MINTURN — A newly constructed trail will have an added benefit — opening up access for a longstanding local favorite trail.
With the upcoming July 12 grand opening of the new Everkrisp trail from Minturn to Eagle-Vail, Whiskey Creek trail will reopen to mountain bikes.
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That’s because the Everkrisp trail creates a legal egress for mountain bikers riding down the Whiskey Creek trail — mountain bikers will be able to turn left to go to Eagle-Vail, or turn right to go to Minturn. Before the creation of the Everkrisp trail, Whiskey Creek riders had to go straight through a restricted parcel of State Land Board land. The new trail will also allow hikers to legally hike up to Whiskey Creek trail from EagleVail or Minturn.
Whiskey Creek is a three-mile trail that descends 1,500 feet from the top of Meadow Mountain.
The four-mile Everkrisp trail, which runs from near the base of Meadow Mountain in Minturn to the Stone Creek Trail in EagleVail, is the first new non-resort trail on Forest Service land in the Eagle-Holy Cross District in about 10 years, said Aaron Mayville, district ranger. It will be open to hikers, mountain bikers and equestrian use.
“It’s definitely a two-for-one,” said Ernest Saeger, executive director of the Vail Valley Mountain Trails Alliance. “Everkrisp is also a bigger piece of the puzzle. We want to connect Eagle County from Vail Pass over to Basalt with singletrack and soft-surface trail.”
Mountain bikers will now be able to get from Vail Pass to Eagle-Vail on soft-surface trails. Work continues to add the missing pieces, Saeger said.
Finishing the trail
The Vail Valley Mountain Bike Association — now called The Vail Valley Mountain Trails Alliance — first started working on the formal proposal for the new Everkrisp in 2013, and the Forest Service approved it in 2017. The Trails Alliance and the Forest Service have been working together to construct the trail over the last year. By the time the trail is completed, volunteers will have logged more than 2,000 hours of work building the trail.
As part of the effort, the Trails Alliance raised enough money to buy a $26,000 mini-excavator to help build the trail. The Everkrisp project also received funding from the communities of EagleVail and Minturn.
More work still needs to be done on the trail — in particular on a 1.2-mile stretch on the Minturn side. Volunteers are waiting for the seasonal wildlife closure to lift on June 20 before they resume the work.
The Wednesday night trail crew events will start up June 26, while Volunteers for Outdoor Colorado will return for work days June 29 and 30, bringing 60 to 80 volunteers. More volunteers are welcomed for both events.
Land for schools
After a revision of the Forest Service’s Travel Management Plan in 2011, the Forest Service, noting that the bottom of the trail ran through the 622-acre Colorado State Land Board parcel, clarified that mountain biking was not allowed on the trail. Hiking remained allowed above the Land Trust parcel.
“Trust land is not publicly accessible land,” Kristin Kemp, spokeswoman for the State Land Board, wrote in an email. “Per state statute, all state trust lands are closed to any entry or use by any party unless we’ve agreed to a recreation lease. Use without authorization is considered trespass.”
The Whiskey Creek parcel is open to hunters from September to February and to fishermen all year long along the Eagle River where it goes through the property.
A similar issue exists with the A-10 trail above Edwards, which passes through a 640-acre State Land Board parcel. There are no active conversations between Eagle County and the State Land Board about acquiring that parcel, said Diane Mauriello, Eagle County open space manager. The Land Board rarely disposes of land, Kemp said.
The Colorado State Land Board leases almost 3 million surface acres and 4 million subsurface acres for agriculture, grazing, recreation, commercial real estate, mining, and other uses. The revenue benefits Colorado’s schools — the board has earned $1.4 billion for schools in the last decade. Four million acres of land were granted to Colorado by the federal government at statehood in 1876 to be held in trust with the specific purpose of supporting schools.
Careful about wildlife
New trail construction has been limited in the district in the last decade for two reasons, Mayville said. One is Forest Service resources — with limited people and money, the staff had to focus on maintaining existing trails. The second is concerns over wildlife. With elk populations in decline across the district, officials were extra careful that the new trail would not have a negative effect.
“Everkrisp will have a negligible, if not zero, effect on wildlife and elk herd on that hillside — if we can maintain and enforce the wildlife closure on that trail,” Mayville said. “That’s the big piece. When I approved this trail, I was gambling a little bit and put my face in the community that they’re going to adhere to those closures. So far, so good. We’re going to really see that once that trail gets open.”
As part of the Everkrisp approval, the Forest Service worked with the Trails Alliance to strengthen messaging across the valley about wildlife closures. That meant new trail signs, a Trail Ambassador program, as well as a marketing and public relations campaign.
Plans are coming together for a grand opening celebration on July 12. Celebrate by hiking or biking the new Everkrisp trail and the Whiskey Creek trail, then gather for food and drinks at the EagleVail Pavilion starting at 4:30 p.m.