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Avoid getting stuck in a rut on trails

SUMMIT COUNTY – Nobody likes to get stuck in a rut.

Mud season might be over in lower areas of Summit County, but mountain bikers and other trail users need to be mindful of staying off wet trails.

While the dry winters of recent years have spoiled summer enthusiasts with an extra long riding season, trail stewards point out that mountain bikers are going to have to be patient in letting high-elevation trails dry off this summer.



“We’ve kind of gotten used to having these longer riding seasons, but it’s back to normal this year,” said Mike Zobbe, president and founder of Summit Fat Tire Society (SFTS), Summit County’s primary trail stewardship group. “People are anxious to go ride, it’s understood. But, you got to understand the damage you can do. You’re going to trash the trail if you ride on it when it’s wet. You’ll see deep ruts, and see the trail get wider and wider. What used to be a beautiful singletrack is going to end up looking like a dirt bike track.”

Last year, the International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA) ranked Colorado’s trails at the top of the list of trails in all 50 states and Canada, the United Kingdom, Italy and Australia in its annual mountain bike access report card.



Colorado’s trails, in addition to those in British Columbia, Yukon, Wales, Italy, Idaho, South Dakota and Utah were given an A- grade. The grades were based on factors such as the amount of singletrack, effectiveness of local mountain bike groups, land manager relations, a Web site survey and feedback from industry representatives. Colorado’s trails were noted for their variety, with offerings from desert slick rock and sandy singletrack in areas like Fruita to high alpine, rocky, singletrack- like systems in Summit County and Crested Butte.

At times like these, when the alpine trails are still covered in snow and mud, mountain bikers and trail users can maintain the good grade by staying off the higher trails for a few more weeks.

“Now is a critical time for trails,” said IMBA Colorado’s advocacy coordinator Dan Vardamis. “It’s a super-tempting time to get on them because things may look dry if you look at the hillside. But, anything above 8,500 feet is going to be pretty snowy. Sometimes there will be south-facing trails that are dry. But a lot of damage can happen to trails that people ride before they dry. Trails – ones that are well-built, anyway – are constructed to have water slope off of them, so it doesn’t erode. What happens when they’re wet is, ruts create an erosion ditch down the trail.”

Fortunately for Summit dirt hounds, there are some local trails that are dry enough to ride, including the system on the Frisco Peninsula, the Oro Grande Trail in Dillon and other areas surrounding the landfill, Frey Gulch, Old Dillon Reservoir and the lower portion of the Flume trails in Breckenridge.

Trails that will not be rideable until mid-to-late June include the Peaks Trail, the Colorado Trail, Soda Creek, and any wooded trails above about 9,600 feet.

“It’s not completely dry out there, but things are going fast, especially some of the lower-elevation stuff,” said SFTS board member JD Donovan. “I was pretty much convinced we wouldn’t do any riding until June. We’ve been going over to Carbondale to ride. There’s also Denver, Green Mountain, Glenwood, Buena Vista, Salida, Kenosha Pass … take this opportunity to go some place you’ve been wanting to go for a while. There are some short trails (in Summit) that are bone dry, but the worst thing people can do is ride around muddy trails. We just have to be patient.”

Mountain bikers that encounter snow or a puddle on a trail should ride through it rather than around it, as avoiding obstacles widens the trail and causes erosion.

“The worst thing people can do is ride around muddy trails,” Donovan said. “If you have to do that, get off your bike and go around it.”

The same rules apply to hikers and other trail users: stay off high trails that aren’t dry. Also, if there’s a standing puddle or a snowy area on the trail, get your feet muddy.

“All trail users have their own sets of impact – hikers, mountain bikers, motorized users …” Zobbe said. “Bicycles create ruts that can channel water, and hikers tend to do the same thing.”

Trail users should remember that they are the ones that will pay the price for any damage done.

“These are our trails,” Donovan said. “If we ruin them, we ruin them for ourselves. You see a lot of foot traffic on them, too. No matter what your conveyance, you’re going to cause some damage (to wet trails). In the long run, it’s degrading our world-class trail system.”

Shauna Farnell can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 236, or at sfarnell@summitdaily.com.


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