Trail Running at Bobcat Ridge Natural Area
The trailhead at the Bobcat Ridge Natural Area, the site of an old farm, sits in the shadow of a steep sandstone hogback that cloaks its location until you arrive right at the entry gate. Hidden from the long open views of the interstate just a few mile east, the adventurers that find their way here have to be intent on finding it. Once there, the city of Fort Collins fully demonstrates its commitment to open space with generous services, programs, and accessibility for all visitors. I relish adventures that combine natural and human history and that's what I am hoping to find today.
Starting out as a smooth ribbon of accessible pink concrete that leads to a large, modern, shaded viewing platform and picnic shelter, the trail gives way to crushed gravel for the first couple miles. Accompanied by the soundtrack of the prairie; Western Meadowlarks and Tanagers, I run under soft clouds to one of the most well-preserved cabins I've visited in the Rockies. Ed Kitchen built it in 1917 during his time as a sharecropper in the valley. The old structure has been thoroughly restored and stands open and free to tour with antiques and implements of the day filling the simple home. From the cabin the trail traces an old ranch road through a broad valley bound on the right by a low ridge of scarlet sandstone and on the left by the low-angled foothills of Green Ridge. A chorus of crickets chirp around my feet as I continue today's run. The two-track shrinks to a winding singletrack. Smiling mountain bikers roll past on the undulating trail and I step aside to permit their passage.
The trail curls into the foothills above a small ranch pond and under old power lines, to a signed right-hand turn at the trail junction with the D.R. Trail. As the day warms I scout for rattlesnakes who like to sun themselves on the warm earth and fortunately do not encounter any during the day. Nor do I spot any of the area's namesake cats who at this time would be deep in the wooded areas resting before this evening's hunt. Instead I see innumerable butterflies including Variegated Fritillary, Weidemyer's Admirals, and Western Tiger Swallowtails dancing among the grasses and wildflowers. Here too I pass young ponderosa trees finding their way back after the Bobcat Gulch Wildfire singed the landscape in 2000. The City of Fort Collins only opened this area to recreation in 2006 and the trail here feels designed to the preferred specifications of trail runners as it drapes across ridges and ravines offering long views of the valley below. The trail meanders through cool riparian areas, limited respites from less-shaded stretches as the trail continues to ascend Green Ridge. The aroma of horse dung fills the air and sparks thoughts of the Old West.
I am perspiring in the heat of the morning now and feel relief when I catch a slight breeze. The trail steepens as it climbs and a trailside sign marks the boundary of Roosevelt National Forest west of the city property. Mature ponderosa forest shades me from the fierce heat. Two hawks soar and circle on thermal currents overhead. This part of the Natural Area becomes increasingly wild, dipping in and out of gulches while continuing to gain altitude. In the heart of the old burn the naked, charred trunks of trees lead to a vantage above Mahoney Park. This park-like basin of tall trees, and knee-high grassy meadows is ringed by humps of ancient pink granite and hidden atop the ridge, as it is, feels like a secret reward given the effort of the climb to reach it. Mahoney Park was a favorite picnic site for the couple that owned the land before the City secured it for the benefit of the public. I took advantage of this favored scene myself for a brief rest and snack before beginning the quick descent to the trailhead.
Turning away from the mountain oasis of Mahoney Park I follow a deeply-furrowed road leading back to the trailhead, At the bottom of the road a ring of stone marks an old Native American site used for either lodging or ceremony. Valley scenery passes by as I return to the crushed gavel and then the pink concrete from where my loop began. Back at the ranch, I explore the weathered corrals, barns, out-buildings and farming machinery that worked the land during it's heyday. Bobcat Ridge uniquely scratches the itch for both natural and human history and completely satisfied with today's adventure I am all the more pleased to know that there are more trails yet to explore at this special and hidden place.
Take I-25 North to Loveland and Highway 34. Folowing the course of the Big Thompson River through the community of Loveland leave civilization behind and turn North on County Road 27 also known as Buckhorn Road. One more left onto County Road 32 will shortly bring you to the Trailhead at Bobcat Ridge.