The office is cluttered with bike parts. A set of wheels leans against one wall. A ragged copy of Robert M. Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is half-buried on an old desk littered with a tide of paper.
The place is perfect for Jon Severson, one of Colorado Springs' most recognized bicycling advocates, a bike nut doing all he can to expand the area's singletrack trails system. The coffee is hot and black next door at Urban Steam and Severson's dog, Cooper, greets me like a long-lost friend.
Our discussion immediately turns to his Urban Singletrack Project, a trails initiative gaining momentum after eight years of dreaming, planning and digging in the dirt along Fountain Creek. He has experienced success with completion of the first portion of the Banker's Lunch Loop, a quick and flowing lap accessed from the Pikes Peak Greenway Trail, about a mile south of downtown Colorado Springs. But the process has been slow.
"Me learning how to be patient is what this whole thing has really been about," Severson says with a smile.
He shows me several colorful maps of downtown Colorado Springs that resemble a checkerboard with various colors, each depicting landowners along the creek corridor. The city's Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services Department manages much of the land, and that's where his big dreams live. He wants to build miles of singletrack trail for cyclists on both sides of Monument and Fountain Creeks.
Severson, 41, grew up in Winona, Minnesota, riding bluff country trails along the Mississippi River. When he moved here in 2002 he saw the potential for great riding near downtown Colorado Springs.
"After riding the Santa Fe Trail 900 times and seeing it through the eyes of a Midwest kid who has been following random deer trails since he was 14 years old, you start seeing things in ways that not everyone sees them," Severson says.
The idea makes sense on multiple levels. More and better trails increase access and riding opportunities. Increased opportunities means more users. It's no secret that Colorado Springs' homeless population lives along Monument and Fountain Creeks, but it's only a myth that the homeless are dangerous, Severson said.
"Most of them, in my eight years of being down there and walking through their camps and talking to them and getting to know some of them personally, they just want to be left alone," he says.
The Singletrack Project has organized trash collection days, and a crew of volunteers has spent days cleaning up garbage by the truckload near the Banker's Lunch Loop. But Severson says the amount of trash has decreased significantly as the number of cyclists using the trail has increased.
New trail was punched in last year near Goose Gossage Park along Mark Dabling Blvd. north of Fillmore Street.
"It's a cool place because you can ride along the creek and hear the rushing water," Severson says. "We're digging up there and working when weather permits. We'll probably end up with a mile and a half to two miles of trail there."
The Pikes Peak region's singletrack trails system may be the best in the country for its proximity to Colorado Springs. But the terrain is often steep and challenging. The project's trails are rideable by anyone, and fun for all. The nonprofit Kids on Bikes has hosted rides for young cyclists on the Banker's Lunch Loop, and it's common for parents to ride the easier routes with their kids.
Robin Roberts, president of Pikes Peak National Bank, got her first taste of mountain biking on the Project's trails.
"It helped me to learn how to balance on the bike," she says. "I rode with Jon right after it was finished, and then I took my daughter [8-year-old Jolie] out on it. We were new cyclists, but she was able to do it. I think it was really good for her while she learned to control the bike."
Cyclists and city managers in Longmont, Castle Rock, Monument and Fountain have shown interest in Severson's work. He has a big-picture dream of singletrack from Pueblo to Denver and beyond. Why not? The time is right with Gov. John Hickenlooper pushing completion of big trails projects throughout the state.
Severson said the Urban Singletrack Project website is coming soon. Until then, check out the organization's Facebook page.
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