Doug Bursnall gazed into the wrinkled granite face of Cheyenne Mountain and then looked at me and spoke from his heart.
"We have so much potential here for trails," he said. "But we can do so much more."
Many agree. Already, the Pikes Peak region's singletrack system is the best in the country for its proximity to urban life. This area could become a national hub for mountain bike riding, trail running and hiking. It could attract new businesses, outdoor events, and young and active citizens who wish to play and grow here. "There are not many cities where you can ride your bike from downtown, and in 10 minutes be at your favorite trail, a trail that takes you to national forest," Bursnall says.
The promise inherent in our landscape is what keeps Bursnall, and many others, working hard for Medicine Wheel Trail Advocates, a local nonprofit that specializes in building trails for all users, but especially mountain bikers.
Medicine Wheel's volunteers gathered last week to clean up a trail in Cheyenne Mountain State Park, prior to a Kids on Bikes event. Bursnall pulled up with tools and equipment stuffed into the organization's trailer.
When asked how many hours he has volunteered this year, he groaned. "Hundreds," he said.
But if it means better cycling, hiking and trail running, it's worth it.
"I run and hike and ride — most of our people do all three — but we take our trail building from the perspective of bicycles," Bursnall says. "You won't see a long line of wooden steps in our construction for several reasons, [but] mainly it's not fun to ride and it's not sustainable. We like to build stuff that we won't have to come back and work on."
Medicine Wheel works with city, county and state governments, plus the Forest Service, to chop through tangles of red tape before trail-building can begin. The group helped build many of the trails at Cheyenne Mountain State Park, where a trail is named after the organization. And in the last year, volunteers have punched in the 1-mile Chamberlain Trail extension in Stratton Open Space, and the Codell Trail on the Red Rock Canyon Open Space.
Trail-building is expensive. The Chamberlain extension cost $10,000, but could have been four times that without volunteers helping to clear vegetation, Bursnall says. Medicine Wheel hired a contractor with a "trail dozer" — like a bulldozer, only smaller — to do the hard work. The result? A project that could have taken months was completed in about six weeks.
Saving time is worth the expense, Bursnall says, and stimulates volunteer morale.
"It is great for the volunteers to know that in six weeks the bulldozer is coming in, the trail is going to be cut, so we need to get this through," Bursnall says. "You get a lot of excitement. People still get ownership of that trail; they still enjoy participating. They knock it out and they can get on their bike and ride it and say, 'I built this thing.'"
The future looks busy. New downhill trails for mountain bikes in Ute Valley Park are in the plans. And with resolution of issues surrounding the Bear Creek greenback cutthroat trout in Cheyenne Cañon, Bursnall hopes to begin work on the Missing Link Trail, which would stretch from Barr Trail to Captain Jack's.
"The potential for that route," he says, "is a 26-mile trail from Elk Park [at timberline on the north slope of Pikes Peak] all the way to Red Rock Canyon, to Fossil Brewing, where you can pour yourself a pint and life is beautiful."
Want to help? Check out Medicine Wheel Trail Advocates on Facebook, or visit medwheel.org to learn about donating and volunteering. And consider using your voice to advocate for more and better trails.
In a region with enormous potential for outdoor recreation, cyclists, runners and hikers often retreat to the woods when they need to be loud and visible.
"We have a lot of opportunities to enhance our trails system," Bursnall says. "But those opportunities often go by the wayside because people don't participate in the process. I think the apathy toward participating in the process is what I would like to see change.
"If we want more stuff, we have to build it. And if we want to build it, we have to convince those who look after those lands to allow us to build there."