Most Summit trails still too muddy for travel | SummitDaily.com

Most Summit trails still too muddy for travel

Alli Langley
alangley@summitdaily.com
A runner splashes through a puddle on a Salt Lick trail between Wildernest and Interstate 70 on Thursday, May 21, 2015. Local officials advise runners, hikers and bikers to avoid muddy trails to keep from causing unnecesary damage, and when small wet patches appear, to travel through instead of around them.
Bill Linfield / Contributed |

LOCAL TRAIL CONDITION RESOURCES

The town of Breckenridge maintains a website at breckenridgetrails.org that shows trail maps, and on the left side of the page, a link called Trail Conditions leads to a regularly updated PDF available for download that lists conditions of trails ordered alphabetically. Trail users can email websiteopenspace@townofbreckenridge to report places that need trail maintenance.

A Facebook group called created in 2014 by Vertical Runner Breckenridge owner Molly Mikita has become a forum where people post updates and photos of local trails.

Find it by searching Summit County Trail Conditions.

Trail users also can call the Dillon Ranger District at (970) 468-5400 to pass along information or learn more about national forest trails in Summit.

It’s that time of year when people are beyond antsy to take advantage of Summit County trails, and local officials are encouraging runners, hikers and bikers to keep in mind proper trail etiquette to prevent unnecessary environmental damage.

Most trails are still snow covered, muddy or a mix of snow and mud, said Scott Reid, a planner in the town of Breckenridge’s Open Space and Trails Department. Now is the time to seek lower-elevation trails in Salida, Eagle, Fruita and Moab.

Some Summit trails are dry enough though, Reid said, and the town recommends Betty’s, the River Trail and the Flume trails around Breckenridge; the Oro Grande trail near Dillon; the Frisco Peninsula; and the county recpath.

Breckenridge maintains a list of which of the town’s trails are open and closed at breckenridgetrails.org, and town staff try to update the list at least once a week.

Last updated on Tuesday, May 19, the only trails open besides the Blue River Recpath were Betty’s Trail, Columbine, Corkscrew, French Creek, Hermit Placer, Jack’s Cruel Joke, Lincoln Trail, Lower Flume, Main Street Junction, Mike’s Trail, Reservoir, Upper Flume and Washington Trail. Those were listed as mostly dry with intermittent mud patches.

“People are getting excited and eager to get on the trails,” Reid said. “Be patient. Summer will arrive.”

MAKE FRIENDS WITH THE MUDDY METER

The town of Breckenridge uses signs called Muddy Meters at many of its trailheads. Each meter has a slide with three settings that trail users can update to show real-time conditions: green indicates a dry trail, yellow for a wet trail where hikers and riders are reminded to stay on the trail to prevent erosion, and red for a trail that’s extremely muddy and should not be used.

Ken Waugh, the Dillon Ranger District’s recreation staff officer, said the biggest problem on trails during mud season is when people step off trails to avoid snowy or wet patches.

“It may not seem like a big deal,” Waugh said, but “look at where it’s wet and see what’s happening.”

Over time, people taking a few steps off the trail creates multiple paths or wider trails that look more like roads than the narrow single-track preferred by most trail users.

People should be prepared to get their shoes muddy as they walk through the occasional wet spot, Waugh said.

Another rule of thumb: don’t step on anything green. Vegetation on both the downhill and uphill sides of a trail support the path’s structure by holding soil in place and preventing erosion.

Reid said people should turn around and look for a dry trail if they encounter mud. Tire tracks and even footprints can harden and create low spots where water pools and damages the trail.

“Water’s the true enemy of any trail,” Reid said, and trails built properly should drain water into nearby vegetation.

However, Waugh said, most local trails were not consciously designed over the years and haven’t yet been fixed so they drain and dry quickly.

If government employees and volunteer groups must spend time and funds repairing damaged trails, he said, that’s labor and money not being used to improve trails or create new ones.

Frozen ground is preferable to muddy paths for foot and bike travel, Reid said, but warm spring nights have made frozen trails hard to find in the morning.

No advice can account for every possible trail condition users will encounter, so he encouraged people to develop their own trail ethic.

RESPECT WILDLIFE CLOSURES

Those who enjoy driving their vehicles, ATVs and motorcycles on national forest roads should also heed gates erected during mud season.

While some gates stay closed to prevent road damage, others are closed primarily to keep people from disturbing wildlife during the critical period when they are giving birth and protecting newborns, said Ashley Nettles, Dillon Ranger District wildlife biologist.

Elk calving season goes from May 15 through June 20, and for the two or three weeks after calves are born, they are highly vulnerable to disturbance by people and dogs, she said. Mothers could abandon babies, and if mothers and calves become separated the young elk are more susceptible to starvation and predation.

Human disturbance during calving season over time could mean a decrease in the local elk population.

Two areas in Summit are closed for elk calving. Frey Gulch near the shooting range west of Keystone is where the Tenderfoot Mountain herd of roughly 400 or 500 elk return every spring to give birth. Then north of Silverthorne, large elk herds gather this time of year on the east side of Highway 9 across from Green Mountain Reservoir.

The Ophir Mountain area below the Tenmile Range between Breckenridge and Frisco is another springtime home to a smaller herd of about 75 to 150 elk, but motorized vehicles are never allowed there.

Waugh encouraged those who enjoy off-road recreation to obtain a free motorized vehicle trail map at the Dillon Ranger District office in Silverthorne. Updated maps arrived Tuesday, he said.

Nettles said the Forest Service can’t enforce road closures to non-motorized trail users without doing a formal analysis that includes public input. For now she said the agency requests that hikers, runners and mountain bikers avoid those elk-calving areas as well.

“Non-motorized use is definitely just as much a disturbance to elk that are calving as motorized use,” she said.

Gates in place for elk calving will likely open June 21 unless the roads are still wet, she said. Some gates will stay closed permanently as the Forest Service decommissions roads based on its local travel management plan.

In Breckenridge, all trails in the Cucumber Gulch Wildlife Preserve are closed until July 6 for moose calving and chick rearing. The preserve contains 77 acres of wetlands and provides vital habitat for moose, elk, deer, mountain lion, beaver, at least 47 species of birds and the endangered boreal toad.


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