With 300 miles of dedicated singletrack, much of it accessible from downtown, Durango might call it good. But no. Someone came up with a stupendous plan, and folks are putting their money where their mouth is to make it a reality.
Perched several hundred feet above the Animas River Valley is the 1,850 acre Durango Mesa. It has been the site of several Colorado State NICA Championships, and provides stunning views of the La Plata and the San Juan Mountains. In its past, the Mesa has been grazed, farmed, and mined for gravel. Now remediated, it’s ready for the future.
Enter Mark Katz, founder of Mercury Payment Systems, now known as FIS Worldpay. Several years ago, Katz purchased the Mesa with the intent of rendering it back to the public as a recreational and cultural resource. Fast forward to today, and the Durango Mesa Park Foundation has been created to oversee the conveyance process to various municipal entities.
While mountain biking will be a key element on the expansive Durango Mesa, other aspects include a new events / concert venue, a stand-alone indoor BMX park, separate and distinct directional trails for runners and equestrians, and there’s talk of a velodrome. Each aspect on its own would be impressive. To design and engineer all of these aspects in one massive parcel sounds like a party waiting to happen. It is anticipated that this will be one of the largest dedicated cycling venues in the world.
What might the experience look like for a mountain biker? One function is to attract major events such as UCI World Cup and World Championship events. It will also serve as a training ground for Durango’s elite cycling community. Fort Lewis College’s head endurance cycling coach, Chad Cheeney says that the Mesa will be an impressive addition for their team.
“I think it will turn out to be our go-to training facility.” says Cheeney. “I’d say the Mesa will be used mainly by fun seekers and families looking to get some radical exercise. Training and skills will happen, but a bike park is an easy place to forget that you are doing work.”
In addition to the athletes of Fort Lewis College, Durango DEVO, a youth cycling program with approximately 900 kids, anticipates making the Durango Mesa Park home. Durango DEVO’s talent pool ranges from knee-high groms on striders, to national champions and world championship podium winners.
Levi Kurlander, DEVO’s executive director and an elite competitive cyclist, sees the Durango Mesa as a long-term home for DEVO.
“Durango Mesa affords a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, with easy access to world-class trails and a new bike park, and plenty of room for bikes, and gear storage. We’ll base practices and trips out of the Devo clubhouse, and create a true ‘headquarters’ for cycling in Durango.”
On a trip to Durango Mesa Park riders could, at any time, run into a World Cup or Tour de France athlete. With that athlete talent, coaching talent, trail system and terrain, the vibe might be like alpine skiing at Vail or Park City – without the furry boots. “In bounds” you will have engineered features and progressive trails.
According to Moira Compton, Durango Mesa Park Foundation’s executive director, the vision, as it stands now, includes 8 to 10 miles of directional mountain bike trails, with a balance of beginner, intermediate, and expert features. Though the organizers of the Foundation have visited Bentonville and other mountain bike destinations, Compton says the Mesa will be anything but a photocopy.
“The vibe will be uniquely ours with the benefit of vertical (unlike Bentonville).” Compton also says that while Durango has a myriad of trail opportunity for intermediate and advanced riders, there could be a better base for beginners.
“One thing Durango has not been able to accomplish is kind of providing some more entry-level or beginner trails because we sit in a river valley floor, so you have to ride up, just like a lot of places in Colorado,” she says. “And so this Mesa essentially creates an even playing field for you know, really young riders or beginner riders to be able to start on slightly easier trails.”
Those Durango athletes who travel the world to World Cup events say that Durango Mesa Park may more closely resemble Stromlo Forest Park in Australia. The acreage and the topography are about the same. Both have a multi-user function, and both have an intelligent, cycling-focused strategy behind their planning an engineering.
While Durango was at a time known for UCI World Cup racing, and the town was actually home to the first internationally sanctioned UCI World Championships in 1990 and hosted a World Cup XC and downhill race in 2001, the town hasn’t hosted a World Cup in the 20 years since then. The US as a whole usually falls short on the UCI’s list.
Aside from beginner-friendly trails, the Mesa should offer an arena-like venue for world-level athletes.
“And then the other piece that this facility is going to offer is the ability for us to have things like flow trails, and dual slalom and pump track,” says Durango Mesa Park Foundation board member Gaige Sippy. “And we’re going to build a World Cup mountain bike course and a World Cup cyclocross course, so we can have a specific race venue.”
With increasing trail traffic all over Colorado and beyond, having a venue made specifically for bikes will make it easier to host races since land managers often do not want to shut down public trails.
And like an engineered ski area situated amid stupendous terrain, you could choose the “in-bounds” engineered trails, or opt for the more feral backcountry / sidecountry experience. Durango’s Parks & Rec Advisory Board approved a seven-figure expenditure to purchase land that would link Durango Mesa Park to Durango’s expansive Horse Gulch Trail system, which will boost overall acreage and trails.
Where does that process stand now? The Durango Mesa Park has three shareholders striving to work in concert to get this done. They are the Durango Mesa Park Foundation, the City of Durango, and La Plata County. Government never moves quickly, and this is certainly the case now. Each entity is investing tens of millions of dollars in the project. And before that money gets spent, memorandums of understanding, contracts and agreements have to be in place to memorialize everyone’s contribution and interests.
The County has appropriated $5 million for the project and the City plans to enhance infrastructure around the Mesa, but the Foundation is also looking for more sponsorship.
For anyone thinking about a road trip to Durango, the Durango Mesa Park and its trail system, won’t be ready for a few years. However, don’t let that deter you. With 300 miles of dedicated singletrack, Durango makes an excellent mountain bike adventure any time.
Even when open, the Park will still likely be a work in process, with new trails and new connectors to other trail systems evolving, expanding, and creating even more of a world-class experience. They’ll be signing documents and sealing deals this year, tentatively starting construction next year, and hopefully opening in 2023.
The cost of the completed project is anticipated to be in the hundreds of millions of dollars – and all of it will be free, and open to the shredding public.