DISTANCE: 5.9 miles, 3.9 miles off-street
  SURFACE: concrete and crushed gravel
  DIFFICULTY: flat ride; beware of traffic on Sand Creek Drive

      June 2, 2007 marked the official opening of the last leg of off-road trail on the Sand Creek Regional Greenway. This stretch, running from the South Platte River to the old Stapleton runway tunnels (with the tops/ceilings now removed), lies in an area with few good alternate routes. Now cyclists can easily ride a 50-mile loop (or, for the more masochistic among us, a nearly 100-mile loop) almost entirely on bike paths.
      We will mark mileage on this trail from the Platte, where Denver's 'bridge to nowhere' has stood for years, visible to traffic rushing by on I270. After crossing the river, a soft-surface trail runs a short distance, sandwiched between the freeway and private property. (This is a temporary trail. After all property issues are resolved, a new trail will run closer to the creek.) When it reaches the canal, the trail veers south and crosses the water on a new bridge (mile 0.3).
      The trail, now concrete, continues east as it passes an open field. To your south, the creek is fairly barren, but vegetation has started to grow in and interpretative signage will be installed by the fall of 2007. At mile 0.9 you cross under Brighton Blvd, and the trail is squeezed between a side road and the creek as it crosses under the first of several railroad tracks. (The former damage here has been corrcted, and there is a new off-road connection up the hill to Brighton Blvd.) The creek is now sporting much more vegetation, with trees and shrubs providing company (but no significant shade).
      Continue east past more industrial sites. Rumor has it that the presence of the trail is causing some owners to spruce up their properties - one owner painted some facilities for the first time in years, if not decades. There is a new coal gasification plant to the north and the Pepper Riparian Park is just to the west of Vasquez Blvd. There are benches and nice, off-road shade in this beautiful and narrow park. You will pass under Vasquez Blvd (1.6) and Dahlia St (1.7) before reaching a trailhead with parking on Sand Creek Dr (1.8).
      The concrete trail has been extended all the way to 47th Ave in Denver. Follow the trail that goes southeast from the trailhead parking lot until you come to a bridge crossing the creek. To the west is a new restroom and the Commerce City Wetland Park. A loop trail takes you past 2 picnic shelters and lots of new cottonwoods (these young trees will need several more years before they can provide shade to visitors). There is a parking lot at the east end of 52nd Ave, after 52nd crosses Ivy.
      From the Wetland Park and the restroom, continue on the off-road trail to 47th, which is the Denver city line. After crossing 47th at street level (the trail will not go under 47th until the bridge is replaced in 2-4 years). Look for the crushed gravel trail, which begins again on the southeast side of 47th. Drop into the open field, then follow the twisting trail as it rises and falls to pass under Quebec (3.9). A short distance further the trail takes you underneath I-70, and then over the creek (4.1). You're now rolling through a wide strip of undeveloped land adjacent to the interstate. To the north lies screaming traffic; to the south you soon pass by an aeronautic junkyard, with remnants of Pipers and jetways on the opposite bank. Eventually you will pass a parking lot (now blocked off). The trail now dumps you onto a road (5.4), which immediately passes under more railroad tracks and turns to meet the west end of Smith Rd.
      Cross Smith back onto the crushed gravel trail. It quickly drops to creek level and passes under the old Stapleton runways. The ceilings of the runway tunnels have been removed and the natural vegetation has been returning. Still, you can let your imagination run wild, thinking about how loud it must have been there with a 747 taking off just above. After the ex-tunnels, the trail rises to the east end of Smith Rd (5.8) and another parking area/trailhead.
      From the Smith Road trailhead (on the eastern terminus of Smith Road), look to the south to see the new northside detour. The bike/pedestrian bridge crossing the creek and following the drainage of Westerly Creek is closed until a park has been constructed on the south side of Sand Creek. Stay on the north side, crusher fine trail past the Urban Farm and the Denver Parks compost and mulch facility to Havana Street. Go south on Havana Street, on the sidewalk on the west side of the Havana Street bridge. Pick up the trail again on the south side of the bridge on your right and take the loop under Havana Street to stay on the off-road trail. You can now continue across the creek on older sections of the trail, to Bluff Lake and Aurora.
      From Airport Blvd or Colfax Ave, you can connect to the Highline Canal, and take that upstream to the Cherry Creek trail. The Cherry Creek Trail can then take you back to the Platte and back to Sand Creek for a loop around 50 miles. For the more ardent biker, you can also take the Highline Canal further south, connecting to the Little Dry Creek/Willow Creek, Big Dry Creek, Lee Gulch, and/or C-470 trails, ride back to the Platte and back up along the river for a loop trip around 100 miles.

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