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Lost Lake mountain bike race rescheduled; still snowy above 10,500 feet in Vail

The U.S. Forest Service says the snow line is currently at about 10,500 feet in Vail, which means many trails at 10,000 feet and above are still too muddy to enjoy.

That includes Forest Service Roads 734 and 786 in the area north of Vail near Piney Lake, where Wednesday’s Lost Lake race was set to take place. The race, which was a new addition to the Vail Recreation District’s annual summer mountain biking series in 2017, takes riders up Vail’s North Trail to the Son of Middle Creek Trail, to Lost Lake Road (Forest Service Road 786), ending at Red and White Mountain Road (Forest Service Road 734).

As of Monday, Red and White Mountain Road, a popular 4-wheel drive access area in the White River National Forest, was still closed for the season.

The Lost Lake race was scheduled to be the fifth race in the East West Hospitality Mountain Bike Race Series presented by Bloch & Chapleau Attorneys at Law and Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield.

Instead, the Camp Hale Hup will take its place on Wednesday, with the Lost Lake race rescheduled for July 24.

With the theme “muddy trails are always closed trails” in mind, Vail Rec District organizers checked out the course recently and said while a couple of people might be able to ride it without doing too much damage to the trail, to put 200 people up there would be a disaster.

The Camp Hale Course, on the other hand, which was scheduled to be the sixth race in the series, is looking much better.

The start/finish will be at the intersection of East Fork and Resolution Creek Road, half a mile east of the Nova Guides lodge at Camp Hale. The Vail Rec District has asked riders to note the fact that there are sheep currently grazing at Camp Hale.

“However there are no livestock protection dogs on-site,” the Rec District added in a release sent out Monday.

The races will begin at 4:45 p.m. with the Yeti’s Grind Youth Series for riders ages 8 to 17. The East West Hospitality Adult Series will kick off at 5:45 p.m. View a course map here

Trust Our Land: Waiting for wildlife and hiking with friends

Wildlife are one of our community’s most treasured resources. Deer, elk, and our other furry friends inspire and give us a reason to tread lightly in the backcountry.

Protecting wildlife is a responsibility that unites all of us. Trail closures are one of our community’s most important tools for giving wildlife the space they need during times of the year when they are most vulnerable. Elk and deer are in survival mode; even the slightest disturbances can have significant cumulative impacts throughout winter and spring. As our community grows, so too must our respect for wildlife and their needs.

Fortunately, awareness about the importance of trail closures has been growing in our county. This awareness, combined with efforts like Adopt A Trail’s Trail Ambassador Program, has resulted in a significant increase in trail closure adherence. Not only are local trail users increasingly willing to comply with closures, many have voiced support and volunteered their time and energy to spread the message.

To be a true friend of wildlife, give them space year-round. A rule of thumb is to measure your distance using your thumb. If you are lucky enough to encounter an animal on an open trail, extend your arm fully, close one eye, put up your thumb, and try to block the animal with it. If your thumb fully covers the animal, your distance is adequate. If you can’t cover the animal with your thumb, slowly give it more space until you can.

After a long winter, many of us are bursting with excitement to get out on our favorite trails throughout the county. Please remember that many trails around the county are still closed, so do some research before you go. Fortunately, Eagle Valley Land Trust’s Community Land Connection Series has you covered.

Join EVLT and partners all spring, summer, and fall for programs on protected land throughout the county. The series kicks off this Earth Day, April 22, with a nature break at Eagle River Preserve in Edwards with the Eagle Valley Outdoor Movement and Nurtured By Nature Forest Therapy. The hike will explore Eagle River Preserve’s natural elements and the benefits of slowing down to recharge in nature. The Eagle River Preserve is permanently conserved thanks to a partnership between Eagle County Open Space and the Eagle Valley Land Trust.

Other hikes in the series include the Horn Ranch Historical Tour and the Harrington’s Penstemon Hike in May and June, respectively.

Back by popular demand, the Community Land Connection Series will also include two restoration projects (July and August) to assist landowners in improving and restoring their conserved lands.

