Spoke Talk: Unmasking the trail fairies

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Paul Matheny

Ever wonder where those sweet singletrack trails come from and who maintains them? Despite local folklore, it’s not the “trail fairies,” but Routt County Riders volunteers and the RCR Trails Committee who work with local land managers to help make great singletrack happen.

Many trails in the county are on public land managed by the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management. Both agencies devote as many resources as they can to maintaining trails, but staffing and funding just can’t cover all of the needed maintenance. RCR helps fill the maintenance gap. Maintaining existing trails is one of the club’s priorities, and trail work crews are out practically every week this summer. Locations for trail work range from Emerald Mountain and Steamboat Ski Area to Mad Creek and Red Dirt in more rural parts of the county.

Before any trail work happens, a lot of administrative and organizational stuff must be done. The land management agency and RCR sign agreements that describe each party’s liabilities, responsibilities and expectations. Specific projects are agreed upon, dates are set and volunteers are solicited. When the day arrives, volunteers meet at the designated location and the RCR trail crew leader brings tools (owned by RCR) and food for breakfast and lunch (typically donated by local businesses and restaurants).

Each trail session begins with a safety meeting to discuss safe use of the tools and avoiding any potential hazards specific to the project. Then we grab the tools and head up the trail to the work site, where the goal for the day might be to stabilize a creek crossing, repair erosion damage, level and stabilize the tread surface or trim vegetation to improve visibility along the trail corridor. Crews use a variety of tools including shovels, pruners, saws, pulaksis and McLeods to move rocks and soil, chop roots and rake the tread surface so that it is durable, sustainable, safe and fun for all trail users. All of the work is done in a very thoughtful way in harmony with the existing trail and surroundings. Depending on the day, crew size can vary from five to 20 people but typically is on the smaller side. Everyone on the crew works at his or her own pace, and all of the work is appreciated.

During a recent morning work session, eight mountain bikers, two groups of hikers and a lady on horseback traveled through the work area and expressed gratitude for the improvements that were being made. Of the six folks on the crew that day, each of us knew a couple of the others, but we also made some new friends. One was not a RCR member, just a trail user wanting to give back to the trails he uses. Another volunteer said, “There’s nothing more satisfying than riding a trail you helped create or maintain. I figure if I ride all summer, giving a day to the trails just feels right.”

At the end of the day, everyone had a good time and departed with a well-deserved sense of accomplishment. Upcoming work sessions can be found at www.routtcountyriders.org, and volunteers always are welcome.

Paul Matheny serves on Routt County Riders board of directors.

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