Ryan and Piper Lowe, volunteers from the High Mountain Institute Gap Year Program, enjoyed a laugh while working on the Falcon Flow trail last winter. [Courtesy of GCATT]

Mountain bikers rejoice: years in the planning, the Raptor Route is gradually becoming a reality, starting with the Falcon Flow singletrack trail that opened this past winter.

The Raptor Route was conceived as an alternative ending to the world-famous Whole Enchilada mountain bike route, a system of trails that takes riders from a high trailhead in the La Sal Mountains down about 7,000 feet over 26 miles, from an alpine ecosystem to the high desert, ending in the riparian zone along the Colorado River.

This week, the Grand County Division of Active Transportation and Trails began work on the next segment, which will be accessible from the Upper Porcupine singletrack trail in the Sand Flats Recreation Area.

“We just started working on the second section of the route, which doesn’t have a name yet,” said Maddie Logowitz, director of GCATT.

Logowitz said the eventual name will fit with the “raptor” theme of the route, which was chosen to fit in with other Sand Flats trails and campgrounds dubbed with names from nature.

“It’s nice to get inspiration from the trails, if there’s features in the terrain, or how it rides, or sections that are notable” in choosing a route name, Logowitz said. For example, the Falcon Flow section, as the name implies, has a “flowy” character.

Reason behind the route

The Whole Enchilada is on many mountain bikers’ bucket lists, but it is advanced and long. Of the 20,000 riders who attempt the route annually, many find themselves in need of Search and Rescue services each year.

Often those situations occur on the Porcupine Rim singletrack, a highly technical section of trail near the end of the route, when cyclists are most exhausted. The area is remote and rugged, and difficult for SAR personnel to access.

“The advantages of the Raptor Route are that it’ll be a more moderate level, and then it is really close to Sand Flats road, which makes it easier to access,” explained Logowitz.

“GCSAR continues to respond to a large number of rescues for riders that are injured, out of water or in need of assistance due to the difficulty of the Porcupine Rim Trail,” agreed Jennifer Jones, Recreation Planner for the BLM. “The Raptor Route will provide a less difficult but flowy and fun option for riders.”

A lot of planning and evaluation went into the design of the trail system, which is a partnership project between GCATT and the Bureau of Land Management.

BLM officials put the project through the extensive evaluation process required by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Specialists, including biologists and archaeologists, evaluated the project zone, public input was solicited and appropriate mitigations made.

“We don’t just go out and build stuff, there is a long process that we follow,” said Logowitz.

Jones said the BLM is currently working with GCATT, as well as GCSAR and the Grand County Trail Mix Advisory Committee, to improve signs on the Whole Enchilada route.

The Raptor Route is divided into three sections to be built in three separate phases. The completed five-and-a-half mile long Falcon Flow is the lowest segment and the current project is the highest segment.

Once the new two-and-a-half mile trail is complete and open, users will be able to access it from the Upper Porcupine Rim singletrack, ride it back to the Sand Flats Road and take the road to get onto the Falcon Flow trail.

Logowitz anticipates this segment will be completed in early November.

“The BLM Moab Field Office is excited for the second phase of construction to begin on the Raptor Route,” said Jones. “This section of the trail will provide recreationists with a new opportunity and challenge in a scenic setting.”

Reception so far

Logowitz said she’s heard positive feedback about Falcon Flow so far. Local bike shop manager Meghan Murdoch agreed.

“Falcon Flow has been received pretty well, people have been pretty stoked on it,” she said. Murdoch works for Chile Pepper Bike Shop. She said a lot of locals enjoy the ride, and afterwards, they can “just bomb back to town on Sand Flats, which is pretty fun.”

Murdoch also said the intent of the trail, as a more moderate ending to the Whole Enchilada, makes sense.

“It’s a good bailout if [bikers] don’t want to do the whole Porcupine Rim proper,” she said. “It’ll be a great addition to the trail scene once it’s done.”

Sand Flats Recreation Manager Andrea Brand said the Falcon Flow trail has seen some use, mainly from locals, but that mountain biking season really won’t begin until later this month when temperatures drop a bit. She expects it will draw a lot of cyclists in the fall.

Brand said that she was worried when Falcon Flow first opened because there was no parking lot for the trail and the road at its access point is dirt and often washboarded. The area is also a high-traffic zone for UTV riders accessing the Fins n’ Things four-wheeling trail.

“Traffic counters last year recorded well over 100,000 vehicles using that section of the Sand Flats dirt road,” Brand told the Moab Sun News.

An early cost estimate for a parking lot put the price tag at about $30,000. However, working with the BLM to take care of the heavy equipment work, using cobbles from the county rock pit, and with the BLM paying for road base material, Sand Flats ended up only having to pay $3,000 for a parking lot to be built.

Brand is relieved that the parking lot worked out, and she hopes that Sand Flats will be able to secure federal grant funding to have the road paved up to the Falcon Flow parking lot, ideally before the entire Raptor Route is complete. Along with pavement, she’d like to see either bike lanes or a separate multi-use path to make the road safer for cyclists and motorized users.

Volunteer opportunities

Logowitz said GCATT is looking for volunteers to help with the trail work on the new segment of the route. With COVID-19 concerns in mind, volunteers will have to agree to certain safety protocols, such as RSVPing so coordinators can keep group sizes limited to ten or less, using only assigned tools, practicing social distancing, and wearing masks when social distancing isn’t practical.

“When we built Falcon Flow, we had lots of big volunteer events and we had tons of people come out and help, which was amazing,” said Logowitz. “We really needed the help to finish that trail—it was five miles,with a lot of technical rock work.”

She said GCATT recorded about 1,800 hours of volunteer help for the Falcon Flow trail.

While large-scale volunteer events are out due to public health concerns, Logowitz encourages those interested to rally some of their closest social contacts to volunteer with them—their “pods” including people like roommates, families, or partners. Information on volunteering can be found at www.moabtrailteam.com or the Moab Trail Mix Facebook page.

Next section of the three-phase Raptor Route underway

“It’ll be a great addition to the trail scene once it’s done.”

– Meghan Murdoch