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World-Class Mountain Biking Trails Coming to Idaho Springs; A Look Inside the Virginia Canyon Mountain Park Project

What to expect when the first trail opens to the public in the next few weeks, along with what the future holds for this outdoor recreation project

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Flattened and excavated plots of land where Mighty Argo plans to build its gondola landing project
The future site of the Mighty Argo Cable Car Upper Landing

IDAHO SPRINGS, CO — March 31st, 2022

Mountain bikers on the front range will soon have a new network of official trails to enjoy.

  • The park is located north of town, above the Argo Mine and Mill

  • The project has two distinct components: a trail system developed by the Colorado Mountain Bike Association — or COMBA, and a gondola and landing area built by Mighty Argo Cable Car

  • 12 total miles of trails are planned, spanning 400 acres

  • Difficulty is expected to be intermediate to expert

  • The first trail to open will feature uphill only biking and two-way hiking

  • Future trails will be directional, and separate bikers and hikers

  • Due to the park’s south-facing slope, COMBA anticipates it will be in operation most of the year

“We’re pushing for those opportunities for mountain bikers to point the bike downhill and let ‘er rip”

Nothing ruins a great descent like two-way traffic. At best, it’s an absolute annoyance; interrupting a thrilling, liberating experience soaring over rollers, drops, and around banked curves.

At worst, it’s a serious safety hazard; putting uphill and downhill riders and hikers on a collision course behind blind turns.

COMBA is looking to put both this issue to bed with the Virginia Canyon Mountain Park, located in Idaho Springs, Colorado.

“What we have tried to lay out in the master planning is a bike only, downhill only, directional experience. It’s really the thing mountain bikers in this area have the hardest time getting outside of a paid park area—”

Said Gary Moore, Executive Director of the Colorado Mountain Bike Association.

“—Just that ability to turn your bike and go downhill and enjoy that gravity, without being concerned about there being someone on the trail ahead of you or coming up at you — even worse.”

a map of the proposed terrain of the Virginia Canyon Mountain Park in Idaho Springs
Proposed trail map from COMBA

Long-time mountain bikers from the area may recognize the location. For at least 20 years, this spot has been home to unofficial routes where the sport’s top riders are rumored to train — in part due to its year-round accessibility, and challenging technical terrain.

“People actually started building unofficial bike trails back there around 2000,” Moore explained. “So, there has been the desire for the local community to get up there for over 20 years.”

Getting off the Extraction Economy

Indeed, the journey to get here has been a long one. After years of talk about the project, a new city planner made the project a priority in 2017. The Virginia Canyon Mountain Park aims to serve two purposes:

  1. Serving residents of Idaho Springs with a local amenity; a place they can ride and hike without needing to hop on I-70 and sit in traffic

  2. A tourist destination to draw in riders along the front range, and in the Denver Metro Area

“We’ve had so much mining and drilling in Colorado in various forms… They’re interested in getting on the outdoor rec. bandwagon. It’s a huge industry in Colorado,” Moore said.

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Argo’s Involvement

COMBA’s plan is to build a trail complex exciting enough to stand on its own. But construction is underway for a separate component to the park: a gondola and the Upper Landing for park visitors.

This piece of the project is an undertaking from Mighty Argo Cable Car. Space for the gondola towers has already been cleared between the construction site, and the historic Argo Mine and Mill just north of I-70.

two men on the build site, marking out locations for construction
The future site of a proposed amphitheater

Right now, the site is mostly flattened zones, excavated trenches, and marker posts. But Mighty Argo has big plans for the Upper Landing.

  • A 40-foot-high trestle looking out toward Mount Evans

  • An amphitheater

  • Scenic decks to look out over the canyon

  • A multi-story visitor building

This video simulation shows what the project might look like when completed:

Paying the Way Forward

Mountain-top construction is expensive and complex. Part of the gondola installation involves assembling the towers on the mountain top, then flying them down via helicopter to be placed in the ground.

The bill for the gondola and landing areas is expected to total in the tens of millions. The Mighty Argo Cable Car Group also hit a huge funding setback, arguing they are victims of fraud at the hands of a loan broker and escrow company. The Colorado Sun has a comprehensive write-up on the case.

The short version is: a $4.5 million deposit has been lost, leading to a snag in the plans while the group pursues legal action against the broker. Now: The Mighty Argo Cable Car Group is now working with a new broker to secure funding and keep construction moving.

Funding for the Trails

COMBA explains trail construction here isn’t cheap either, due to the nature of the terrain. Moore estimates the total cost will come in at roughly $1.5 million.

Funding for this portion of the project largely comes from Great Outdoors Colorado, and Colorado Parks and Wildlife grants.

The project is paid for through Phase 1. This includes the currently unnamed, VCMP trail #1, designed for uphill biking and two-way hiking. This trail is set to open in May as a hiking only trail.

a Strava map of the final trail route
A Strava Map of the Inaugural ride on VCMP trail #1

COMBA hopes to secure funding to begin construction on at least one set of downhill trails, with a target opening date later in 2022. However, this section of the project is not yet funded. The organization is currently awaiting the results of another Great Outdoors Colorado grant application.

A Tourist Draw off of I-70

Mountain traffic is an evergreen concern in Colorado, particularly along the I-70 corridor. In this earlier article, I discuss ways local leaders and entrepreneurs are working to help ease this issue.

While no specific traffic reduction plans have been laid out here, Moore tells me connectivity is a big portion of the project: spreading out new access points to mountain recreation.

“We’d like to see more single-track connections in the area so that more of the region doesn’t have to jump in their car, drive ten minutes, and fill up a parking lot someplace.”

Overall, Moore says this project has tremendous potential for the future of Idaho Springs, transforming the city from a stepping-stone to other mountain destinations, into its own tourist hub.

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Looking For More?

Check out this story — Rider Down — for more mountain biking content.

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Cole Noble