public safety. 

We simply cannot take chances with human life. I understand the fascination with this area, with the fire underground. It is human nature to want to get just a little closer look. 

My request of RFMBA is to take this concern seriously as their plans and study move forward. Take advantage of the memory and the facts that people like Rusty have of this area.  The Coal Seam is still burning.  

And as for Rusty . . . I hope to continue more of his story later!