Adverse weather like too much rain or too little rain affects the health of our fragile environment.  We are lucky in the Fraser Valley to not usually have the weather events of the Front Range or other parts of the country.  We have hailstorms – I survived three different storms rafting on the Upper Colorado last Thursday.  But I haven’t seen in Grand County the baseball-size hail that sometimes hits the eastern Colorado plains creating such devastation. I haven’t seen tornadoes or earthquakes – only 5ft of snow that finally forced the local school system to cancel classes for a single day!

The exceptional amount of rain we have received in this monsoon season pales to the 1-2 feet of water that has fallen from the sky in a single storm to flood towns across the Midwest and South.  Here we get big washes and ruts in trails and roads and occasionally a flash flood down a river drainage or mud slides as rain saturates a hillside.  So the way we build our trails is important – it determines how long a trail lasts in a useable form.

The IMBA workshops presented across the country were aimed at the local trailbuilders – the guys and gals who put their hands in the dirt and create our trails.  I’ve mentioned several points from their workshops that I have attended and here are more thoughts.   First a community must consider who will be the users of these trails.  What do they want from these trails?  Hikers want viewpoints , trail runners want loops, equestrians need compacted trail treads,  skiers like rolling terrain and viewpoints, and both like different combinations based on ability level. Beginners want basic wide open trails that are mellow and smooth with good visibility.  Intermediate riders or skiers are more self-sufficient and confident – they want more distance, ups and downs and love loops.  The more advanced users want more advanced features – the steps, the jumps, the logs, and sick climbs and downhills incorporated into the natural features that are tight and technical.

Are the trails going to be used year-round or just during the warmer months?  Will the trails be groomed for winter usage or just skied or snowshoed in by the users?  Is the trail corridor wide enough for winter grooming equipment like a snowmobile pulling a drag or groomer while maintaining in summer the characteristic look of a single track?

Now we have to decide how to build these trails. What’s the old saying  –  build it and they will come?  But if we need to fix the trail every year, is it worth the effort to build it?  What factors make a trail sustainable?   Does it have a minimum impact to the ecosystem on the environmental level?  On the social level, does it reduce or minimize user conflict?  On the economic level, does it require minimum maintenance?

Next, does it address the factors of erosion:  usage, wind, water and gravity?  People have to think about how these factors affect the trail and observe these effects through time if possible.  Usage straight down a fall-line or a river bed just doesn’t work over time.  Water goes downhill and you have to think about volume and velocity as well as realize that water doesn’t like to change direction.  Contour trails are much easier to maintain and are much easier on the ecosystem.  

Another essential element is the grade of the trail (often based on the ability level of the trail).  This incorporates average grade which should always be less than 10pct, the soils the trail is built on, the outslope of the trail which sheds water but which should not be more than 5pct, and the inclusion of grade reversals which create undulations in the trail that are fun to ride but also stop water and create watershed areas lessening erosion.  That’s a mouthful but these simple factors are so important!

Often classroom knowledge gets put to work in bits and pieces.  Part gets applied but other parts are forgotten.  Rocks lining a wet section of the trail are great but the rocks need to allow the water to flow through or under while keeping the rider from digging into mud creating bottomless mudholes.  Hikers can negotiate steep switchbacks but trails designed for bikes need to have the proper radius in the turns to allow accents and descents that are smooth and appropriate for the level of difficulty. Skiers can climb in switchbacks but need open areas and wider turns for descents while a snowshoer can come down about any trail.  Again, trail builders must think through the application of different trail building techniques to make sure they work for the particular situation and a wide range of users.

Build it right the first time and a trail will last for many years.  Maintenance becomes more concentrated on issues like clearing dead trees and getting rid of slash, two things we are doing on the Fraser to Granby trail west of Tabernash on Red Dirt Hill this Tuesday evening. The last summer worknight will be 5-7pm Aug 22.  Meet at the intersection of Cty Road 86 and Highway 40 on the trail side. Anyone who needs wood or community service hours is welcome with gloves, hat, eye protection, and water.  We welcome a chain saw, shovel or rake if you have one but I will have some tools as well. Call me at 970-887-0547 and let me know you can help out!  It’s nice to contribute when you can, especially if you use those trails…and learn skills to use the rest of your life.