With less official maintenance, area trails need more love from locals
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Steamboat Springs is surrounded by public land. Every weekend, particularly in the warmer months, locals and visitors take to trails owned and managed by the U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management and the city of Steamboat Springs. The trail systems are packed these days as the late-spring weather pulls people out of the homes they’ve been self-isolating in for three months.
Typically, volunteers in various groups patrol and maintain trails, but due to precautions and restrictions amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Routt County public lands are getting less attention.
Friends of Wilderness is a nonprofit in which volunteers work with the US Forest Service to protect wilderness areas in Routt National Forest and White River National Forest, particularly in the Zirkel, Sarvis Creek, and Flat Tops areas.
Since the Forest Service hasn’t given the group the go-ahead to begin field work, the group has issued a stand down warning to members. Usually, Friends of Wilderness begins work in late March or early April on lower-elevation trails, clearing downed trees, improving drainage, removing noxious weeds and more.
“We’re working around the edges. We’re doing as much as we can to get ready to begin work once the Forest Service turns us loose,” said President of the board of directors, Dan Schaffrick. “We still haven’t gotten that approval.”
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All of the Friends of Wilderness training and communications have gone digital, as the members speak to each other and learn via email and Zoom. Schaffrick said not being out in the field has a benefit in the way that it keeps all the members, many of which are older and retired, isolated and out of small groups for a little longer.
Members of Friends of Wilderness will go out in uniform to patrol or clear trails on their own as often as they desire. The nonprofit also organizes group days to accomplish larger tasks. Each member is asked to log about 50 hours of volunteer hours during a typical season.
“That’s a reasonable goal in a normal season, but this is not normal,” said Schaffrick. “Being outdoors is one of the safer places we can be to spend time with our friends and interact with other individuals.”
Friends of Wilderness isn’t far behind schedule though, since many forest roads are just now opening up.
With Friends of Wilderness not doing any work and similar groups accomplishing less than usual, public lands could suffer for it. If there is a tree down on a popular trail and people start walking around it rather than on the initial trail, that could cause permanent damage to the trail and the surrounding ecosystem.
“If we’re not able to keep the trails clear, people are going to start beating detours. We’re going to start to see resource damage. That will take time to recover once we are able to get up there. We’d rather not see ground cover trampled and bushes damaged. … We want our impact in the wilderness to be as minimal as possible.”
To minimize impact on wild places, hikers, bikers and campers should remember the leave no trace principles.
- Plan ahead and prepare
- Travel and camp on durable surfaces
- Dispose of waste properly
- Leave what you find
- Minimize campfire impacts
- Respect wildlife
- Be considerate of other visitors
Routt County Riders had its first trail work day on Saturday on the Rotary Trail on the backside of Emerald Mountain. Due to the large swath of area they were working on, there was no cap on volunteers, as they were spread out in small groups.
“We are having everyone sign up and sign electronic waivers in advance to cut out the pre-work mass gatherings that we used to have,” said Laraine Martin, executive director of Routt County Riders. “And we are also holding off on providing lunch and refreshments at the end of the day, at least until it becomes more OK for us to do so.”
Routt County Riders will be hosting another Trail Work Day on June 20. People are required to sign up in advance, especially since there will likely be a cap to the amount of volunteers who can participate.
“In the case of Spring Creek there might be a tighter limit, especially since it looks like we’ll be working on a more compact section of trail,” said Martin.
Rocky Mountain Youth Corps has been able to continue its programs, but with strict protocols in place including using twice as many vehicles and using sanitizing equipment. Their youth corps and conservation corps does trail maintenance and conservation work through Northwest Colorado, ranging from the Yampa River Core Trail to the backcountry. Right now, there are no camping trips, just day activities, but CEO of RMYC, Gretchen Van De Carr knew it was important to keep the programming going in whatever way possible.
“We’ve seen a huge increase in demand for young people to get involved. They’re all just going kind of stir-crazy,” said Van De Carr. “We made a commitment to operate this summer to the fullest extent possible for the mental and physical health of our participants as well as for our project partners that have a lot of work to get done.”
Starting Monday, there will be 19 groups aged 11 and older around Northwest Colorado, helping keep green spaces healthy and clean.
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