Photo: The East Troublesome Fire blew through Grand County in late October, causing significant damage in central and northern Grand County. Photo courtesy USFS
Arapaho National Forest managers are reopening portions of the East Troublesome Fire burned area to winter recreationists after an army of volunteers helped Forest Service staff complete extensive hazard tree mitigation work along key roads and trails.
“Grand County, and especially Grand Lake, have been hard hit this year, first by the pandemic and then by wildfires,” said Sulphur District Ranger Shoshana Cooper. “It was important to me and my staff that we do everything in our power to open at least some portions of the National Forest that are so critical to Grand County’s winter tourism economy. We are incredibly grateful for the enormous assistance we received from volunteers and the community to make this possible.”
Areas that will reopen Dec. 24 include the easternmost portion of the Grand Lake snowmobile trail system and the Willow Creek Reservoir boat ramp for ice fishing access. New maps are available at fs.usda.gov/arp.
“The first priority was the safety of our staff and volunteers,” Cooper said. “There is a high amount of complexity in felling partially burned trees, especially when upper portions of the tree are capable of snapping and falling in unexpected ways. We wanted to try to get this done before winter storms made the whole project more complicated.”
Multiple partners and dozens of volunteers made this possible by helping fell, buck and haul more than 5,000 hazard trees along nearly 30 miles of trail in just over one week. The Grand Lake Trailgrooming Board played a critical role in the effort by redesigning their handout maps and wayfinding signage to help users navigate the open portion of the system. They, along with other Grand County groups, including On the Trail Rentals and Headwaters Trails Alliance, assisted with the hazard tree mitigation efforts by providing equipment, tools, fuel, funding and people.
“Burned and weakened trees are still all over the area and can fall without warning, posing an even greater risk to snowmobilers travelling at high speeds.” Cooper said, “For everyone’s safety, this year we are requiring users stay on designated, groomed routes and ride only in the identified open play parks. Even though we’ve done our best to mitigate the obvious hazards, this is a burned area and we ask the public to be cautious and vigilant when recreating out there.”
Unfortunately, winter hasn’t brought the amount of snow needed to start grooming the trail system yet, but the Grand Lake Trailgroomers and 30-miles of trails are ready to go when conditions allow.
“While we didn’t want to make any promises, our internal hope was to be able to reopen some areas by Christmas,” Cooper said. “Thanks to our volunteers and partners, we were able to meet that goal. Now we just need the weather to cooperate!”
For updates on snow grooming conditions and trail status, follow the Trailgroomers at grandlaketrailgroomers.com or on Facebook @GrandLakeTrailgrooming. All snowmobile staging will occur at the Idleglen Trailhead and users need to either download maps from the Trailgroomers’ website (coming soon) or pick one up for free from a participating Grand County business location.