To RSVP for EVLT’s Community Land Connection Series hikes and restoration projects, email community@evlt.org or call EVLT at (970) 748-7654.

Jessica Foulis is the stewardship and outreach manager at the Eagle Valley Land Trust. She can be reached at jfoulis@evlt.org. EVLT is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization. For more information about the Eagle Valley Land Trust and how it is conserving land and benefiting the community, visit http://www.evlt.org.

East Eagle the only area of county to see new trail openings on April 15

EAGLE — The Pool & Ice Rink trail is now open, although it was still a little wet near the top as of Monday, an annual trail opening day in Eagle County.

Pool &and Ice Rink is among a group of trails in the area known as east Eagle, which was the only area of Eagle County to see new soft-surface trail openings on Monday.

Closures in the West Avon Preserve, Hardscrabble Mountain and other areas of the county that usually celebrate trail openings on April 15 have been extended indefinitely.

Even in east Eagle, which would appear to be ride-ready, closures on the Haymaker trail have been extended, as well. Elk have been spotted in the areas surrounding the Haymaker Outer Loops trails, so while that area seems ready to enjoy (and indeed you might see people hiking and biking it), trail users have been asked to stay away for the time being in deference to the county’s dwindling elk population.

Waitig on elk in Eagle

The Haymaker Outer Loops are on town of Eagle property, and the town can choose to deem the area open or closed as it sees fit.

Acting Open Space Manager Jeremy Gross said the Haymaker Outer Loops will remain closed until the elk move on.

“They’re a good quarter of a mile past Haymaker,” Gross said of the elk in the area. “We’re going to continue to observe day by day, and we’ll make a decision.”

In the east Eagle area, the Lower Boneyard trail, along with Redneck Ridge, are also open as those trails aren’t subject to seasonal closures. The Dirt Surfer trail in east Eagle is technically open, but, as it leads to the Haymaker trail, people are being asked to stay off of it or turn around and head back up once you get to Haymaker.

The upper portion of the Boneyard trail is closed, as well, so trail users are being asked to get off the trail and onto the road at the green gate about halfway up the trail.

“We really want to encourage people not to ride muddy trails,” said Charlie Brown, of the Hardscrabble Trails Coalition. “And Upper Boneyard is still a mess, it probably won’t be rideable for a week or two.”

Visit eagleoutside.com/explore/trails for up to date info on trail closures and conditions.

Mud in Avon

Like Eagle, the town of Avon also owns an area of land that contains trails that can be closed and opened at the town’s discretion outside of the normal wildlife closures, which occur between Dec. 15 and April 15.

This year, the town of Avon has decided to extend the trail closures in the West Avon Preserve due to muddy conditions.

“After evaluating the current state of the trail system and the current storm cycle, it was decided to keep the lower portions of the West Avon Preserve closed until further notice,” Planning Director Matt Pielsticker wrote in a press release. “Physical barriers and signage will remain at the closure points until the trails are opened. Signs will also be posted at the trailheads alerting trail users of the extended closure.”

The Avon closures affect the popular Lee’s Way Down trail, along with Avon Singletree Connector, PB&J, Saddle Ridge Loop, Wyse Way, Carroll’s Cutoff, BLT and Wild West Ridge.

Trails not subject to seasonal closures that are still open in the West Avon Preserve include Our Backyard, Playground Way and Beaver Creek Point.

Snow in Vail

And while some areas of the county celebrate trail openings on April 15, other areas see spring wildlife closures going into effect.

The North Trail in Vail closed on Monday, a closure expected to remain in effect until June 20.

Renewed efforts by the Vail Valley Mountain Trails Association to remind potential users of closures — an undertaking known as the trails ambassador program — has been effective in educating trail users of the closures.

Fences were put in to help enforce trail closures on the North Trail in Vail last year.

The formation of the ambassador program also included the erecting of gates in some areas as a more tangible reminder to stay away.

Elk were spotted in the area near the North Trail last spring just days before the closures went into effect.

