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Respecting wildlife and keeping tracks single

Shauna Farnell
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EAGLE COUNTY – Trail users this spring must realize there’s more to mud season than getting one’s feet wet.A muddy bike and muddy shoes require a bit of attention, but are nothing compared to the damage done to trails traveled on before they’re ready, or the disruption to wildlife in areas that are closed.Downvalley, trails and roads are dry and open, but upvalley, trail users should be aware of seasonal closures and stay off certain trails, for the trails’ sake and for the surrounding environment.The North Trail and Son of Middle Creek singletracks in Vail are closed through June 15, Paulie’s Plunge and Paulie’s Sister in Beaver Creek-Eagle-Vail are closed until June 30 and Whiskey Creek, Eastern Hillside the Back Bowls and Blue Sky Basin – including Two Elk Trail – are closed until July 1.”The primary reasons for closures are elk calving and migration,” said Don Dressler, ranger with the U.S. Forest Service’s Holy Cross district. “It’s also a trail condition issue. With spring runoff, trails tend to be very muddy. If people are on the trails when they’re wet, they can do more damage than they know.”The damage is not subtle to future trail users. It comes in the form of trenches down backcountry dirt roads formed by trucks and dirtbikes, holes formed by footprints or cracks in the middle formed by mountain bike wheels, all caused by using trails and roads when they are wet.Spring isn’t the only time to stay off trails. Trail maintenance specialists advise individuals to allow trails and roads to dry before riding, hiking or driving on them after rain or snowstorms throughout the season.”In wet periods at any time in the year, with a few days of rain, a trail can be just as wet as it is early season,” said Dawes Wilson, founder of Trail Action Group, an organization that maintains many of the valley’s hiking and multi-use trails.

Mud management”No matter how people use them, on foot or on bike, they churn up the soft tread and it gets washed away,” Wilson said. “Bikes create ruts down the length of the trail that channels water, which stays on the trail rather than washing off it. It can widen the trail dramatically.”Those who want to keep singletracks as singletracks rather than transforming them into doubletracks or widened dirt paths should follow a few simple guidelines: Avoid driving, riding, hiking, horseback-riding or running on trails that have been saturated by rain or are regrowing new vegetation in the spring. When encountering a wet area in the trail, the best course of action is to walk through it. Mountain bikers should dismount.”You keep your bike cleaner and don’t deepen the wet area this way or spread it across the trail,” Wilson said. “The second best thing is to walk around it. The worst thing is to ride around it. I know those are hard ethics to follow, because it’s not fun to get your feet wet. But if you’re walking for a quarter mile through mud, it’s not very fun and it’s an unwise use of the trails.”Wilson pointed out that while footprints in muddy trails don’t channel water the same way a track from a bike tire does, they make a deeper imprint in the wet soil. Horses’ prints are deeper still, and the worst thing for wet trails and roads are motorcycles and vehicles.While many of the trails closed until June and July appear to be dry, users must respect the closures for wildlife concerns.Respecting a quiet rest area

“For pregnant females, it’s their most sensitive time of year,” Dressler said. “Any human disturbance is putting the fawns’ lives and their lives in jeopardy. It’s a time for them to not have to worry about being spooked and moved. We close the trails to give them some quiet time to nurse their young so the calves can be strong enough to move with the herd.”Dressler said the most critical time of day for elk migration is at dusk. They then bed down in the quiet areas where trails are closed to sleep and rest during the day.While some trail users question the impact that hikers and bikers might have on deer and elk this time of year, especially when neighboring trails are open. The North Trail, for example, is closed, yet the Buffehr Creek trail, which converges with it, is open. Dressler said there is logic to the specific closures.”The Buffehr Creek trail predates the north trail. It’s been around long enough for animals on it to adapt to human use,” he said. “Even though you see evidence (in the form of deer and elk feces), that animals have been on those other trails, they’re moving to a quiet area. When we built the North Trail, one of the conditions with the Colorado Division of Wildlife was to have a seasonal closure on the trail.”There are many trails in the area – all of the trails in Eagle and Gypsum, Berry Creek in Edwards and the lower portion of Red Sandstone Road in Vail – on which to hike, run and bike. Other trails upvalley, like Booth Falls, Gore Range and trails in the Eagle’s Nest Wilderness area that are restricted to foot traffic only, are open, but wet and snowy.”Generally, those trails don’t melt out until after memorial day,” Dressler said of the East Vail trails. “If they’re muddy, you’re impacting the trails. We had a very warm April and we lost a lot of snowpack, but I think the higher trails are going to be snowy for a while. It’s up to the user to make the decision and respect the closures.” While trail closures are rarely enforced, those who observe individuals regularly using a closed trail are asked to educate the individual on the closure or call the Holy Cross office at 827-5715.Sports Writer Shauna Farnell can be reached at 748-2936, or sfarnell@vaildaily.com.Vail, Colorado


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