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Maryland Mountain Recreational Park

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Bridge over Highway 119 kicks off countdown

Soon Coloradoans will have a new trail system to explore in Black Hawk. Crews will begin installing a bridge over Highway 119 on Monday, December 2nd to connect the Hidden Treasure Trailhead parking area to the new Gilpin Tramway Trail around the Maryland Mountain Recreational Park development. Highway 119 near mile marker 8 will be closed from 6 p.m. on December 2nd to 6 a.m. on December 3rd to install the new bridge.

The bridge was built in sections and will be put together at the site and installed to give hikers and bikers a safe way to cross Highway 119. Completion of the first phase of the park is projected mid-2020 and until then, the area is under construction.

The Maryland Mountain Recreational Park, which includes the Gilpin Tramway Trail, will feature trails of various skill levels and allow visitors to hike or bike through an area filled with historical reminders of Colorado’s gold rush days. The trail system creates opportunities for passive outdoor recreation and heritage tourism while giving hikers, mountain bikers, and nature and history lovers an incredible chance to see historic venues at the epicenter of Colorado’s Gold Rush.

When complete, the park will promote outdoor recreation and heritage tourism, contributing to the overall economy in Gilpin County and Colorado. The trailhead creates access to the trail system partly built on the old Gilpin Tramway railroad bed. It will take several years to fully complete the 600-acre Maryland Mountain Recreational Park.

Introduction and Background

Maryland Mountain has played a vital role in the history of Black Hawk since the City was founded in 1864. Located directly northwest of the Black Hawk central business district, it is bounded on the north and east by Hwy 119, Chase Gulch to the south, with private ranch lands to the west. Throughout the late 1800s and early 1900s, this area was a bustling industrial site filled with mines, mills, roads, and tramway railroads. The mining scars have since transformed into a re-forested mountain landscape, but there is still a story to tell. The City of Black Hawk has worked for years to acquire Maryland Mountain and now desires to create a new recreational destination for the community and guests. This plan establishes a framework for exploring possibilities and setting priorities for recreational and historical interpretive amenities within and around Maryland Mountain. Implementation of the Plan will assist the City in its efforts to offer a variety of experiences to increase overall visitor attendance, and is intended to be a dynamic tool for guiding actions and decisions at Maryland Mountain in the immediate future, as well as over the long term.

Purpose

Maryland Mountain presents a significant opportunity for the City of Black Hawk to offer an alternative outdoor recreation and heritage experience to its community and guests. As a City that has successfully focused on gambling and a gaming guest, a new trail system with historical interpretive amenities will now provide an outdoor recreation oriented guest the opportunity to explore in Black Hawk and learn about mining history. As the Front Range population and popularity of outdoor recreation activities continue to increase, Maryland Mountain Park is likely to receive even more visitors. The big idea is to create a comprehensive trail network for mountain bikers and hikers. Developing a hierarchy of trail types will offer a variety of lengths and experiences for both novices and experienced users alike. Along with the new trails, historical interpretive displays and technology will communicate the rich mining and tramway railroad history of Black Hawk while highlighting the mining remains. The purpose of this document is to provide initial ideas to guide the design and construction of the recreational trail system, associated amenities and set the framework for historical interpretation.

Project Goals

  • As a regional destination, accommodate visitor traffic in a way that minimizes adverse impacts to existing neighborhoods. Provide trailhead parking at an accessible point to the Tramway that ensures safe crossing of Highway 119 using a grade separated overpass.
  • Create a trail plan that will integrate with future interpretive facilities including signage, kiosks, and potentially cellular/smart phone technology to provide integrated informative and interpretive messages, enhancing visitor appreciation and understanding of Black Hawk history. Instill visitors with a sense of fun and learning so they are encouraged to visit again and tell others about their Black Hawk experience.
  • Trails would be designed to meet IMBA standards appropriate to the type of trail and user, incorporating sustainable trail goals of minimizing impact to the environment, minimizing user conflicts, and minimizing maintenance and costs.
  • Consider user safety and managing risks for a safe outdoor recreation experience.
  • Incorporate rest overlooks at vantage points to highlight significant vistas.
  • Design trails, amenities and interpretive features based on realistic budget and maintenance expectations using phasing to accomplish long term ideas
  • Increase ADA accessibility where possible.
  • Explore opportunities for ties to regional routes and off-site tramway remains for future expansion of the system.

History of Black Hawk, Maryland Mountain, & Gilpin Tramway

For decades from 1859 until well past the turn of the century, the Black Hawk mining industry was the staple support of the thriving local and regional economy with thousands of miners working in the gold and silver mines, mills, railroads and other mining related businesses. Deep-rock mining required processing of the ore that was brought to the surface in quartz stamp mills, which needed dependable water supplies. Soon North Clear Creek, Chase Gulch, and Gregory Gulch were the home to numerous mills, and Black Hawk became the milling center for the entire Rocky Mountain gold mining region. As mining flourished, the challenge of transporting ore to the mills was not being sufficiently addressed by the early wagon roads. In 1869 the first narrow gauge railroad in the Rockies was built up Clear Creek Canyon from Golden to the Gilpin mining region. Because mines were still separated a considerable distance and elevation from the ore processing mills located along the creeks, the Gilpin Tramway, a “baby railroad” using two-foot narrow gauge rails, was constructed in 1887 to transport ore and supplies from the mines to the mills. The Gilpin Tramway started on Clear Creek about a mile north of Black Hawk, and would travel south skirting the slopes of Maryland Mountain, making its way up Chase Gulch as it climbed around Winnebago Hill and on to other mines in Central City. The Tramway was the vein of the Gilpin mining industry. The completion of the Gilpin Tramway afforded a cheaper means of transporting the ore from mines to mills, and was designed to run to nearly every mine in the region, getting ore to the marketplace quickly and economically.

