Long Branch Nordic trails free to the public
Photo by: 
Kate Gienapp

While most people traveling through the small community of Sargents might see little more than a pit-stop, recreational opportunities surround the town. The community, about 30 miles east of Gunnison, lies amid worldclass dirt biking, mountain biking, fishing, camping, hiking, hunting and snowmobiling.

Add cross-country skiing to that list.

For the first time this winter, there are nearly three miles of groomed Nordic ski trails located on the outskirts of Sargents that are both free and open to the public. The trails, nestled at the base of Monarch Pass, welcome both fat biking or snowshoeing as well.

The newly groomed trail system came about as a collaboration between passionate recreationists and willing landowners. Most unique for the Long Branch trails is the location — with the new Nordic trails traversing across private property, part of the Post Ranch just south of Sargents.

The trails offer skiers opportunity to travel through pastures along Tomichi Creek with little incline.

According to Tomichi Creek Trading Post owner Yon Iaccio, the idea to groom trails for winter use was in part inspired by Nate Porter, owner of Salida Mountain Sports, who noted that the majority of skiable terrain was located in or around Leadville.

“A lightbulb went off in my head, and I said, ‘We could do this in Sargents,’” explained Iaccio.

Dave Wykoff, mine manager of the Homestake Mining Co., was the final piece of the puzzle to make the trails a reality.

Wykoff is stationed parttime in Sargents, working on a mine reclamation project on Marshall Pass. As luck would have it, the mine required snow-removal equipment. Following Iaccio receiving permission to utilize the lands for public use, Wykoff stepped in with a snowcat, offering his time to groom trails for winter-time enthusiasts.

“It was totally out of selfish reasons,” joked Wykoff, who noted his love of mountain biking and ski races such the Alley Loop in Crested Butte. “I needed to get back in shape.”

Both Wykoff and Iaccio now take turns grooming the Nordic trails — an endeavor that is 100 percent voluntary. Iaccio also donates fuel for the cat from the nearby gas station for free.

“You always hear about mining as such a bad thing — but these folks had this snowcat and said we could use it for winter recreation,” said Iaccio.

Once the agreement with the ranch was solidified and the snowcat was procured, all the components of a new trail network were in place.

“You put all that together, and now we have a course,” added Iaccio.

According to Iaccio, since the Long Branch trails were first groomed, there have been approximately 35 users — all of which hail from either Gunnison or Salida on an even split.

The trails are open to skate skiing and also include a groomed classic track. However, Iaccio said anything goes. Dogs are welcome as well as snowshoes and fat bikes for a casual Colorado experience that’s sometimes hard to find on other shared trails.

“My viewpoint is, we have this big eraser that we’re driving — that snowcat that grooms it and makes it fresh again,” added Iaccio. “Whatever you’d like to do, just do it.”

After enjoying the Long Branch trails, winter recreationists can even warm up with a burger and a beer at the Tomichi Creek Trading Post.

“We’re friendly toward all forms of recreation — snowshoeing or even walking your dog,” explained Iaccio.

 

(Kate Gienapp can be reached at 970.641.1414 or kate@gunnisontimes.com.)