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Wilderness Wanderings: Anonymous donor funds Zirkel trail project

Rocky Mountain Youth Corps crew members repair a section of the Lone Pine Trail in the Mount Zirkel Wilderness Area.
Courtesy/John Meyers

Editor’s note: The anonymous donation was made to the Rocky Mountain Youth Corps in honor of Win and Elaine Dermody, longtime volunteers with Friends of the Wilderness. Elaine also founded the organization in 2000.

Well-maintained trails or trail treads are rarely noticed. But sometimes, a trail gets a little out of whack due to the forces of nature — water, wind and falling trees — or just because of heavy use.

A portion of Lone Pine Trail No. 1129 on the eastern side of the Mount Zirkel Wilderness Area has suffered in recent years due to water runoff that created ankle-deep mud bogs in a couple of sections. And falling trees had damaged a boardwalk over a larger wet area of that trail. 

This popular trail, located just two hours from Steamboat Springs, connects with Lake Katherine and Bighorn Lake trails, which lead to tranquil Alpine lakes and a bit more solitude than many of the lake trails on the western side of the Zirkels. 

Our Friends of Wilderness volunteers recognized the problems while clearing trees from those trails but realized it would take more than a couple of sturdy backs and long hours to remediate. 

“Our trails program has struggled over the last number of years to keep trails cleared with all of the deadfall due to beetle kill,” said Jon Myers, who manages wilderness, trails and recreation facilities for the Parks Ranger District in Walden. “This year, we have just two wilderness trail crew members. There isn’t much time left to try and take on big tread repair projects.”

Thus, after receiving a large, anonymous donation, Friends of Wilderness reached out to the Parks Ranger District to see about repairing the trail. A plan was agreed upon to utilize some of the money to fund a Rocky Mountain Youth Corps crew for a week in mid-August. 

The crew would repair a boardwalk and rebuild a turnpike, which is simply an elevated section of trail tread across a wet area.

Youth Corps sent over an eight-person crew that was supervised each day by one to three field staff members from the Parks District. 

The project was broken into segments to better keep all the crew members engaged and working toward the final product. Work included 160 feet of ditching above the turnpike to capture and divert water away from the trail and 140 feet of new turnpike repair and reconstruction.  

Crew members teamed up to haul rocks weighing up to and slightly over 100 pounds to form the foundation and the side boards of the turnpike.  Geotextile fabric was put in place as the bottom layer of the turnpike, which helps keep the fill material contained and from sinking down into the mud. 

Then the crew got to start hauling backpacks full of sand and gravel to fill in the turnpike and create a usable tread surface. After the new section of turnpike was filled in, they topped the rest of the turnpike with a fresh layer of gravel to spruce it up.  

Once the turnpike project was completed, the crew replaced boards on a few sections of the boardwalk that had fallen into disrepair.

Remaining time was spent pruning some of the trail corridor, cleaning and reinforcing water bars and using a crosscut saw to clear 35 trees from Lone Pine and eight from the trail up to Lake Katherine.

All of the work on this project was accomplished using primitive tools that are in line with the Wilderness Act. 

“We would like to extend a very heartfelt ‘thank you’ to the anonymous donor who helped make this happen, Friends of Wilderness who helped match us up and the Rocky Mountain Youth Corps who continually find crews to help us tackle our bigger projects,” said Myers.  

Bob Korch is trail crew leader with Friends of Wilderness which assists the U.S. Forest Service in maintaining trails and educating the public about the Mount Zirkel, Sarvis Creek and Flat Tops wilderness areas. For more information, visit friendsofwilderness.com.


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