Nearly decommissioned Avon Forest Service Road 779 makes a big comeback, thanks to grassroots effort

$68,000 trail revitalization project is a collaboration between local nonprofit Wildridge Trail Coalition, town of Avon, U.S. Forest Service, and Colorado Parks and Wildlife

Refurbishment efforts on Forest Service Road 779, an off-road track that begins in Wildridge in Avon, were completed in early September after a two-year, $68,000 collaborative process between the Wildridge Trail Coalition, the town of Avon, the U.S. Forest Service, and Colorado Parks and Wildlife.
Zoe Goldstein/Vail Daily

Improvement work was completed this summer on Forest Service Road 779, a 4-mile stretch that connects the Wildridge neighborhood in Avon to a network of Forest Service roads that run from Muddy Pass to Piney Lake. Slated to be decommissioned by the U.S. Forest Service Travel Management Plan in June 2011, the town of Avon and its residents defended the road’s right to exist for years, but minimal improvements were made.

In 2020, Wildridge resident Devon DeCrausaz formed the nonprofit organization Wildridge Trail Coalition to keep the road open. The road has been on an improvement journey ever since.

The network of Forest Service roads behind Wildridge began as sheep herding pathways in the late 1800s. Thousands of sheep still traverse the roads today, protected by large sheepdogs. However the majority of use on the trails is by mechanized vehicles, mountain bikes and hikers.

Raising funds

The road had not been maintained for decades when DeCrausaz took on the project, and the priority was returning it to a usable state. The first step was raising money. The Wildridge Trail Coalition, the town of Avon, and the U.S. Forest Service applied for and received a grant of nearly $40,000 from Colorado Parks and Wildlife. Other funding came from a 25 percent match from the town, and donations from local residents.

“This is unique because it’s the first time that CPW has ever awarded a grant to a municipality,” DeCrausaz said. “Normally, they award grants to nonprofits, and it’s the first time they’ve ever funded maintenance on a road and a Forest Service road. Normally, they fund trails. But they liked that we were collaborating and all working together and providing access.”

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Constructing a safer road

Ultimately, the refurbishment cost $68,000. Construction was done by local Roby Forsyth and his company, RPM Construction. With a crew of approximately five people, and two excavators, Forsyth, an approved excavator for the Forest Service, completed the work in just 12 days this summer.

On a Razr tour of the road, DeCrausaz pointed out areas that had seen significant improvement, noting that several sections of the road were nearly impassable before the maintenance. One rock ledge, DeCrausaz said, looked like a waterfall, and was dangerous to pass over.

“This corner was all rocks,” DeCrausaz said. “It would pop tires on four-wheel drive trucks,” she said.

To eliminate and prevent the large mud puddles that pooled along the trail following snowmelt and heavy rain, the construction crew put in 90 water bars, enabling better drainage. Water bars divert water so that in the spring, snowmelt and precipitation will not erode away the dirt.

The trail was open while work was being done. “People are so respectful. It’s a high clearance, single lane road anyway, so it’s not like people are going really fast,” DeCrausaz said.

The view of the valley from U.S. Forest Service Road 779, a smoother ride now thanks to the rock-breaking efforts of local Roby Forsyth and his construction crew.
Zoe Goldstein/Vail Daily

The question of winter usage

Highway-licensed vehicles, dirt bikes, off-highway vehicles, mountain bikes, hikers, hunters and firewood gatherers all use the road during warmer months. Rules enacted following the 2011 effort to decommission the road require that the bottom three-quarters of a mile of the road close for elk migration in the winter.

But as elk migration does not last throughout the winter season, one of DeCrausaz’s next projects is working with CPW to open the road for parts of the winter, to permit snowmobile access.

“We’d like that opened once the elk make their migration, for January and February, because they’re not in the area. The snow is way too deep up there,” DeCrausaz said.

In the meantime, the network of roads can be accessed in winter from Berry Creek, Muddy Pass and Red Sandstone.

New fire mitigation opportunities

Beyond recreational use, the new maintenance on Forest Service Road 779 has provided insight on wildfire concerns. “We call this the dead zone,” DeCrausaz said, indicating a section of road surrounded by dead and downed trees.

“Two years ago, we had over 300 trees down on this 4-mile stretch of road. Some of my volunteers, we call them tree fairies, come up on their own and help, and then the Forest Service has crews,” DeCrausaz explained.

“People cut right next to the road because the downed trees were big and hard to move, so Roby (Forsyth) moved them away and cleared a lot of it out so that now you can get a full-size pickup up here,” she said.

In the “dead zone,” hundreds of dead and downed trees no longer constrict the road, but may still pose wildfire threat.
Zoe Goldstein/Vail Daily

With the road widened, Eagle Valley Wildland has access to perform fire mitigation on the dead and downed trees, which might otherwise become fuel for a wildfire.

With the completion of the improvements to Forest Service Road 779, years of DeCrausaz’s effort have finally paid off.

“It’s a lot of work, but it’s good. I just think it’s really important that we keep our access,” DeCrausaz said. “That’s why you moved here, that’s why you pay a premium to live here: Because you have access to public lands,” she said.

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