Hitting the trails
If you hike or bike valley trails, you should also take care of them.
That’s the philosophy of the Trail Action Group, volunteers who have spent a few days this summer repairing, rebuilding and generally taking care of a batch of local trails.
“If everybody who took advantage of the trails would help do maintenance, it would sure help,” Eagle-Vail mountain biker Courtney Gregory said.
Gregory and a small group recently spent the better part of two days hard at work on a trail that winds along the outskirts of the Vail Mountain ski area from the top of Benchmark Ridge to Two Elk Pass.
The trail starts near the top of the poma lift in Mongolia Bowl and winds down to the valley floor to Two Elk Trial.
The volunteers spent several hours on about one and a half miles of trail. They rerouted five steep and deteriorating trails into one that will be easier to sustain.
“We haven’t had a lot of volunteers, but they ones we’ve had have been hard working,” said Dawes Wilson, who calls himself the “catalyst” rather than the founder of the Trails Action Group.
Weather, whether it’s dry or wet, takes a toll on the trails. During dry spells, the trails can be clogged with sand. In heavy rains, the water runs down the trails and eats away at trail and mountainside.
Heavy usage by bikers and hikers, particularly on the narrow trails called “single-tracks,” causes more damage.
“Most mountain bikers love single-track, but they go out and tear it up and they’re no longer single-tracks. They turned into big, rutted roads,” Gregory said.
Wilson further explained the problem.
“People ride straight downhill and when it’s gets too difficult, they move over three feet … now there are five trenches on the outer ski boundary,” Wilson said.
Exacerbating the problem is that the U.S. Forest Service, which manages the much of the land the trails cross, has been hit with budget cutbacks and doesn’t have enough manpower to take care of many trails, said Bob Kippola, one of the organizers of the cleanups.
And wildfires throughout the state have redirected the agency’s resources over the past few summers, he said.
“If the community wants to keep using trails, the community needs to be out here,” Kippola said. “Without volunteers, the trails get worse and worse.”
Volunteer Ellen Miller, a local hiker and mountain biker who has climbed Mt. Everest, said she feels responsible for the trails.
“I am an everyday trail user in the summertime, and I think that care and maintenance of the trails is important,” Miller said.
“For those of us who are trail users, here’s a way to give back and work one day a year. Personally,” she said, “I don’t think it’s too much to ask.”
While she called trail work “fun,” she also said that’s not quite how she would describe climbing Mt. Everest, the world’s highest peak.
“Climbing Mt. Everest is very rewarding, but I don’t know that I’d describe it as fun. It’s enjoyable and joyous.”
There’s a careful balance to be reached to keep the trails in shape, said volunteer Pete Lombardi, a mountain biker who lives in Eagle.
“The trail has to be usable without being damaged,” Lombardi said. “There always needs to be more work done and more care done to the trails.”
Another problem the Forest Service is battling is the creation of illegal, or “rogue” biking trails built away from designated routes. The rogue trails have been blamed for causing further erosion in the forest.
“I stick to the (designated) trails,” Gregory said. “The only time I go off is if I get lost. I try to be respectful of the signs.”
The Trail Action Group formed about five years ago in response to the increased pressure on the U.S. Forest Service. At the time, there was a threat of several trails being closed because of the agency’s resource crunch.
The Trail Action Group’s volunteers have kept many trails from being closed, Kippola said.
“The trails are in decent shape with out efforts over the last five years,” he said. “They went from a C-minus to a B-plus, but they still need work.”
Trail work on Vail Mountain isn’t as arduous as it sounds. In fact, Miller said, it can even be spiritually uplifting.
“Trail work doesn’t get any better,” Miller said. “The views are incredible from up there – a 360-degree view – and the wildflowers are stunning. It’s just joyous to be up there.”
Wilson said the rehabilitated trail is waiting to be used.
“It needs to be ridden,” he said.