I banked right and then left, over a rock and around the base of a tree. I giggled and smiled and was tickled that, for once, I stayed on my bike rather than hopping off to walk around rough and rocky segments.
I was on my mountain bike, checking out a new segment of the Headquarters Trail at the Happy Jack Recreation Area. I confess that I’m a chicken when it comes to mountain biking. I fall enough to know that landings hurt and I also know I’m breakable. Instead of pedaling through rough segments of a trail, I prefer to walk my bike until I reach smoother terrain.
In the past, the segment I was on between the Crow Creek and Summit Loop trails, required mostly bike-hiking. It was too rough, rocky and steep for me to pedal. Thanks to the new re-route, though, that changed; I actually maneuvered the twisting route and stayed on my bike — it was a total hoot.
This was just one of five new trail segments constructed this summer. According to Tim Young, executive director of Wyoming Pathways and project leader for the trail re-routes, a total of 1.7 miles of new trail was constructed this year. Two segments are on the Headquarters Trail and the other three are on the Middle Aspen Trail. Four more segments on the Aspen Trail were in the plans but funding ran out before those could be completed.
“At least the Aspen trail work has been approved and is ready to go for our next project work,” Young said. “We are pleased with what we have done so far and look forward to moving ahead with more improvements in the future.”
Laramie resident Ellen Axtmann is impressed with the changes.
“All of the new trail segments are rideable now, even for someone like me who isn’t a technical wizard on a bike,” Axtmann said. “The new segments have lovely banked switchbacks and some pumptrack features that are really fun on the downhills.”
Pumptrack refers to mountain biking trails that loop and curve in such a way that, if done right, a rider doesn’t need to pedal. Speed is dependent on the rider’s ability to gain momentum by “pumping” the tight terrain transitions of the track.
“They did an incredible job,” Axtmann said. “The new routes are less technical which, for me, means I don’t have to get off and walk my bike.”
Funding for this year’s work came from a Wyoming Recreational Trails Program grant offered through Wyoming State Parks, Historic Sites and Trails and from the Laramie Ranger District of the U.S. Forest Service’s Challenge Cost Share funds. A small army of volunteers participated in a “big dig” day to help reclaim some of the abandoned old damaged trails. A second volunteer day is planned for September 22 to repair and reclaim the Headquarters Trail Scenic Bypass section.
The maze of trails at Happy Jack Recreation Area were originally developed and constructed for hiking and cross-country skiing. They came into being well before the advent of mountain biking. Laramie resident Van Jacobson recalls first running on the trails nearly 40 years ago, in 1980.
“We decided to try running up the Aspen ski trail one summer day,” Jacobson said. “We had some difficulty doing that because there was no worn dirt path so we were often running through tall grass. We would occasionally stub our toes on smaller tree stumps.”
Jacobson said that legend has it that at least some of the ski trails, not counting those closest to the old Happy Jack downhill ski area, originated when Quentin Skinner was the coach of the UW ski team. Likely the cross-country skiers on the team did much of the trail clearing for what are now Aspen and Middle Aspen trails.
Such use continues but now mountain bikes dominate in the summer months and, more recently snowbikes are popular in the winter. With changes in trail use and exponential growth in user numbers compared to 1980, the trails are in need of repair and re-routing to avoid further deterioration. The recent work had mountain bikes in mind, too, making them more sustainable even with heavy use.
Amber Travsky earned master’s degrees in wildlife biology and exercise physiology from the University of Wyoming. She runs her own environmental consulting company, as well as a martial arts school. She authored “Mountain Biking Wyoming” and “Mountain Biking Jackson Hole,” both published by Falcon Books. She is the tour director and founder of the Tour de Wyoming bicycle tour, which crosses the state every July.