“The trail ambassador program was pretty impressive in its ability to educate people, make contact with people, and keep stats on those contacts,” said Vail Valley Mountain Trails Association Executive Director Ernest Saeger.

Ambassadors focused on the North Trail and the Two Elk trail in Vail, and the Stone Creek trail in Eagle-Vail. They made 897 encounters with people over 176 hours of volunteer time.

“The information collected was added to a master digital logging system that will help (the U.S. Forest Service and the Vail Valley Mountain Trails Alliance) better understand what is happening on these trails without relying on cameras alone,” wrote Michelle Wolffe, who helped manage the program last year.

Leading up to the launch of the trail ambassador program, the Forest Service used cameras to document 200 people on a closed trail over a 10 day period.

“Eagle County has a strong biking community and having a dry trail is tempting to people wanting to ride or hike,” wrote Wolffe. “What they might not understand is that the closure isn’t always about the trail condition. Deer and elk that have struggled to survive all winter, need access to specific familiar regions to refuel their depleted bodies and safely raise their new young. Closing some trails allows them a familiar safe zone to refuel and give birth.”

Gore Valley Trail through Dowd Junction now open

The Gore Valley Trail through Dowd Junction will be reopened for a new season on Monday.

Users are asked to use extreme caution during or after additional snowstorms due to snowplowing activity on Interstate 70. In addition to sweeping, cleaning and other repairs, reopening the trail requires the installation of a fabric screen near the Mud Springs Gulch wildlife underpass, which will be taking place the week of April 15. The screen hides trail users from migrating deer and elk, and allows the trail to remain open during the spring migration season.

Regarding other pathways, the recreation trail from Sunburst Drive to East Vail will be plowed and opened the week of April 22; avalanche danger may be present near Aspen Lane. Other sections of recreation trails in Vail will also reopen the week of April 22.

Following spring snowstorms, the pathways will be plowed back open after all other priorities have been serviced.  

For more information, call Gregg Barrie in the Vail Public Works Department, 970-479-2337. For ECO Trails updates, go to http://www.eaglecounty.us/Trails/News/.

Avon won’t open trails on lower West Avon Preserve until after April 15

AVON — Town officials have announced that the seasonal closure for the majority of the West Avon Preserve will extend beyond April 15 due to snowpack coverage and adverse muddy conditions.

After evaluating the current state of the trail system, and the current storm cycle, it was decided to keep the lower portions of the West Avon Preserve closed until further notice. Physical barriers and signs will remain at the closure points until the trails are opened. Signs will also be posted at the trailheads alerting trail users of the extended closure.        

Residents and guests can still enjoy the upper trails that remain open through the winter, including Our Backyard, Playground Way, and Beaver Creek Point. For more information, call Avon Planning Director Matt Pielsticker, 970-748-4413 or mpielsticker@avon.org.

Vail Valley trail stewardship group starts season with new name, executive director

It’s true that the Vail Valley Mountain Trails Alliance could probably use a few full-time employees, but it’s going to start with just one.

Ernest Saeger

Newly-hired Executive Director Ernest Saeger hit the ground running on Wednesday, his first day on the job, discussing the full docket of trails activity the group will manage over the coming months.

Trails in open space areas in the town of Avon and the town of Eagle open next week — assuming they’re not too muddy to ride — and a robust Adopt-A-Trail program, which performs maintenance activities on many of those trails, is just one of the many groups the Vail Valley Mountain Trails Alliance oversees.

Saeger was a longtime volunteer before becoming the executive director.

“The programs we’re managing, the grants we’re receiving, have grown exponentially over the last few years,” Saeger said. “It’s always been the goal to get to this point, but the Adopt A Trail program, for example, is just one of the programs we oversee and has grown from 30 trails to 40 trails, to 46, to 50 trails and now it has expanded to include a trail ambassador program to help with education on trail closures and how to respect wildlife.”

Soft-surface specialists

Formerly called the Vail Valley Mountain Biking Association, group president Jamie Malin said the growth of the group prompted the name change.

