A new mountain biking trail opened in the Moab area on the last Saturday in February.
Volunteers and employees from the Bureau of Land Management and the Grand County Division of Active Transportation and Trails gathered to celebrate the completion of the 5.4-mile Falcon Flow trail, phase one of a three-phase project that will eventually offer an alternate finish for the popular “Whole Enchilada” mountain biking route.
“The Whole Enchilada is one of Moab's most popular mountain biking routes, with an estimated 20,000 riders annually. It is highly technical and also long,” said Maddie Logowitz, division manager of Active Transportation and Trails.
The route connects a series of trails beginning with the Burro Pass trail in the La Sal mountains and finishing on the Porcupine Rim trail to make a 28 mile ride with thousands of feet of drop.
The length and difficulty of the route results in a high number of Search and Rescue incidents, particularly on the lower section of the route, when riders may be tired and dehydrated.
“We have a lot of calls on the Porcupine Rim singletrack and then on the lower Porcupine Rim trail,” said Jim Webster, commander of Grand County Search and Rescue.“Those are very difficult to get to because the trail is rough and it takes a lot of time to drive our UTVs on that rough trail.”
He added that the rough trail is hard on the SAR equipment and personnel, and reaching patients can take a long time, which can be problematic for those waiting for help. Furthermore, the rough ride out can be painful for injured people.
“It’s a big ordeal to reach people,” agreed Melissa Nerone, who moved to Moab full-time in 2006 to become a mountain biking guide. She joined Search and Rescue soon after, and now serves as an officer, meaning she is sometimes on call to manage incidents.
“The Whole Enchilada system is the number one trail system we go to for biking rescues at this point,” she added.
Members of the Grand County Trail Mix Committee, which advises the county on non-motorized trail projects, thought an alternative exit to the Whole Enchilada could reduce the number of complex search and rescue incidents. A trail that splits from the Whole Enchilada route and offers an alternative singletrack finish was proposed several years ago and the Sand Flats Recreation Area Stewardship Committee approved the idea.
Webster agreed that if people are willing to use the new trail system as an alternative exit to the Whole Enchilada, SAR operations will go more smoothly.
“If people were to use that trail as an alternative, it would be easier to get to if they find themselves crashing and burning,” he said.
Nerone thinks the singletrack will encourage riders to bail out from the traditional Whole Enchilada route if they need to. Currently, riders have the option of bailing out onto the Sand Flats Road. However, this is not always an appealing option.
“You don’t want it to be the ride of shame,”said Nerone of the bail-out option. “I think people do get stubborn. It’s this bucket list ride for people, and they don’t know if they’ll ever get back to Moab,” so they are determined to complete the singletrack ride, she said.
The new Raptor Trails will provide an option that is still singletrack, but less technical than the Porcupine Rim trail and easier to access if Search and Rescue get called.
Nerone volunteered on the last trail construction day for Falcon Flow and celebrated its completion with a group ride down the new path with other volunteers.
“I was cross-referencing, as I was riding, potential access points for us,” she said, meaning access for SAR personnel. “It crosses 4-wheel-drive roads at least twice,” she said of Falcon Flow, meaning vehicles could meet the singletrack and rescuers would have a shorter hike to reach a patient.
Nerone pointed out that in addition to being a more appealing bail-out, the singletrack will also decrease traffic conflicts with vehicles on Sand Flats Road.
She also said the new trail is good fun.
“We were hootin’ and hollering the whole time,” she said of the group volunteer ride. She rates the trail as ‘intermediate.’
“It is considered a flow trail—so it’s not rough and chunky like Porcupine—with two or three brief climbing sections,” she said.
She has noticed on social media that many locals are getting out and giving the new route a try, which, she said, will further compact the soil and make it an even better ride.
Not everyone was in favor of the new trail; in 2016 the project was delayed by an appeal from the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, who objected to a new trail being built in an area with wilderness characteristics. However, it was ruled that a recreation area is an appropriate place for a trail. The working name for the project has been “The Big Burrito,” but contributors to the trail brainstormed to come up with a name that has a connection to the area. They came up with Raptor Trails to name the set of three. Falcon Flow is the lowest section.
The new route was designed by Scott Escott, who recently retired from Grand County Trail Mix. The Division of Active Transportation and Trails organized groups of volunteers for the hands-on work.
“Locals are excited about this new addition to the Whole Enchilada Trail Network and put in an enormous amount of work—over 1,600 hours helping on the trail. That's the equivalent of one full time employee working for 40 weeks on the project,” said Logowitz.
That work sometimes involved breaking or moving large rocks and finding ways to navigate obstacles on the route.
“We’re extremely grateful for all of the help that we received from the community, and their work made it possible for us to complete the trail this season,” said Logowitz.
The BLM also expressed gratitude for volunteers and their productive partnership with the county Active Transportation and Trails division.
“The BLM has worked with Trail Mix and the Grand County Active Transportation and Trails Division for many years,” said Rachel Wootton, spokesperson for the BLM. “Through their committees, the Grand County Active Transportation and Trails Division mobilizes volunteers to support increased access to public lands. We value their work and commitment to public land stewardship.”
“Our partners and many committed volunteers helped make the Falcon Flow Trail a reality,” said Nicollee Gaddis-Wyatt, BLM Moab Field Manager. “We look forward to continuing to work with Grand County Active Transportation and Trails Division on improving access and supporting stewardship of public lands.”
Andrea Brand, director of Sand Flats Recreation Area, said the trail makes a beautiful hike as well as mountain bike ride, and that it adds to the diversity of trails available at Sand Flats. She also noted that the increased traffic on the Sand Flats Road will present a management challenge, but she’s confident that her staff are up to it.
“We’ve had other challenges before; we’ll just have to figure it out,” she said.
The next two phases of the trail will be completed over the next few years. For now, Falcon Flow can still be used as part of a bail-out option from the Whole Enchilada, or it can be ridden on its own. Sand Flats asks that riders park in designated areas and not along Sand Flats Road; there are parking lots near each end of the trail. The Division of Active Transportation and Trails will be continuing work on posting signs and installing an information kiosk in the coming weeks.