Canon City's Rugged New Draw: Challenging System of Mountain Biking Trails with Top-Notch Views

By Benzel, Lance | The Gazette (Colorado Springs, CO), June 5, 2014 | Go to article overview

Canon City's Rugged New Draw: Challenging System of Mountain Biking Trails with Top-Notch Views


Benzel, Lance, The Gazette (Colorado Springs, CO)


Looking for Canon City's spin on singletrack glory?

Bring a good map and a spare tube and prepare to take your lumps.

Tucked away in a city best known for its barbed wire-encircled prisons is a rugged new draw: 10-plus miles of rocky biking trails packing panoramic views and enough climbing to keep an Olympian's lungs burning.

The trails at Oil Well Flats wind through a stunning, rough-and- tumble slice of high-desert breaks about 6.5 miles north of Canon City in a Bureau of Land Management recreation area. Visitors are rewarded with vistas dominated by the Sangre de Cristo range to the south and pine-covered slopes and mesas all around - offering equal incentive for hikers and horseback riders, who are also welcome.

For cyclists, the rewards are many and the riding is rough.

Which is exactly how the locals like it.

"This is what puts us on the map," said Scott Eckstrom, a local bike shop owner and Canon City councilman, summarizing the wave of enthusiasm over the new riding spot.

Experienced mountain bikers will be well-equipped for the relentless rock-hopping on twisting, moderately technical singletrack. Beginners will be sorely tested - even as they're awestruck by the scenery, which features a striking 200-foot cliff of pitted slickrock, a jog through a shaded patch of woods and an old burn area that's been transformed into an idyllic, rolling prairie.

And while 10 miles of singletrack sounds modest, the trails are easily knit together into a day's worth of riding, and it won't be long before new trails are built.

In late May, a crew with the AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps arrived to begin cutting a detour around a forbidding climb up a Jeep road to the area's high point, a job that will continue for the next two weeks, with no closures planned.

A new 3-mile loop is expected to be laid in October when a different crew comes in - all the result of a Bureau of Land Management effort to encourage mixed use of the area.

Local riders - who generally call the region Oil Well Flats, rather than the BLM's preferred nomenclature of "Flat" - call the trail network a shot in the arm for the city's mountain biking community and a chance to broaden the community's brand.

Seeking to draw visitors

The region's cyclists banded together several years ago to create a popular mountain biking spot called Section 13 southwest of town, but until now, Canon City has lacked a place for sustained rides.

"Now we don't need to go to Pueblo or Salida to do most of our riding," said Brian LeDoux of the Lower Arkansas Mountain Bicycling Association, which formed in 2009 as part of an ongoing push to develop a trail network in a series of hogbacks overlooking the city's Skyline Drive.

But some in Canon City have their eyes on more than just entertaining the locals: They want to bring in the out-of-towners.

Situated in a sunny, protected bowl, Canon City enjoys unseasonably warm winters, feeding hopes that Oil Well Flats could become a destination for cold-weather riders in search of dry trails or those looking for a little variety from the usual haunts.

Anyone planning to ride the area should check the BLM website for trail conditions. When the gate is down, the trails are closed.

During a recent tour of the area, Eckstrom, a former math teacher who quit his job to open Red Canyon Cycles in downtown Canon City, rattled off several more projects meant to transform the city into an outdoor recreation hub, including a planned trail network at Royal Gorge Park.

The idea, he said, is to capitalize on Canon City's rugged terrain, which already boasts a popular rock-climbing area on Shelf Road, a much-rafted stretch of the Arkansas River and the iconic Royal Gorge Bridge.

The Oil Well Flats system took four years to develop, with the BLM assuming the lead on planning/trail design and rustling up funding for trail-building efforts. …

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