Building partnerships, maintaining trails

Savannah Hook works to clear a trail Wednesday afternoon in the Medicine Bow National Forest near the Headquarters trailhead. 

The effort to restore trails on the Pole Mountain unit of the Medicine Bow National Forest recently received a nationwide award from the Coalition for Recreational Trails.

The project began in 2017, and work is already underway this summer on the trails. The project is a joint effort between Wyoming Pathways, Wyoming Conservation Corps and the Laramie Ranger District of the U.S. Forest Service.

That summer, volunteers contributed more than 3,000 hours of work on 19 miles of system trails.

Wyoming Conservation Corps Program Director Patrick Harrington accepted the award in Washington, D.C., earlier this month.

The Coalition for Recreational Trails is a network of national and regional trail-related organizations that aims to build awareness about the Recreational Trails Program. The program distributes money to states collected from federal gasoline taxes paid by off-highway recreationists. The money is used by states to build and maintain trails.

In 2017, Wyoming Pathways received a $46,000 grant from the Recreational Trails Program for the first phase of work on Pole Mountain. The project included another $26,000 in matching funds and other support. Wyoming Pathways is a nonprofit advocacy group.

The Pole Mountain project was honored by the Coalition for Recreational Trails with an Annual Achievement Award in the category of youth conservation/service corps and community outreach.

Wyoming Pathways Executive Director Tim Young said everyone affiliated with the project was excited about the award.

“Last year showed that working collaboratively with partners that are able to contribute from their abilities and their resources — when you add it up, it adds up to being a significant amount of work,” he said.

Young traced the beginning of the project to a public meeting that took place in August 2016 to gather public perceptions about the trail system, which is used year-round by hikers, mountain bikers, equestrians and skiers. The system sees visitors from Laramie, Cheyenne and even the Colorado Front Range.

He said the work done in 2017 consisted mainly of basic maintenance, such as making sure trails are able to shed water without causing erosion. This year, the work will focus on sections that need more substantive work or even rerouting.

Wyoming Pathways secured additional funding from the Recreational Trails Program for this year’s work.

“One of the things we were able to do last year was a trails assessment to take a look at the entire system,” he said.

“We’re not able to do it all in one go, but by prioritizing it, we can get the most important work done on the trails that were identified as in need of work.”

The project includes the services of a professional trail builder in addition to Wyoming Conservation Corps and volunteer labor.

Wyoming Conservation Corps Project Coordinator James Fried said a crew began work Monday on Pole Mountain.

On Headquarters Trail, they’ll be rerouting a portion of Brown’s Landing and using rocks to reinforce segments. The crew will also remove dead and downed trees along the trail.

“One area of the trail is too steep and not sustainable, so they’re going to do a reroute that switchbacks up to make that trail more sustainable and usable,” he said.

Fried said Wyoming Conservation Corps appreciated the hands-on involvement of the Laramie Ranger District in summer 2017.

“Sometimes, we get into a situation where we’re at a standstill — we’re handcuffed — because we don’t know if we’re legally allowed to do a trail reroute or take some of those trees down that needed taken down, and there were Forest Service representatives on the ground with us a lot of those days to help us out,” he said.

Fried said the award will help Wyoming Conservation Corps as it looks for future projects.

“We can point it out to other agencies and say, ‘This is what we’ve been able to do,’” he said.

Forest Service spokesman Aaron Voos said in an earlier interview that partnerships such as the ones that have happened on Pole Mountain will be critical for the Forest Service in coming years.

“There’s going to be a sustained need for maintenance of those system trails for the future,” he said. “This is just the start.”

Four Conservation Corps crews spent 40 days working on Pole Mountain in summer 2017, as well as more than 50 community volunteers. The UW Outdoor Program led a class in trail construction to prepare the volunteers. The UW Service, Leadership and Community Engagement office helped generate volunteers, and Wyoming State Parks supplied tools.

This year, a new volunteer group called Common Outdoor Ground is hoping to contribute to the effort.

Earlier this spring, Pole Mountain was included along with three other trail systems in Wyoming in a national pilot project through the U.S. Forest Service to address maintenance backlogs.

All the entities working on Pole Mountain expressed a desire to continue the work and maintain the partnerships.

“We notice that there’s a lot of work in our backyard and we want to be able to do it every year,” Fried said.

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