Dick Standaert's long strides consumed the terrain on North Talon Trail in Cheyenne Mountain State Park. I hustled to keep up as he covered the ground like Sasquatch.
We were there to see the work in progress on the new Dixon Trail, which will eventually lead to the summit of Cheyenne Mountain.
Spring rains had blessed the green foothills, and the then 70-year-old geologist talked about the things he loved that May morning in 2015. We were in his territory, walking back in time. He picked up a white rock, a bland-looking thing, and held it out as if it were a gold nugget.
"Dakota sandstone, 100 million years old," he said, explaining that the area once was beach-front property on the shores of an ancient sea.
He pointed out rock formations at the base of Cheyenne Mountain as if they were family members. Lyons sandstone, 280 million years old, and the billion-year-old granite that forms the backbone of Cheyenne Mountain and Pikes Peak.
As one of the first rangers in Cheyenne Mountain State Park, Standaert spent many hours prodding the park's backcountry draws and secret places. "I always wanted to be Ranger Dick, so I welcomed people to the park and talked to them about the trails," he says. "But I needed to put the geology in perspective."
Now he has added a title to his resumé. Standaert is the race director for the second Cheyenne Mountain Run, a fundraising event for Dixon Trail construction. Organized by Friends of Cheyenne Mountain State Park, the race is set for Oct. 22. It offers runners and hikers the chance to see the new Dixon Trail — which is currently closed to the public — and experience the crunchy geologic history beneath their feet. There are two distances available, both starting at the Limekiln trailhead. Runners and strong hikers can enjoy a 9.25-mile out-and-back course that ascends the completed portion of the Dixon — about 1.325 miles. Those who want a shorter run can sign up for the 5K, which includes a great course and fantastic scenery. Online registration links and race details are available at friendsofcmsp.org.
Elite mountain runner Tommy Manning, a schoolteacher at Fountain Valley High School, and a guy who really knows trails, won the race last year. He found the Dixon Trail to be challenging in more ways than one.
"It was awesome and I really liked it," Manning says. "A couple of times I got confused about which way I was going — mostly because I don't have a great sense of direction — but for me as a trail runner, that's a good thing. It's different. The guys who put that trail in fooled me. It's fun to run on."
The inaugural event raised about $6,000, which was used to begin building trail from the summit down. Standaert said crews from the Rocky Mountain Field Institute punched in about -mile of trail this summer near the top of the mountain. Meanwhile, crews from Volunteers for Outdoor Colorado have painstakingly hammered in the lower portions of the route.
It's difficult to say when work will be completed... it may take several years. Though plowing through the brush with machinery would be more efficient, it's not workable because the terrain is steep. Whenever it's done, this new trail will open up the summit of another iconic Front Range mountain. It's a big deal. And there is already a looping figure-eight trail at the summit, which is broad and relatively flat with grassy meadows and dark forests. (The trail does not venture near the towers atop the mountain.)
The Dixon project has caught the community's attention. Standaert and Pat Cooper, president of Friends of Cheyenne Mountain State Park, have made the rounds at running events and pitched their race to the Jack Quinn's Running Club. There were more than 200 runners last year and they hope to break 300 this time. That's doable. El Paso County Search and Rescue, the Pikes Peak Road Runners, Colorado Running Company, the American Trail Running Association and multiple individuals have thrown their support behind the race and trail construction.
"This has been fantastic in terms of the support we've received from the community," Standaert says.
The Dixon Trail will ultimately be about 3 miles long with an elevation gain of about 2,200 feet. Cyclists and equestrians will be able to access the lower portions. The upper trail, because of the steep terrain, will be open to foot traffic only.
Nancy Hobbs, the Executive Director of the American Trail Running Association, joined Standaert and me on our hike back in 2015. "To witness a new trail connection firsthand is exciting, especially when it's in one of my favorite places in Colorado Springs," she says. "With a section of technical terrain, and smooth surface in and out of the woods, switchbacks, climbing and descending, this trail has it all."
It has history, and now it has a future, thanks to Standaert, the Friends of Cheyenne Mountain State Park and a community that understands how the natural world brings us together, from ancient bedrock to the trails we love and share.