by: Keith Baker
Thursday, 10:15. The Ides of March. 52 degrees feels like 65 because the wind is calm and the sun is bright. Let someone else mind the shop for a while – the call of the trail deafens us to anything else.
Once on the trail, however, we hear much: the foamy rush of the river below, the honk of Canada geese headed north, the cheerful greetings of friends we meet and casual acquaintances who know us more for Prana, our three-year old Weimaraner, than for ourselves. The gentle whir of our mountain bike gears, the jingle of Prana’s collar, the huff of our own elevation-challenged breath.
We have new rental bikes to shake down and an hour to test one so the Midland Bicycle Trail has beckoned us today. The Midland is the 14ers Region’s and the San Isabel National Forest’s first designated mountain bike trail and takes its name and the majority of its route from the mining-era railroad that ran through the area. Work on the trail began in 1990 under the auspices of the U.S. Forest Service in cooperation with the Bureau of Land Management, the Town of Buena Vista, and local volunteers.
The lower part of the Midland shares the path of the Barbara Whipple Trail. Both of these local favorites begin at the foot of East Main Street and follow the left bank of the Arkansas River. The Barb, as we affectionately call it, forks left after a short distance to climb Midland Hill. The Midland Bicycle Trail continues to follow the river for a bit before beginning its ascent. Both trails lead to the old railroad grade that is County Road 304 higher up the hill. Turning right onto CR 304 and following it for about 2.5 miles leads to another section of savory single track. (More detailed trail information is available by contacting The Trailhead at the number shown at the end of this article.)
The Midland is technically challenging but not overwhelming. The terrain is High Desert and varied - plenty of loose rock, loose dirt and sand, and exposed rock and packed dirt and sand.
It’s hard not to gloat. There are places in our country where people drive hours for such an experience. Thirty minutes after a friend calls we have donned cycling clothes, charged up our Camelbak, briefed the staff, and ridden – not driven - to the trail.
The views from the Midland are spectacular. The viewer may immediately note the spectacular Arkansas River Valley and at the majestic Collegiate Peaks, still frosted with snow, across the expansive valley floor. Bringing their gaze nearer, they see the pleasant, historic core of the small town that Buena Vista serenely remains. Just across the river, the bustle of work crews at South Main River Park reassures us that construction and development can be thoughtful, positive, and progressive. Then the eyes linger on the Arkansas River herself, the lifeblood of our Valley, constant yet ever changing.
Or maybe the sequence is reversed or more random. The point remains – the views are awesome and you’ll never tire of them. Believe me.
Our community is working hard to preserve what is best about our region by planning wisely and managing growth responsibly. New urbanism projects like South Main and amenities like the Midland Bicycle Trail are important parts of our smart growth vision.
You’re welcome to join us to help achieve that vision. We can discuss it on the trail.
*A lifelong cyclist, Keith Baker and his wife Evelyn own The Trailhead outdoors shop along with Trailhead Cycle & Ski, Chaffee County’s oldest cyclery. Both are located at 707 Highway 24 North in Buena Vista and can be reached at 719.395.8001, or online at www.TheTrailheadCO.com.