6-person trails crew will work in Eagle County this summer, thanks to a 6-figure grant from GOCO | VailDaily.com

6-person trails crew will work in Eagle County this summer, thanks to a 6-figure grant from GOCO

Vail Valley Mountain Trails Alliance chosen to address impacts from increased recreation

A trails crew works on the Cougar Ridge trail in Minturn in 2015. The nearby Game Creek Trail will see improvements this summer.
John LaConte, jlaconte@vaildaily.com

A full-time trails crew will hit the ground running, and riding, this spring thanks in part to a $166,211 grant to the Vail Valley Mountain Trails Alliance from Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO).

Ernest Saeger, the alliance’s executive director, said the grant will allow a crew of six to be dispatched to locations throughout the valley starting May 1.

Saeger described the crew as the latest evolution of the alliance’s efforts, something that has been identified as well needed for quite some time. GOCO uses an independent board to award competitive grants to local governments and land trusts; Eagle County Open Space also signed on the effort and helped secure the grant.

“People are coming to us with all kinds of projects and needs and requirements just due to the demand that’s out there for recreation and the amount of people that are getting out there on our trails,” Saeger said. ”The pandemic exacerbated that, it did it much more quickly, but it was already happening, there were already more people getting out there before the pandemic, and it’s only going to increase now going forward.”

In a complex web of Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, state land, county and local town open space, the need for a crew that sees no boundaries has presented itself in Eagle County in recent years. Saeger received letters of support from the towns of Vail, Avon, Minturn and Eagle as well as the Eagle County Commissioners, BLM, U.S. Forest Service and Colorado Parks & Wildlife

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“This crew will be able to work on all land managers’ land,” Saeger said.

On any given day

The six-person crew, on any given day this spring, could have two workers building a new trail in Eagle (connecting the Eagle Ranch Loops to the East Eagle trail system, pending BLM approval); two workers performing trail maintenance in the West Avon Preserve; and two workers could be positioned at Son of middle Creek Trail during the April 15 to June 20 trail closures, “educating the public about why the trail is closed and why we need to protect the wildlife,” Saeger said, ”but also saying ’here is where you can go recreate right now.’ So on one day we could have this trail crew making an impact from Eagle all the way to Vail.”

The West Avon Preserve is scheduled to open to hikers and bikers on April 15, weather permitting. A trails crew will perform maintenance in the preserve this summer thanks in part to a new grant from Great Outdoors Colorado.
Rick Spitzer, Special to the Daily

The alliance was chosen for the grant as the group is in position to address impacts of increased recreation across the county’s trails, open space, wildlife and natural resources, according to a news release from GOCO’s Resilient Communities program. The program was created to helps grantees advance outdoor recreation, stewardship and land protection work.

The alliance was formed in 2011 after Eagle County transplants Jamie Malin and Peter Geyer looked to their home states of Michigan and Vermont and their local International Mountain Bike Association chapters for guidance, seeing a need for something similar in Eagle County.

The group rebranded as the Vail Valley Mountain Trails Alliance in 2019, and continues to evolve.

“We’re growing fast,” Saeger said. “We used to be going and knocking on doors and saying, ‘Hey include us, we think this is important, we want to do this,’” Saeger said. “We kept continuing to send emails and poke and push, and now it’s completely transformed to where people are coming to us.”

Through its weekly trail crew nights and programs such as Adopt a Trail, the VVMTA has organized over 3,000 volunteers who have contributed over 20,000 hours of trail work, according you the group’s website.

Trail crews work on the Cougar Ridge Trail in Minturn in 2015.
John LaConte, jlaconte@vaildaily.com

Exciting projects

The alliance has identified more than 75 trail, open space, wildlife and conservation projects for the six-person crew to complete between May and October. Among them are a couple of exciting projects linking into the iconic locations of Eagle County, including a reroute of the Game Creek Trail which connects to Vail Mountain, and a reroute of the Colorado Trail which connects to Camp Hale.

The Game Creek Trail uses an old logging road which has sections that are unsustainable and seeing erosion, Saeger said.

“We want to make Game Creek, which is already heavily used by hikers … a little more climbable with a bike,” Saeger said. “So you can park at the bottom of the Game Creek/Cougar Ridge trailhead there on Taylor Street in Minturn, you could climb up Game Creek … and then you could take Game Creek and do the new Cougar Ridge Trail back to Minturn, and you have this great loop opportunity there.”

To date, GOCO has provided the Eagle County area with $31.2 million, helping complete projects in the Brush Creek Valley Ranch and Open Space, Eagle River Park, Sylvan Lake State Park, Glassier Ranch, Eagle Valley Outdoor Movement and a Generation Wild community.

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