“On 20 percent of the trails we manage in the Adopt A Trail program, mountain bikes aren’t even allowed,” Malin said. “We wanted to communicate what we’re more about, which is soft-surface trails in general.”

Saeger said the many volunteers the group attracts probably won’t be surprised to hear about the name change.

“Trails are for everyone,” Saeger said. “Whether it’s biking or running or dog walking, a lot of people love to go out on the trails. And they’re a big economic driver, as well, for all the visitors that we have coming to the valley.”

One of the group’s main goals was something few thought was possible — new trail construction on US Forest Service land.

After the Forest Service closed the popular Whiskey Creek trail which helped connect Eagle-Vail and Minturn (cutting through sections of non-Forest Service land, making management difficult), the group sprung to action, asking what it would take to reroute a trail through Forest Service land only, allowing the valley to remain connected through an Eagle-Vail to Minturn nexus.

Forest Service officials said first someone would have to relieve them of their normal trail maintenance responsibilities, which had fallen behind due to a lack of resources.

The Adopt a Trail program was formed, and that hurdle was cleared.

Next, a $26,000 mini excavator, along with a full-time operator of that machine, would be required to get a new trail built in that area.

Funds were raised, the machine was purchased, and a new position was created to run the mini excavator.

Trail construction began last summer, and a grand opening of the new trail — known as Everkrisp — is expected to occur in the coming months.

“We hope to have it open in early July,” Saeger said. “We’re going to try to have a big party.”

Upcoming events

That party is just one of the many events Saeger will help organize through his new role, which will be as much an event planner position as a political figurehead at council meetings and other gatherings where trails are being discussed.

Volunteers work on the new Everkrisp trail between Eagle-Vail and Minturn in October. Volunteer numbers on the trail during 2018 were the highest the Vail Valley Mountain Trails Alliance has seen in the four years the group has been tallying volunteer figures.
Hailee Rustad | Special to the Daily

Currently, Saeger is planning an annual spring kickoff party for May 7 at the Vail Brewing Company.

After that, a “FunDuro” race on June 1 as part of the Eagle Outside festival will raise money for trail work this summer and also introduce people to the discipline of mountain biking known as “Enduro,” which has grown in popularity in recent years.

The Volunteers for Outdoor Colorado will collaborate with the Vail Valley Mountain Trails Alliance on June 29 and 30 in a final push to get the Everkrisp trail ready; anyone wanting to help work on that trail is encouraged to join that group at https://www.voc.org/project/everkrisp-trail-construction-minturn.

The Vail Valley Mountain Trails Alliance will also kick off its regular Wednesday night trail work sessions in May, where a revolving cast of local trail enthusiasts puts their talents to work with hand trail construction efforts — this year the main priority will be the Everkrisp trail until it’s ride ready.

“We’re hoping, through this role, I’ll be able to help everyone take on these already successful programs and push them even further,” Saeger said.

Our View: Let’s work out the kinks on CORE Act

Pressure on Colorado’s public lands is growing as the state grows. Ramping up preservation for at least some of that land makes sense.

Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet and Rep. Joe Neguse, whose Second Congressional District includes roughly the eastern third of the Vail Valley, in January, introduced the Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy Act. That sweeping public lands bill, which would protect 400,000 acres of public land, combines elements of four previous wilderness and preservation bills into one measure.

Locally, the high point of the bill is protection for the Camp Hale area, which would become the nation’s first “National Historic Landscape.” The bill would also create roughly 73,000 acres of new wilderness, primarily through additions to existing areas. 

The bill would create new wildlife conservation areas, recreation management areas and, in the Thompson Divide area near Carbondale, withdraws of about 200,000 acres from potential oil and gas development.

The four-in-one approach combines years of work on what once were separate legislative proposals.

Much of that work has been done by wilderness advocates who want the most restrictive protection possible for as much land as possible.

That approach has run into opposition over the years from groups as diverse as snowmobile clubs and local water districts.

Locally, wilderness advocates spent a lot of time with representatives of the Eagle River Water & Sanitation District. Those discussions were needed to protect the local district’s ditches and structures if those facilities ended up in wilderness areas. 

