The Dillon Ranger District is unveiling about 125 miles of non-motorized trails in national forestland.
The trails have existed within the ranger district for years but haven’t been officially developed or maintained by the Forest Service and their partners, until now.
“For a long time, we’ve had people using trails that were not part of our system,” said Ken Waugh, Dillon district recreation staff member.
Prior to 2002, Waugh said, the Forest Service didn’t have good education resources or signage to show people the acceptable places to hike, ride their bikes or take motorized vehicles.
“It was a free-for-all,” he said. “They could ride or drive wherever they wanted.”
The result was a series of dead ends, shortcuts and eroded or poorly maintained trails within Forest Service land. But there were also some well-known, quality trails that were worth preserving and maintaining, he said.
Forest Service officials worked for almost a decade on the White River National Forest Travel Management Plan. During that time, they inventoried all of the roads and trails that weren’t part of their system.
“We needed to decide which ones to adopt and which ones we would close,” Waugh said.
Officials based their decision on which of the trails would be most sustainable. They checked to see if a trail had a duplicate route or a dead end. They looked at the state of the trail — if it was too steep to maintain or had other damage. They tried to incorporate trails that would make loops and complete existing trail systems.
Many of the newly implemented trails are known to locals but not to visitors, forest officials said. The Dillon Ranger District was hesitant to promote them in the past because they weren’t maintained, but now the district is ready to encourage their use.
Outside organizations are lending the Forest Service a hand with the new trails.
A grant from the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Department is funding a three-person trail crew throughout the season. The Rocky Mountain Youth Corps will provide a 10-person crew for three weeks during the summer. They will work on the Colorado Trail, the Ophir Mountain and the Salt Lick Trail systems.
“The type of work we do with the Dillon Ranger District is perfectly aligned with our mission,” Rocky Mountain Youth Corps executive director Gretchen Van De Carr said.
The youth corps strives to further the professional development of the young men and women involved with the program while completing meaningful conservation work, she said.
The Friends of the Dillon Ranger District, the Friends of the Eagle’s Nest Wilderness and the Summit Fat Tire Society will also be contributing efforts to improve and maintain the trail systems.
The support of local organizations is integral to the success of the new trail systems, Waugh said.
“They are extremely important because we don’t have the resources to do the work on the trails ourselves,” he said.
The new and improved trail network should have an overall positive impact on residents who live near the ranger district, according to Van De Carr.
“Having multi-use trails in a community encourages people to get outside, get healthy and active and connect with land,” she said. “It also encourages tourism that brings economic vitality to the community.”
Newly opened trails will have signs posted at their trailheads. If there is no sign posted, don’t use the trail, Waugh said. Trails need to be used correctly to fix the areas where inappropriate development has occurred.
“We have a huge job in terms of rehabilitating those roads and trails,” he said. “It could take up to 10 years.”
The Dillon Ranger District created Recreation Opportunity Guides to help citizens access the new trails. These one-page sheets include a map, directions to trailheads, mileage, elevation, difficulty and trail highlights. They are available at the Dillon ranger station in Silverthorne or online at the Dillon Ranger District website.