In only about a mile and half, the McCullough Gulch trail packs in plenty of scenic views along with access to a waterfall and an alpine lake.
The popular trail is only 10 miles from Breckenridge. But until about a month ago, it was in dire need of repair.
“It gets a lot of usage,” said trail project coordinator Annemarie Fussel. “The problem is that it has vulnerable high alpine habitat because it’s very wet throughout much of the year.”
Users had created “social trails” as they made their way around muddy or dangerously slippery trail sections, Fussell said. The state of the paths not only was challenging for users, but also was damaging the environment.
The Forest Service and the Friends of the Dillon Ranger District were able to use grant money from the Ski Conservation Fund to hire a nine-person Rocky Mountain Youth Corps crew to bring the trail up to snuff.
The college-age employees spent five weeks camping and working on the site, hauling logs and rocks and performing technical trail work and hard labor.
Friends of the Dillon Ranger District executive director Bob Cook said the project is a good on-the-ground example of where people’s money is going when they donate to the Ski Conservation Fund.
“It can seem like a spontaneous decision for a skier to donate a dollar or two,” Cook said. “This project shows how their money is making a difference in a substantial way.”
The trail workers got to see their work transform the land. They installed walkways, bridges and raised “turnpikes” in areas that were badly eroded.
“We moved thousand-pound logs so people can walk over the wet sections without damaging the trail and to restore the habitat around it,” Fussell said.
The project coordinator said she hopes her crew will take away from the project an appreciation for trails and the spirit of working on public lands.
“Our crew was really hardworking. They had to pay attention to detail and they were really fun,” Fussell said. “I really got lucky this year.”
Volunteer rangers visited McCullough Gulch while trail crews performed maintenance to help control hiker traffic. They were only on site for four-hour time increments during the week, but the rangers still contacted over 1,400 visitors.
The Friends of the Dillon Ranger District tried to minimize the number of people using the trail while the crew was working, but Cook said visitors who saw the work could gain a greater appreciation for the trails.
“If someone comes to Summit County for the first time it can seem like magic that these things are up there,” he said. “So to be able to see a crew up there brings it home for people in terms of an ability to appreciate and be supportive of our efforts.”
Fussell said the Rocky Mountain Youth Corps crew got great feedback from visitors.
“People were so thankful,” she said. “It was also really nice to build structures that are going to last a really long time in an area where it was desperately needed.”