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Heal the crags

Matt TerrellVail CO, Colorado
NWS fraggle rock1 KA 5-6-07
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RED CLIFF – It’s obvious to this group of hard-core climbers that humans – mainly crag-hounds like themselves – have done some real damage at Fraggle Rock.The makeshift trail leading up to the popular climbing spot near Red Cliff looks worn and unkempt. Donny Shefchik of Paragon Guides points out large, barren areas of dirt at the base of Fraggle Rock where there used to be grass eight years ago.Now, this is where people stand with their boots, gear and ropes, waiting for their turn to climb up. As this scenic spot became more popular over the years, the wear and tear started to show. It’s not in shambles yet, but it could be if people don’t start taking responsibility, Shefchik said.”We have done this so long, we’ve seen the change,” Shefchik said. “All of us know we have some problems to deal with.”Shefchick is one of several local climbing outfitters learning how to build, repair and maintain trails to solve this problem. Once they learn how, they’ll be able to wrangle volunteers and build back the land that leads them to the rocks.

There’s a real art to trail building, a level of craft you don’t exactly see in the path leading to Fraggle Rock and the many other unofficial trails scattered throughout the woods. It just happens to be where climbers decided to hike up.A group called the Colorado Outdoor Training Initiative is teaching these local climbing groups how to artfully build a trail that will last for years. They were all out at Fraggle Rock on Saturday and Sunday with shovels and pickaxes, carefully scraping away at the dirt paths like sculptors and trying to coax real shape and purpose out of what used to be a messy, unsustainable trail. They also spotted a few places were rock steps could really help.Only 30 minutes of work made a world of difference.Rock climbers are notorious for creating shortcut trails, said Walt Horner, executive director of the training initiative.”When they see a rock, they want to get there the quickest way possible, so they’ll go straight up a hill instead of using switchbacks,” Horner said. “They’ve created their own trail with no erosion controls. It’s a fragile environment.”Erosion can lead to unstable paths, loss of vegetation, water pooling and sediment in creeks in rivers.These groups that attended the training – Meet the Wilderness, Vail Rock and Ice, Paragon Guides and Colorado Outward Bound – will each adopt a trail or two to maintain over the next few years, making sure climbers and hikers don’t wear them out, said Brandon Mitchell of the U.S. Forest Service.This constant maintenance will become especially important as more people discover what were once hidden, secluded climbing destinations. Prime climbing spots are tough to find around here, so when the good ones are discovered, there’s a good chance people will use them and use them often, said James Hay of Vail Mountain and Ice.”Last summer, I saw so many more people here than the year before,” Hay said. “Climbing is growing as a sport, and I’ve noticed the impacts.”Staff Writer Matt Terrell can be reached at 748-2955 or mterrell@vaildaily.com.


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