The best mountain bikers in Steamboat Springs are set to line up for a Wednesday race on Howelsen Hill. And they're sure to notice the twisting new trail named Lupine Loop, which leads them higher above the ski slopes. But they may not appreciate all the effort a crew of teenagers and adult leaders from the Community Youth Corps put into the trail.
The crews built almost two miles of new singletrack trail through the sagebrush and aspens on Howelsen, and while they were at it, they closed down stretches of old, erosion-prone trail that originally were informal horseback riding paths.
The secret of the new trail is a mosaic of heavy rocks that were buried beneath the soil in the hairiest hairpin turns on the Lupine Loop. The rocks give the trail a durable foundation that won't easily fall apart under pressure.
"It helps so when people brake, (the trail) doesn't skid away," Catherine Mann, 15, said Friday morning.
Mann, with crew mates Kelly Northcutt and Adam, both 15, and crew leader Janessa Devereux were wrestling a large rock into place in a hole right at the apex of a particularly difficult uphill turn. Later, they packed smaller rocks around the edge of the boulder to wedge it into place.
"This crew has been really awesome the whole time," Devereux said.
Other members of the crew, including 15-year-olds Jessica Newberry and Thomas Hellyer, were hauling rocks up the steep trail under the supervision of another crew leader, David Bleckley, who is a trained archaeologist.
Bleckley described the rockwork as being similar to making a flagstone patio. The idea is to fit the stones together as closely as possible so the trail surface will remain smooth.
The teens work hard for their money. They are paid $6.40 an hour to work three eight-hour shifts and two four-hour shifts a week. However, they know how to make manual labor fun -- they've given all of their tools fancy names. There is a pick-axe named Inca Kola, a Pulaski named Funkmaster Flex and a hazel hoe named Thundercles Destructo von Bismarck the Third.
City of Steamboat Springs Parks and Recreation employee Neal Obray is coordinating the work with the Community Youth Corps crew leaders. Later in the summer, he said, they intend to bring youth crews back to Lupine Loop to plot GPS navigational points that will allow precise mapping of the new trail.
Mike Neumann, the city's manager of trails and open space, said the work being done Friday on Howelsen is being accomplished with the help of a $10,000 grant from Great Outdoors Colorado. The city matched that amount with $6,000.
The trails being replaced by the Lupine Loop attacked the fall line on Howelsen too directly, and in some case, there were unnecessary parallel trails, Neumann said. All of them were prone to erosion and were so deeply rutted that they no longer were practical for mountain bike use.
The new trails are being designed in consultation with Gretchen Sehler, who organizes the Town Challenge Mountain Bike Series and the 70 members of the Routt County Riders, Neumann said. The trails are being built to the standards of the International Mountain Bike Association. That means the grade is no more than 10 percent, and wherever possible, the trails are canted at about 2 degrees to aid drainage.
"Everybody in this town is a skilled rider, it seems like," Neumann said. "Our intent is to involve mountain bikers in the layout of the rest of the trial system."
Wednesday's race will reveal whether the hottest bikers in town are psyched about the hard labor of a crew of 15-year-olds.