Appeasing Everybody: Thoughts on the Maxwell Trail Rework
Without a doubt, one of my favorite pastimes is observing the Fort Collins cycling community on Facebook. Upon the completion of the Maxwell Trail refresh, this online discussion became more interesting than ever. I encountered talk of trail sanitization, suing the city, and a picture of a tombstone. I knew I had to check it out.
A couple days later, my dad, brother and rode the Pineridge, Maxwell, Shoreline loop. As we spun up Maxwell, the changes were evident. The trail is wider, it is not as steep, it is much less technically challenging. While the alignment and location feel familiar, it is certainly not the same experience that it was.
We must first acknowledge the problems with Maxwell that prompted the refresh. Maxwell had serious erosion issues. Each year, the trail became more trenched, allowing water to accumulate, narrowing the usable surface, and encouraging some trail users to step off trail and impact surrounding vegetation. Additionally, this narrowing, combined with increased use and the trail’s bi-directional status contributed to frequent user conflicts. Fort Collins is a friendly community, but when cyclists, pedestrians, and equestrians encounter each other at the rate they do on Maxwell, negative interactions are inevitable. Negative interactions involving bicycles harms the cycling community’s access to trails and involvement in trail management decisions.
I feel the question worth discussing is: How well did the City of Fort Collins address the issues with Maxwell while preserving the existing user experience and providing for further enjoyable user experiences?
The City of Fort Collins addressed the sustainability issues on Maxwell. The new design of the trail allows for better water runoff and gives more space for users to pass. However, the decision to use fill dirt to achieve these goals is incompatible with preserving the technical challenges of the trail, unless rock work is also conducted to create new technical challenges. The choice against creating new technical challenges does not align with the City’s goal of preserving the challenging experience of Maxwell.
The City addressed some user conflict issues through widening the trail and adding rock piles to create a chicane. Thirty-six inches of trail tread width is the standard for single track in modern professional trailbuilding. This width allows users to pass without stepping off trail. The rock pile chicanes, however, do not achieve the goal of slowing downhill traffic as they do not force a cyclist to turn.
Additionally, the wider, smoother trail encourages cyclists to travel faster in both directions. The choice of dirt is not conducive to stopping quickly on a bike. This in mind, I do not think that negative user conflicts will be reduced on Maxwell after this project.
Now let’s talk about the berms. The City included the construction of banked turns in their plan to “aid trail users through turns.” These are certainly not the massive bike park berms that many of us enjoy riding, but they do allow cyclists to carry more speed through the corners. Most importantly, they signify a trail feature that was built specifically with cyclists in mind. This is a huge step toward mountain-bike-specific trail design in the Fort Collins area.
The new Maxwell Trail is different. For some trail users, it is less fun than it was. For other trail users, it is more fun than it was. Ultimately, the City built a sustainable trail that, ignoring what lies beneath it, is pretty fun on a bike. I believe more technical challenges should have been incorporated, but I would have been fine with some challenges being eliminated. My hope is that because this trail is easier, more novice cyclists will use it, join the cycling community, and grow our presence in trail management decision making.
I will knowledge that increasing accessibility is not always a good thing, such as in the context of fragile ecosystems. In these ecosystems, it is sometimes important to limit access to certain user groups or experienced users to limit damage. Also, restricting accessibility through technical trail features can enhance user safety through ensuring only more skilled trail users venture further into the backcountry. Accessibility is about context. In the context of a front country trail like Maxwell, where a user can travel via bike path nearly all the way to the trailhead, it is important to demand a less extreme leap in ability level.
We demand a lot of our limited trail network in Fort Collins. Maxwell is expected to challenge advanced riders, accommodate novice riders, support thousands of different trail users, and preserve the natural environment around it. With these conflicting expectations, ultimately compromise must be made.
Selfishly, I want to see more trail built specifically for mountain bikes. Selfishly, I want the trails here to challenge me. Big picture, I want to see as many people enjoying our gorgeous natural surroundings in the way that brings them joy.
Going forward, we need to express gratitude that the City is doing trail work at all and is building trail features with mountain bikers in mind. We need to provide thoughtful, polite, constructive feedback on ways to improve. We need to continue to grow the mountain bike community in a positive way and involve ourselves in trail management discussions.
I will always hold fond memories of the old Maxwell. I will allow myself to enjoy the new Maxwell. Most importantly, I will be encouraging novice riders to try it out so they can experience the joy of looking out over Horsetooth and Fort Collins and feeling accomplished.
Jack Ellmer is a lifelong Fort Collins resident and former Crew Lead for Durango Trails. As long as he's been able to read, he has been living life on two wheels in Colorado.