After 1910, with rising labor costs and prices from ore sales falling, mining activities began to decline. As large mills closed, the end of the need for the Gilpin Tramway was evident. At the end of 1916, the railroad discontinued service and by October 1917, the tramway operated only to facilitate its own removal for scrap metal. While the mining legacy has passed, an incredibly rich historic and cultural legacy remains in the visible clues to this colorful past clinging to steep slopes throughout the region, especially the Bonanza Mill, Belden Mill, and the Tramway graded platform.

Existing Conditions

Maryland Mountain consists of about 600 acres of rugged terrain within Black Hawk city limits. Topography ranges from elevation 8,150 in town up to 9,200 at the summit, over a thousand feet tall. The landscape is characterized by heavily wooded northern slopes forested primarily with evergreen species of Lodgepole and Ponderosa Pine, Fir and Spruce. South facing slopes are typically open or sparsely wooded with similar evergreen species. The additional moisture provided by Chase Creek has allowed a lush regrowth of Cottonwood, Aspen and Willow and Alder along Chase Gulch. Spectacular rock outcrops occur throughout the mountain, providing dramatic scenery as well as opportunities to incorporate challenging mountain biking features. Chase Gulch Road passes by the Castle Rock outcrop, providing stunning views of this remarkable feature. Mining relics and ruins exist throughout the site and include mill foundations, tailings piles, and the original tramway platform grade. Access to Maryland Mountain trails will occur through two primary portals. One is directly from Gregory Street; cyclists can ride up Chase Gulch to access trails. Proximity to the center of the City is one of the most appealing elements of the plan. The second access would be from a new trailhead parking facility north of Black Hawk on Highway 191, the Hidden Treasure Trailhead. A third but less emphasized access can also occur on Barrett Street from Central City.

Planned Park Trails

A hierarchy of trail types using a stacked loop model has been planned to create a comprehensive outdoor experience for a variety of users. Trails have been designed and will be constructed to minimize environmental impacts and fit into the natural landscape. A shared use approach is recommended for most trails – systems that are shared use throughout have the advantage of creating consistent expectations, thus reducing conflict between all types of trail users accustomed to sharing the trail with each other. The historic Tramway Mainline graded surface will serve as the backbone of the trail system. The Mainline surface will be approximately 48” in width, with grades generally under 4%, making this trail accessible to everyone. Walkers, runners, strollers, leashed pets and kids on bikes will all enjoy the 2.7 mile Mainline route. The compacted surface and gentle grades also allow accessibility to persons with physical disabilities. The Mainline connects the new Hidden Treasure Trailhead with destinations such as Chase Gulch Waterfall and Town Overlook. The Mainline would also be available in winter for use by Fat/Snow Bikes. Those who desire a more challenging mountain biking experience might venture onto the 8 miles of singletrack. Singletrack trails are typically 18” in width with grades that might average up to 8% and include some steeper sections exceeding 12%. The mountain biking singletrack is designed to provide looping opportunities with a connection to the summit. In addition, approximately two miles of hiking and descending-only trails are also designated.

Trailheads

The primary trailhead would be located about a half mile north of the City on Highway 119. Named “Hidden Treasure” after the historic use as of the site. The trailhead will provide parking for 55-70 cars, signage, seating, bike racks, restrooms and a bridge across Clear Creek and the Highway for safe access to the trails. Bridge design can incorporate historic railroad trestle design elements. In addition to the main trailhead, the City is exploring options to create connectivity from Gregory Street to the trail system. A direct connection from Gregory Street to the trail system would allow trail users to park in the City’s parking garage, enjoy the trails, then find their way back to enjoy Gregory Street establishments.

Trail Bridges

Water and drainage crossings are minimized in the trail plan to the extent practical. Where crossing is necessary trail bridges may be used for crossing streams, ditches, and other places constituting a safety hazard or to protect the natural environment. Assessments of environmental damage, as well as evaluations of less obtrusive alternatives to bridges such as culverts, fords, and trail relocation, will be considered before bridge construction or replacement. Bridges will be kept to the minimum size needed to serve trail users and other maintenance and preservation needs, and designed in harmony with the surrounding natural environment. A new bridge concept at the Chase Creek crossing is contemplated to complement the character of the historical crossing. Historically, a bridge here provided a crossing for the tramway grade to access Winnebago Hill to the south. Trail users could cross Chase Creek at this point with a simple fording feature such as a log or boulders in the short term.

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