With new trails opening every year along the City’s greenway trails, there’s never been a better time to be a mountain biker in San Antonio.
The latest of these trails to make their debut are at Devil’s Den, a formerly trashed-out spot on the Leon Creek Greenway on San Antonio’s West Side that until recently had been mostly used for partying, off-roading, and illegal dumping.
People have also been mountain biking at Devil’s Den for years, but the recent trail construction came under a formal partnership between the nonprofit group South Texas Off-Road Mountain Bikers (STORM), the City, and outdoor retailer REI.
With REI providing funding for trail markers, STORM volunteers and supporters improved about 2.7 miles of dirt trail, most of it open to both hikers and bikers. The group has a formal agreement with the City that allows it to build and maintain trails on City property.
Devil’s Den Trails
Offers: Hiking, mountain biking
Location: Trails branch off of Leon Creek Greenway north and south of Ingram Road. Nearest trailhead is Ingram Transit Center, 3215 Northwestern Drive.
Trail miles: 2.7 miles of dirt trails
Restrooms: Toilets and running water at trailheads at West Military Drive, Ingram Transit Center, and Cathedral Rock Park.
These new dirt trails branch off of the concrete Leon Creek Greenway trail. That paved route is slowly coming together on the West Side of San Antonio under the City’s linear creekways program funded by an eighth-cent sales tax in place for 20 years. The City has collected $56.8 million of the $80 million in sales tax funding since voters last renewed the tax in 2015.
More gaps remain in the Leon Creek Greenway than the Salado Creek Greenway on San Antonio’s eastern half. I rode the greenway between Cathedral Rock Park on Grissom Road and the trailhead at West Military Drive.
If you’re headed north from that trailhead and turn right at the fork just south of Grissom Road instead of heading left to the dead end at Cathedral Rock, the greenway continues all the way north past O.P. Schnabel Park and the northern part of Leon Creek, which is full of mountain bike trails.
Until recently, there were no officially sanctioned trails on the middle Leon Creek. That changed after the Devil’s Den grand opening on Jan. 12, when dozens of riders got their first chance to try out the improved trails. Most of the trails have names straight out of Dante’s Divine Comedy – Deception, Treachery, Carnage, Limbo, and (the misfit of the group) Saddle Way.
“That was my idea to do the whole ‘Dante’s nine levels of Hell’ thing,” said Jeff Jordan, STORM’s president. Jordan and his wife, Brenda Gonzalez, STORM’s vice-president, are two important figures behind the recent expansion of San Antonio’s mountain bike trail network.
To design the trails in a way to prevent washouts in heavy rains or erosion under countless bike tires, STORM recruited some experienced trail designers who had helped build routes at Flat Rock Ranch and Hill Top Resort, Jordan said. Both are popular mountain bike destinations on private land in the Hill Country.
The improved Devil’s Den trails aren’t exactly pretty – at least not in a pristine, scenic-beauty kind of way. But they are pretty cool. Never have I seen post-industrial waste so seamlessly integrated into a mountain bike trail network.
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The best example is the 0.7-mile Limbo Trail, which drops down a hillside and curves through an abandoned building that Jordan said was left over from an old construction aggregate business. Eye-catching graffiti art now covers its concrete walls.
On the Treachery trail, trail-builders used broken chunks of concrete rubble to shore up switchbacks. On Deception, someone repurposed a pile of old roofing shingles into a bike jump.
My favorite by far was the fast, twisting course that STORM created on the Carnage Trail. At only 0.4 miles, that trail is short, but its banked curves, jumps, and drops create enough difficult terrain for it to live up to its namesake.
One change the volunteers made was eliminating trail crossings in the middle of Carnage Trail, Jordan said. Now the trail is one-way, free of crossings, and meant for bicycles only.
“Nobody wants to do a Hot Wheels smashing-into-each-other thing,” Jordan said.
Shame on me for missing the Devil’s Den grand opening. Fortunately, I had a chance to catch up with Jordan at a recent panel discussion at Weathered Souls Brewing Co.
Much of that discussion at Weathered Souls centered on the future of the greenways as City and County officials look to shift that eighth-cent sales tax to fund a more complete public transit system. The volunteers on the City’s Linear Creekways Parks Advisory Board last year passed a resolution calling for the City to maintain the program at its current levels. Bexar County leaders have signaled they are willing to consider taking on funding at roughly the same level – nearly $84 million over five years.
Many San Antonio residents who love outdoor sports don’t want to see any changes to the creekways program, which they consider one of the City’s major successes. But at the Weathered Souls event, John Kent, a member of the creekways advisory board appointed by Councilman John Courage (D9), framed the issue a little differently than I’ve heard it before.
“We were advising the Council on what’s best for the creekways,” Kent said of the resolution against shifting the sales tax. “Council has to decide what’s best for San Antonio.”
What is best for all of San Antonio? With all of these changes to the trail program on the horizon we should all ask that question.