Colorado Conservation: The CMC Stewardship Program’s Trail Work

Trails are a vital recreation resource to the state. They provide easily navigable routes to other forms of recreation, such as rock climbing, or they can be a vital part of an outdoor recreation activity by themselves as they are needed for activities like day hikes, mountain biking, and backpacking. However, they can adversely affect the surrounding natural resources in which we recreate.

For example, trails that are inappropriately steep for a given soil type or terrain can rapidly erode, which can increase sedimentation in nearby water sources. The Colorado Mountain Club assists land managers and stakeholder groups with trail design through our Trail Planning and Design Program to ensure that sustainable and responsible design and construction practices are applied to new trail development projects across the state.

Existing trails with maintenance issues can both negatively affect the user experience and even influence the user to unintentionally act irresponsibly and consequently damage natural resources. A severely cupped or trenched trail is a good example of that. To envision a cupped trail, simply picture a shallow ditch. Trails experiencing this ailment have lost their capacity to drain water, so the water remains in the trail flowing down hill, removing more and more soil until it is so deep that most trail users naturally migrate out of the original path and walk next to it. Adjacent vegetation is trampled and eventually dies, creating a new trail which eventually will erode and cup on its own. This often happens multiple times — a process we call trail braiding.

In addition to the Trail Planning and Design Program, Colorado Mountain Club assists land managers and stakeholder groups across the state with trail maintenance needs. A large portion of our maintenance projects are in the harder to reach Wilderness areas and remote project sites. Several of our 2021 projects were determined by data collected by volunteers and CMC staff using the Recreation Impact Monitoring System App.

Common trail maintenance tasks include:
  • Installing rock or timber drainage structures such as water bars or check steps
  • Cleaning out and/or rebuilding existing drainage structures
  • Clearing downed trees or encroaching vegetation
  • Removing “slough” or look soils, rocks, and organic material that fall into the tread
  • Rebuilding switch backs and climbing turns
  • Installing retaining walls to armor and protect the outside edge of a trail
  • Closing and restoring user created trails and shortcuts

Earlier this year, the Colorado Mountain Club and the Salida Ranger District of the Pike San Isabel National Forest received a CPW State Trails Grant of approximately $70,000 to manage a reroute of the South Fooses Section of the Colorado Trail. Colorado Mountain Club will leverage these funds with other grants to lead a collaborative effort between stewardship groups, the US Forest Service, and private contractors to replace an unsustainable and problem-riddled section of the trail with an enjoyable reroute that is sustainably designed to require less maintenance over time.

Learn more about the Colorado Mountain Club’s Conservation program here.

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