Construction has finished on one of Colorado's most-hyped trails in recent memory.
But mountain bikers will have to dream a little longer about the Palisade Plunge.
While contractor Singletrack Trails recently proclaimed the "crazy, agonizing, tedious, borderline impossible journey" complete, the timing pairs with what will be the annual seasonal closure for wildlife from December through April. This was a decision by land managers in plotting the 32-mile trail, dropping an epic, scenic 6,000 feet down from the top of the Grand Mesa to the town of Palisade. (Hiking will be allowed as well, but cyclists have been behind the designing, building and fundraising of the trail.)
And there's another "key focus" to tend to before the Plunge's grand opening, said Scott Winans, president of the group that has spearheaded the project, Colorado Plateau Mountain Bike Trail Association.
Search and rescue leaders, he said, have yet to deeply study and develop strategies along the remote, rugged trail, determining access points and other logistics.
Portions of the singletrack skirt sheer drop-offs, posing "consequential moves" and "potentially extensive operations," Winans said.
"So having that search and rescue plan in place has been very important to (Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service) and to Mesa County and to COPMOBA," Winans said.
Let that be a warning to anyone eyeing the Plunge come summer, when Winans expects it to open.
He figures the majority will walk their bikes through the most harrowing terrain. "Upper intermediate" is how he describes much of the trail, with a name that might be deceiving; the path more so weaves than plunges, the experience not to be compared with lift-served descents at ski resorts, for example.
Still, "this is not a trail to just embark on without some experience under your belt," Winans said.
Based on assessments at Salida's Monarch Crest Trail and Moab's Whole Enchilada Trail, other famed mountain bike destinations, the Palisade Plunge figures to draw upwards of 5,000 riders annually — "a modest estimate," Winans said. That factored into a study predicting the trail would pump $5 million into Mesa County's economy every year.
The Plunge's concept has been envisioned for decades. A designation under then-Gov. John Hickenlooper's "16 in '16" trail initiative brought serious attention and money to what would be a $3.5 million endeavor.
Test rides have inspired the same reaction, Winans said. "Everybody who's been on the trail has shaken their heads and said, 'Wow. This is something else.'"