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Work underway on Crystal Peak trail; over-nighter August 20-21

“There’s a unique sense, a unique spirit up there that’s not found anywhere else in this valley” 

by Than Acuff

It’s not on the immediate radar of most mountain bikers. In fact it’s deep enough that its use came from the wheels of motorcycles more than anything else. That said, trail 583, a.k.a. Crystal Peak trail, offers a connection to the high country and is in need of some repairs.

During the last travel management plan sessions in 2013, the Crystal Peak trail, among others, was deemed non-motorized, and the plan since that designation has been to bring the trail back to a rideable and more sustainable condition.

“Once they designated a few trails in Cement Creek as non-motorized we felt a responsibility to fix those trails and knock them off one by one,” says Crested Butte Mountain Bike Association (CBMBA) board president Matt Whiting. “Crystal Peak is the last one.”

This summer, thanks to the efforts of CBMBA and the U.S. Forest Service, workers are currently on the trail, and following the big CBMBA overnighter trail work scheduled August 20-21, the trail should be much improved.

“You will be able to ride from Crested Butte South to Star Pass without getting off your bike,” says CBMBA executive director Dave Ochs.

The Crystal Peak trail starts 14 miles up the Cement Creek drainage and is 2.1 miles long, climbing 1,000 feet to the high ridge between Mt. Tilton and Crystal Peak, reaching an elevation of 12,159 feet. It then drops off the backside of the ridge, contours along the top of the drainage and then turns back uphill to Star Pass, connecting with trail 400 at the top of Brush Creek. It’s a lung buster for sure. But the trail provides bike access to the high country unlike any trail around.

“It’s just one of the most amazing places you can be on a bike,” says Whiting. “To me, one of the best parts is being able to connect Brush Creek and Cement Creek and get to Star Pass. Also, people are looking to get out farther and are looking for epic descents and Crystal Peak trail gets you there.”

“There’s a unique sense, a unique spirit up there that’s not found anywhere else in this valley,” adds Ochs.

Funds needed for work on the Crystal Peak trail were part of a larger grant written by Whiting two years ago. Those funds were designated for work to be done on trail 402, aka Strawberry Creek, 409 and Crystal Peak trail. But as the work of both CBMBA volunteers and the USFS work force on 409 and 402 was finished up, Whiting realized that more money was needed to do the Crystal Peak trail project.

“We didn’t have enough money so we had to go back for more,” says Whiting.

Whiting applied for an additional $18,500 grant in February and found out in April that the grant proposal was successful. Whiting touts the efforts of CBMBA and the community support as a significant reason for their grant proposal success.

“The fact that we’re leveraging these funds with volunteer commitments helps,” says Whiting. “We also work on revegetation and wetlands and show that we follow through on our commitments and the committee appreciates that follow-through.”

The trail will remain open and Whiting was up there earlier this week and said the Forest Service crew is currently camped up Cement Creek and hard at work.

“They did a pretty significant realignment already near the top,” says Whiting.

Work is expected to continue throughout the summer, culminating with the CBMBA trail work overnighter. Whiting explains that the trail layout decisions are in the hands of the Forest Service and while the end product layout may not be exactly what CBMBA is looking for, the process is far more efficient than the alternative.

“It would have been buried in the NEPA [National Environmental Policy Act] and they’re so busy already with other projects that it could have been another 10 years if we were in the NEPA process,” says Whiting. “The idea is to realign the worst sections and do the best we can to make it the best trail it can be.”

The plan for CBMBA during the overnighter is to work on realigning the lower section of the Crystal Peak trail in the trees and then do additional work on a motorized section that rises up to Star Pass.

As always, the overnighter is in need of massive volunteer support—and it’s not just about working, it’s also about getting out in the woods and having a good time.

“We’ll be going deep on this one,” says Ochs. “Rim Tours will once again be on site and taking care of all our food and re-energizing needs. Mark the calendar now. You don’t want to miss this, let alone the mad prizes you’ll take home courtesy of our sponsors.”

Whiting is hoping for the same turnout they had for the Point Lookout trail, when 100 people turned out to build 2.1 miles of trail.

“We’re hoping for 100,” says Whiting. “We want to make this one of the biggest overnighters ever. It’s going to be some hard work but a cool place to spend the day. We’re looking forward to getting deeper into the backcountry.”

But it doesn’t end there as the Crystal Peak trail work is just part of an even bigger plan in the Cement Creek drainage to link the lower and upper Cement Creek trails to the Crystal Peak trail using other existing trails.

“The ultimate dream is to connect Upper Cement trail to Crystal Peak and Lower Cement trail to Upper Cement trail and have 15 miles where you don’t have to ride the road,” explains Whiting. “It’s only six miles of trail building to connect all of that. It’s not as outlandish as it sounds.”

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