Yampa Valley Trail race gets green light from BLM’s Craig office
CRAIG — A remote trail race some two years in the making is coming to Moffat County now that the Bureau of Land Management’s Little Snake Field Office in Craig approved the permits just before the 2020 new year.
“It’s a good New Year’s present,” said Mike Mathisen, who has spearheaded the revitalization and return of the rural, historic Yampa Valley Trail — a winding route once only known to early hunters and ranchers in the area. “I, honestly, didn’t think we’d get it this year. I thought it’d be another year.”
“After getting a course route that met their demands, getting state and private land owners permissions on areas not even in the BLM control before they would approve the course, they have now stated there are culturally sensitive areas on this trail,” Mathisen said in an email in May.
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In a May email from David Boyd, BLM’s Little Snake River field office spokesman, said they weren’t sure culturally sensitive areas existed at all until they evaluated the area more.
“We don’t know whether there are specific concerns about cultural sites or other sensitive areas at this time,” Boyd said in May. “That’s part of the review process, which also includes how to minimize or avoid impacts. We use this review process to identify potential issues and minimize or avoid them. Part of our review process includes working with the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO).”
Boyd said Thursday the fact an environmental review has been done and culturally sensitive areas have been addressed, permitting for future events on the trail will be much easier.
“To get this initially permitted, it took some time,” Boyd said Thursday. ” …Now that we’ve consulted with the state on the cultural resources and those sorts of things, in future years, we won’t have to do go through this every time if this they’re doing this annually. Once this initial step is done, the permitting is pretty simple from there.”
Mathisen is planning the opening race of new Yampa Valley Trail to have a bike race and a foot race with an adaptive event for disabled racers on bikes or on foot.
“For the bike races, it means people can have a tricycle bike,” Mathisen said. “They can use an elliptic bike, so a class 1 or class 2 electric bike, which is really big with amputees, single-leg amputees. It really doesn’t limit the racer because they can use whatever adaptive equipment they want to use. I think that makes us very unique.”
Mathisen plans to start the races at Juniper Hot Springs on or about June 27 and Aug. 1.
“We’ll start at the Juniper Hot Springs, which is a little sweet gem of a property out in the middle of nowhere,” Mathisen said Thursday. “Our race will go over Juniper Mountain, then into Bitter Brush Wildlife Area. Then we’ll get on 143 and County Road 85 and run around in the desert over by the Thornburg area. Then we’ll run up Cross Mountain right up to Dinosaur National Monument before we turn around and run backwards. It’s 51.24, something like that. It’s just over 100 miles.”
Mathisen is hoping the new annual race turns others on to recreation in Moffat County.
“The main purpose of our races is to highlight what a great piece of trail we have here in Craig and Moffat County,” Mathisen said. “We have a 144-mile trail that basically runs from downtown Craig all the way to the Dinosaur National Monument Visitors Center. It’s a great hiking trail. Over the next five or six years as we build this race, I’m hoping people will come out and hike this trail to experience what it’s like to be on the western side of the Yampa River. Maybe they’ll see all the other spectacular bicycle trails and hiking trails and OHV trails we have in Moffat County. I think the Yampa Valley Trail gives us the ability to highlight all the recreation that can take place in Moffat County that no one pays attention to. The trail runs along the Yampa River State Park. There are nine separate campgrounds along the river that people can experience. We’ll pass several of them.”
Though the website is still under development, now that Mathisen secured his permits from BLM, racers can register soon online at followthefootsteps.com.
“We should have our race registration up and running and all pertinent information on the trail probably by the 15th of January,” Mathisen said. “That’s our goal date.”
Mathisen thanked representatives from agencies across Moffat County, the state and country, including Craig’s representatives in the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate, state land management, Colorado State Patrol, Tom Kleinschnitz with Moffat County Tourism and many more.
“Lots of people had to come together to pull this off for us,” Mathisen said. “This is one tiny step for us to demonstrate all the tourism activity that can take place in Moffat County and Craig and Dinosaur and Maybell.”
But to make the event work, Mathisen will need a small army of volunteers to make the whole thing work for disabled racers and other in attendance.
“We’re going to need about 120 to 150 volunteers to pull off this 100-mile race,” Mathisen said. “Groups can contact me directly on our website.”
Boyd said Mathisen’s event is just the type of event BLM wants to see on public land in Moffat County.
“These kind of events are an important use to BLM,” Boyd said. “We like to permit them when we can. But we have to make sure we aren’t having negative impacts on other resources or other uses, and we have to follow all laws. So, that’s why it can take a little bit of time to get that initial permit done.”
Bruce Sillitoe, director of BLM’s Little Snake Field Office, said Thursday their office is adding the Yampa Valley Trail to the list of recently approved event permits on public land in Moffat County, like the Enduro off-road motorcycle race recently approved at Sandwash Basin in 2019.
“We recently approved that enduro race out there at Sandwash. … We’re pretty excited about that, getting that through,” Silitoe said Thursday. “It’s not a small task to meet all the environmental requirements for races. I’m very happy about the Enduro race. I wish we could have got this one (Yampa Valley Trail) done sooner, but there were some archeological issues we had to address and we addressed them. We want to meet these type of requests. That’s what our county commissioners and other elected officials want. And certainly, it’s a valid, multiple use of public land. That’s the key. We want to be sure people understand we are administering their land, public land. Most people also don’t understand the various environmental regulations and hoops we have to jump through, but we want to jump through those. We want to bring various recreational events to Moffat County.”
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