Routt County Riders receives grant to improve popular Buffalo Pass trail

Brad Charlesworth takes a bike ride up Buffalo Pass to Summit Lake. Buffalo Pass' Soda Ditch Loop Trail will receive improvements in light of a grant the Routt County Riders received from American Trails' Legacy Trails Program. The trail project includes two timber bridges to go over drainage zones and allow users to safely and dryly enjoy the trail.
Scott Franz/Steamboat Pilot & Today

Routt County Riders has announced the nonprofit group will be awarded an $11,000 grant from American Trails’ Legacy Trails Program in support of the Soda Ditch Loop bridge construction project.

The Soda Ditch Loop Trail on Buffalo Pass is a 3.3-mile loop that is in close proximity to Dry Lake and serves a lot of community members of different riding abilities. 

The trail crosses several low points and drainage zones, and is well shaded, meaning it remains wet in those areas for longer periods of time. In the spring, water is often moving through those zones, making the trail muddy and hazardous for users. 

Routt County Riders Executive Director Laraine Martin said she and the U.S. Forest Service have had Soda Ditch trail improvements and bridge construction plans on the agenda for a couple years now, but the rising prices of timber and other materials have made it difficult to follow through. 

“We had to be able to plan around that so when I saw this grant go up, I thought it was the perfect time to put in for this project and see if we could get the budget to buy that timber and get it done,” Martin said. “It was the perfect storm and everything came together.”

Because the trail gets such heavy usage and is constantly wet and muddy, some users have laid down fallen aspen trees to keep the path dry. However, that increases the hazard and dangers for its users. Some bikers also decide to go around the tree structure, which wrongfully expands the width of the trail. 

Because the trail design is constrained to its current areas, it is not something that can be otherwise re-routed. As a result, it was determined two timber bridges should be constructed over the drainage zones to safely and dryly let users cross these areas.

The grant will cover the cost for all required materials, though it does not cover staff and resource time. This puts the Forest Service in charge of designing the bridges and contributing the supervision and manpower to get it done.

“We want to keep that trail corridor alignment similar, but we want to constrain usage over some really safe and Forest Service-designed bridges instead of continuing to allow people to blast through the mud,” Martin said.

This is the first year of American Trails’ Legacy Trails Program. The purpose of the program is to help fund the high costs of trail projects in forests and grasslands across the country managed by the Forest Service. 

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The program will allocate a total of $1.4 million per year for various projects through 2027. 

Martin said it was a no-brainer to apply for the grant, and because of the trail’s high-usage, it received quick support.

The hope is to get the project done as quickly as possible, but the high amounts of snow will likely take a while for things to dry out and allow access to the area. Martin is hopeful to have some site visits in June to take the first steps.

While there is no specific timeline for the bridge project yet, the grant money does have a deadline. 

“We have two seasons that we have to expend the grand funds in,” Martin said. “It really depends on us putting our heads together with the Forest Service in terms of when they are going to have the staff time available to implement some of the design work.”

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