Muddy conditions persist on some Vail trails with wildlife closures set to lift
The Forest Service wants trail users to respect closures and to practice 'responsible recreating'
VAIL — U.S. Forest Service wildlife restrictions will lift Thursday for many trails on the east end of Eagle County, but user discretion is advised.
With the end of the April 15 to June 20 wildlife mitigation period, gates on Vail and Eagle-Vail trails like Paulie’s Plunge, the North Trail, Son of Middle Creek and Buffehr Creek will be unlocked, but that doesn’t mean the trails will be ready for hiking and biking.
The term used by the Forest Service is “responsible recreating,” and this year, an extra level of responsible decision making will be required from everyone seeking recreation on the trails.
In plain terms, if a trail is wet, it’s not open yet.
“Muddy trails are always closed trails,” said Ernest Saeger with the Vail Valley Mountain Trail Alliance, repeating a slogan the group has adopted.
Looks may be deceiving
Aaron Mayville with the Forest Service said rangers will open gates on Thursday, but at that time, they’ll also check conditions on those trails. Mayville said he expects trails on the North Trail will be mostly ready, but Red Sandstone Road leading up to the Red and White Road, which traverses the north end of Eagle County in the White River National Forest, could stay closed for a while.
“The lower portion of Red Sandstone may open soon,” Mayville said. “But it’s still muddy at the top.”
A common misconception, says Mayville, is if the bottom of the trail looks good, the whole trail is recreation-ready.
“If you see a closed road which is usually open this time of year, that closure is there for a reason,” Mayville said. “The top of the trails are still wet, and using them can cause a lot of damage.”
While the summer travel season in the White River National Forest usually begins on May 21, heavy snowpack and debris from avalanches persist in many areas this year, wrote Lynn Lockwood with the Forest Service.
“Travel in muddy conditions creates deep ruts that damage roads and trails,” wrote Lockwood. “Some gates are still buried in snow, and roads are extremely wet and muddy. Crews have been assessing snowline and many roads that are typically clear by May 21 remain inaccessible due to snowpack, debris and muddy conditions.”
Trail users are advised to contact the local Ranger Station for current conditions before embarking on a trip.
On Wednesday, Saeger said it’s still hard to say what trail users may encounter with Thursday’s openings. The trails alliance and the Forest Service must also respect the closures, so they do not yet know how conditions are looking.
“I expect anyone going out and trying to ride Buffehr Creek or Son of Middle Creek will encounter some downed trees and other hazards,” Saeger said. “The Forest Service sawyers will get out there to clear downed trees as soon as possible, but they don’t start doing that until after the wildlife closures are over, so trail users who are getting out there before they’ve had a chance to clear trails will probably have a few downed trees in their path.”
With dwindling elk populations in mind, Vail trail runner David Rattum said he’ll never forget seeing a small herd of elk on the North Trail in Vail.
“My dog started running at it instinctively, thinking it was a deer, and then just stopped and sat down in awe, realizing that’s a lot bigger than a deer,” Rattum said.
Rattum took a different view of wildlife closures following the incident, and is excited to see what the North Trail in Vail looks like with Thursday’s opening.
Wildlife closures will remain in effect on the back side of Vail Mountain until July 1, and the popular Two Elk trail will remain closed until July or longer due to the heavy snowpack still covering the top of the mountain. Currently no hiking and biking is available from the top of the Vail Mountain, and the lower portion of Berry Picker is the only trail currently available for hiking from the bottom of Vail Mountain. Berry Picker won’t take you to the top, though, as the upper portion of that trail is still covered in snow.
In Beaver Creek, Village Loop, Aspen Glade, Allie’s Way, Overlook to Dally, the Beaver Lake Trail to Beano’s Road, Aspen Glade, Village Loop and Five Senses are open. On other trails in Beaver Creek, like the popular Village to Village between Beaver Creek and Bachelor Gulch, wildlife restrictions will lift on July 1.