Busy summer on the trails for forest volunteer group | SummitDaily.com

Busy summer on the trails for forest volunteer group

summit daily news
Special to the Daily/Bob Noonan

SUMMIT COUNTY – One of Wayne Haley’s favorite summer memories as a Friends of the Dillon Ranger District trail building crew leader was watching his well-worked volunteers pool their remaining energy to help finish a trail project in a “matter of minutes instead of a matter of hours,” he said.

Haley said it was the first project of the year, and his group of about 35 volunteers had divided into three smaller groups to work on different projects. When the first two groups came down the hill, they discovered the third crew, still working to fill a section of trail with dirt to remove a water-collecting trench. They formed an assembly line to pass the 5-gallon buckets up and down the hill.

Haley was a new FDRD volunteer this summer, but he’s not new to volunteering. In the past, he’s done trail building in Breckenridge as well as worked with the Continental Divide Trail Alliance, Summit County Open Spaces and Outdoor Colorado.

He and his fellow crew leaders, Bob Noonan and Chuck Kauffman, are avid mountain bikers, which Haley said is the main reason they opted to volunteer.

“If we don’t step up and give something back to something we get so much pleasure out of, who will?” he said. “It’s irresponsible to be a heavy user of a resource and not give something back.”

That’s the impetus for the rest of his informal mountain biking group, Summit Mountain Biking, to join the FDRD adopt-a-trail program. As of last winter, the group is responsible for maintaining the Soda Creek Trail, which runs south from Summit Cove’s Whispering Pines neighborhood to Tiger Road.

“We love our forests to death,” said Christiane Hinterman, FDRD program manager. That means it needs care from its users, which is the goal of FDRD. She said trail-building participation grew between 2009 and 2010.

Summit Mountain Biking isn’t the only group to get into the adopt-a-trail program. The Greenlands Reserve Land Trust, Christy Sports, Breckenridge Grand Vacations, Arapahoe Basin, Town of Frisco, Copper Mountain, Summit County Seniors, Summit County Off-Road Riders and Corinthian Hills are among others doing projects across the county.

The Soda Creek Trail has been around more than 20 years, Haley estimated, and hasn’t received much maintenance attention.

The group’s three summer trail projects “made a dent (in the work), but there’s a long way to go,” Haley said. The trail gets significant hiking and biking use in summer as well as varied winter uses. Much of the work that needs to be done includes leveling trails, managing erosion, placing armoring rocks to harden the trail surface and keep trail users on track – which means blocking off braided, non-trail segments.

“It’s neat to see their work in action the next year,” Hinterman said. “They hike it and bike it later.”

Haley, Noonan and Kauffman implement Forest Service trail maintenance plans, which are based on surveys of necessary trail work as well as priorities. They set dates for summer projects, recruit volunteers and train crew members in tool safety and trail maintenance. They also try to keep it fun by having pot-luck after parties when work is complete.

Out of about 130 people on the Summit Mountain Biking e-mail list, Haley, Noonan and Kauffman see about 30 to 40 volunteers at their projects. They’ve sought to expand into Summit Cove neighborhoods as well as to other bike club, such as the Divas. Anyone can participate, Hinterman said.

Haley sees the monthly summer projects as a bonus for the group, too, beyond giving back to the trail system.

“It’s really hard work slinging a pick ax for hours on end … but it’s so rewarding. I think everyone has such a good time doing it. It’s amazing how much laughter and joking goes on,” he said. “It helps the group bond. If you work together, you play together.”

Projects and volunteer opportunities through Friends of the Dillon Ranger District go far beyond trail building, though that’s what tends to get the most attention, Hinterman said.

She highlighted another crucial part of the nonprofit: volunteer ranger patrollers.

Hinterman said the program more than doubled this year, from about 20 ranger patrollers in 2009 to 50 in 2010.

“They’re the eyes and ears of the forest,” she said, explaining that volunteer patrollers must hike the trails and communicate with trail users. They educate visitors, gather data on trail usage and hazards and report back to Forest Service officials so they can use the data for future management. They’re also tasked with the duty of representing the Forest Service.

“They’re alone in their uniform, taking questions and maybe talking to people who are mad,” Hinterman said, adding that volunteer rangers must know trail regulations, be versed in safety and have a good knowledge of the local trail system.

Other volunteer opportunities include volunteer educators, who help at events rather than in the field, weed pulling, litter collection and tree planting.

There’s an ongoing effort to try to attract more youth to the projects, Hinterman said, as currently FDRD volunteering is a major draw for the retired community to stay active and continue to give back to their community. Hinterman said the same benefits are there for youth as well as the added bonuses of work experience, resume-building and more.

SDN reporter Janice Kurbjun can be contacted at (970) 668-4630 or at jkurbjun@summitdaily.com.

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