Trail ambassador program, a new effort designed to enforce closures, now recruiting volunteers | VailDaily.com

Trail ambassador program, a new effort designed to enforce closures, now recruiting volunteers

Michelle Wolffe
Special to the Daily

The Vail Valley Mountain Bike Association is pleased to announce that their Adopt a Trail program has expanded.

The program has added a new feature called the Trail Ambassador, to offer presence on the trail and in our community, help enforce trail closures, offer education about local flora and fauna and spread the Leave No Trace concept.

Between trail adoption and weekly trail work through mountain bike association and Hardscrabble Trails Coalition, there are a lot of opportunities for people to dig in the dirt.

The Adopt a Trail Ambassador program is actively recruiting volunteers for the 2018/2019 season. A training for the new recruits is being held at the White River U.S. Forest Service Minturn office on Thursday, Nov. 8, from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. If you have any other questions or would like to RSVP for the training, email Michelle Wolffe at ecadoptatrail@gmail.com.

200 INSTANCES IN 10 DAYS

The mountain bike association recognized that there were trail supporters out there that don't necessarily want to get down and dirty. So new this year, the Adopt a Trail Ambassador program was born in partnership with the U.S. Forest Service.

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This year's emphasis was on the spring wildlife closure from April 15 to June 20. The trails included in this closure were the North Trail, Two Elk and Stone Creek. In a community meeting earlier this year including the U.S. Forest Service and the Colorado Parks and Wildlife, some staggering statistics were shared. With the use of only a few cameras, the USFS documented 200 people using a closed trail over a 10 day period. It was unclear whether these people were local or not. VVMBA and USFS believes that community education and enforcing the closures would reduce this problem. This led to the cooperative creation of the Trail Ambassador program.

HANDLING CONFRONTATIONS

The Spring 2018 program kicked off on April 7 with a half day training with the Forest Service at the Eagle-Holy Cross Ranger Station.

There are two categories of Ambassadors including Social and Field Ambassadors.

Social Ambassadors visit groups or organizations that offer recommendations for recreational opportunities in Eagle County. This includes running and hiking clubs, ski and bike rental shops, hotels and the like.

Field Ambassadors are present outside on the closed trailheads and offer education on the seasonal wildlife trail closures and remind visitors about the basic concepts behind Leave No Trace. Other topics covered at the training included seasonal wildlife migration, communication skills and how to handle certain situations including confrontations.

UNDERSTANDING CLOSURES

There is a lot of misunderstanding about trail closures in Eagle County and why they are closed.

The dates of closures depends on wildlife movement as well as the land management entity, so they vary across the valley.

This year, the same day trails opened in Avon, several closed around Vail, so the confusion is understandable.

The Avon area trails are closed to protect mule deer from disturbance on their winter range. The Vail area trails closures are intended to protect mule deer and elk during migration, fawning and calving.

Eagle County has a strong biking community and having a dry trail is tempting to people wanting to ride or hike. 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.

This year, USFS added large green gates and signs at the closed trail heads making it very clear that the trail was closed. Field Ambassador volunteers were also present on these trails to help people understand the reasoning for the new gate placement and offer suggestions for other open recreational trail locations close by.

Ambassadors also document any noticeable presence on and off the trails. This included people passing by the trail head as well as being on the closed trails. Other statistics collected include dogs being walked and whether they were on leash or not. Cars parked at the trailhead lots were also counted. The information collected was added to a master digital logging system that will help the USFS and VVMBA better understand what is happening on these trails without relying on cameras alone.

BY THE NUMBERS

2018 Trail Ambassador Statistics

Total hours of volunteer time — 176

Total days volunteered — 110

People encountered — 897

Dogs seen on trails — 213

People seen on closed trails — 30

Dogs seen on closed trails — 14

Cars parked at trail heads — 263

People’s temperament — 84 percent great; 15 percent average; 1 percent negative