Building better trails

Rob Thurston bicycles Wednesday afternoon on the Schoolyard Trails.

Two Laramie-area trail systems have been upgraded and expanded this summer, with much of the labor coming from local volunteers.

Up on the Pole Mountain Unit of the Medicine Bow National Forest, work continued on a multi-year effort to repair and reroute trails in the Happy Jack area, with the goal of making the system sustainable and durable.

Tim Young, executive director of the advocacy group Wyoming Pathways, estimated that his organization, volunteers, a paid contractor, the U.S. Forest Service and Wyoming Conservation Corps contributed about $100,000 worth of work to repair almost two miles of trail this summer.

“It ends up being a pretty big investment,” he said.

The bulk of the funds came via a grant from the Wyoming Recreational Trails Program, which disburses federal funds to be used for trails projects on public lands.

After doing basic maintenance on almost 19 miles of trails last summer, work continued this year with a focus on rerouting damaged or unsustainable stretches of the popular, heavily-used system.

On the Headquarters Trail, crews and a contractor rerouted a stretch near the eastern trailhead that went straight up the hill and was deeply rutted. Volunteers later spent several hours rehabilitating the old trail corridor.

“The new trail has a much better grade and it sheds the water better, so it’s going to be much more sustainable,” Young said.

A stretch near Brown’s Landing and another stretch near a scenic overlook were also rerouted to fix damage and build in gentler grades that won’t erode.

“Both of those sections were eroded and the soil was wearing out,” Young said.

On the Middle Aspen Trail, crews also rerouted several damaged stretches.

Wyoming Pathways is talking with the Forest Service about working next summer, and Young said he’s hopeful the project will continue for a third year.

“There’s more work to be done on Pole Mountain,” he said. “We put a dent in it, but there’s quite a bit more to do.

On the Schoolyard Trails just east of Laramie, volunteers recently built almost a half-mile of trail near the northwest corner of the state section. Laramie BikeNet member Evan O’Toole said he’s hoping to organize a couple more volunteer days this fall.

Meanwhile, BikeNet hired local contractor Wyo Trails to build a one-mile flow trail that will descend from a high point near the water tower and follow the south side of the canyon in the middle of the section to its exit.

A flow trail is wide and smooth, O’Toole said, but also includes features such as berms, rollers, tabletops and jumps that allow mountain bikers to work on their skills.

“You should be able to make it down easily no matter what your skill level is, but as you progress and get better, you can work on maybe doing bigger jumps,” he said.

O’Toole said he expected the trail to be popular with cyclists once it’s completed this fall.

“I think a lot of people are going to be riding it and doing laps on it,” he said.

The Schoolyard Multi-Use Development Project was started last year on a section of state land east of town. Funding for the trails came through the Albany County Recreation Board, with BikeNet spearheading the work.

O’Toole said the system includes about 4.5 miles of multi-use trail so far, with plans to build another two miles this fall, including more beginner-level trails. He’s also hoping to install signs and print maps for trail users.

A trail counter installed last February shows the trails are used by about two dozen people a day on average, he said.

O’Toole said additional miles are on hold pending the completion of the Pilot Hill Project acquisition. BikeNet had planned for up to 10 miles of trails on the state section, which might not be necessary if adjacent lands open up for recreation.

“If suddenly there’s 5,500 acres available, we don’t necessarily need to get everything we planned on this, because we’ll have way more land to build on and spread things out,” he said.

A number of organizations are working together to coordinate a volunteer work day on Sept. 22 to celebrate National Public Lands Day. Participating groups include Wyoming Conservation Corps, University of Wyoming Outdoor Program, BikeNet, U.S. Forest Service, UW Haub School of Environment and Natural Resources, Common Outdoor Ground and the UW Service, Leadership and Community Engagement office.

Groups are planning multiple projects at the Schoolyard Trails and on Pole Mountain to continue trail-building efforts. Volunteers should meet at the UW Outdoor Program office at 9 a.m. and plan to finish at about 3 p.m., followed by a celebration.

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