Bill advocates say the CORE Act keeps open for motorized access a number of areas that once were proposed to be closed to that use.

Groups representing motorized off-highway users have remained skeptical about any proposals that might close off previously-open areas.

While there are plenty of questions to answer, our public lands need more attention than they’ve had for some time.

As we’ve seen at the Maroon Bells and Hanging Lake, unfettered access to public lands can result in permanent damage to some areas. The Booth Falls Trail in Vail is likely in line for some form of additional protection, too.

On the other hand, snowmobilers, hunters and others are right to be wary of proposals that might close areas currently open to those uses. Mining and drilling are another story, one not really told in Eagle County these days.

The bottom line, though, is that public land use is evolving and our laws need to reflect that evolution. We need public hearings on the CORE Act and similar measures in other states to ensure the people — and not just special interests — have their voices heard. Those hearings might just help make a better bill.

The Vail Daily Editorial Board is Publisher Mark Wurzer, Editor Nate Peterson, Ad Director Holli Snyder, Assistant Editor Ross Leonhart, Eagle Valley Enterprise Editor Pam Boyd and Business Editor Scott Miller.

Curious Nature: It’s finally spring, kind of

March 20 marked the vernal equinox, meaning that every place on Earth experienced a 12-hour day. For those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, our days will continue to grow longer until June 21, the summer solstice. Daylight saving time has also already begun, so we’ve added an hour to the end of our days as well.

With all of this extra sunlight, you’d think spring has sprung. But if you’ve lived in Colorado for more than a year, you’ll know that spring doesn’t mean the same thing everywhere you go.

Many of us have probably experienced or witnessed snow in the rocky alpine areas of the mountains in mid-summer. Snow sticks around in the highest reaches of Colorado because as elevation increases, temperature generally decreases. This is why climbing a 14er in summer often requires a jacket. This is also why going for a springtime hike into the mountains requires carrying snowshoes (or at least crampons) in order to reach those subalpine lakes.

I’ve seen countless people turn back on a trail in the spring because they didn’t bring snowshoes for the highest sections of the trail. And even though spring is officially here, that doesn’t mean there won’t be more snow to come.

As the snow melts from the lower elevations, green shoots and flowers start to spring up from the mud. Days will feel warmer more often, and you’ll actually get to take an evening walk in daylight … and then there will come a spring snowstorm. This is the time of year to carry layers for any weather: you might need a winter coat, a rain jacket, and summer shorts all in a single day. Can you imagine how confusing this is for the plants and wildlife around us?

Grazers like mule deer and elk will begin seeking the new green shoots, ready for something juicy after eating the dry and crunchy twigs, bark, and needles all winter. The male deer (bucks), elk, and moose (bulls) will lose their antlers and begin growing new ones. Black bears, which have woken up several times throughout the winter, will now have more food to stay awake longer. Bear cubs will come out of dens for the first time with their mothers and be on the prowl for bugs, shoots, buds, and roots; they’ll also raid your garbage if you aren’t diligent.

Birds will begin to fly back from their wintering grounds. You’ll hear new songs that you haven’t heard since last year, and you’ll see more flashes of color in the trees and shrubs nearby. And when spring snowstorms arrive, these critters wait it out because they know it won’t last long.

April Fools’ Day is a good reminder that we shouldn’t be fooled by the calendar. Yes, it is technically the spring season now. Yes, daylight saving time is here, and days are growing longer. But we should remember that we live in Colorado. We can see snow every month of the year here.

Some people don’t even call it spring; some use the less-beautiful name “mud season,” which isn’t far from reality. If nothing else, spring reminds us to stay flexible to the weather and vigilant to all of the new plant and animal life springing up around us.

Nicholas Scarborough is a Foley Graduate Fellow and Educator for Walking Mountains Science Center, working toward his MA in Science Education. In addition to working with children, he also loves to paint, write, hike, and ski. You can find more of his writings about nature and art in his personal blog, The Art Outside, at http://theartoutside.wordpress.com.