Two recreation groups are working together to minimize user conflict on a popular local trail system.
Medicine Bow Nordic Association and Laramie BikeNet recently signed an agreement to work together to pack and maintain the multi-use winter trails on the Pole Mountain unit of the Medicine Bow National Forest.
The Pole Mountain winter trail system includes about 13 miles of multi-use single-track trails intended for use by cyclists, hikers and snowshoers. The system has about 10 miles of wider trails groomed specifically for Nordic skiing.
Operating under MBNA’s permit with the U.S. Forest Service to maintain the trail system, BikeNet has agreed to support the packing of the multi-use portion of the system. The two groups have been collaborating for several years on the project and recently created a formal agreement that will guide their efforts moving forward.
“I think it’s one of the only agreements of its kind that I’m aware of between a bike club and a Nordic ski club,” said Dan McCoy, BikeNet’s vice president. “I think we’re pioneers and leading the way to show how clubs like ours can really work together to achieve common goals to reduce user conflict, to enhance the user experience, and to be able to do things we otherwise wouldn’t be able to do individually.”
MBNA has been grooming ski trails headquartered at the Tie City Trailhead since 1993. The association even employs a seasonal groomer for that purpose. Those who skate ski need a wide swath of smooth trail for the discipline, while those who classic ski use parallel tracks set in the snow.
“MBNA prides itself on providing high-class, groomed skate and classic ski trails,” said board member Bern Hinckley.
In 2001, MBNA created a single-track route known as the Snowshoe Trail intended to give non-skiers an alternative to using the wide, groomed ski trails. While non-skiers can go anywhere they like, they often prefer to use a designated route, Hinckley said, even if it feels like walking down a highway.
“To some extent, the uses are not compatible,” he said. “Some of these other uses will compromise the quality of that grooming.”
When fatbikes came on the scene in about 2010, skiers and cyclists alike noted the potential for tension between users, especially as traffic increased every year. In 2012, MBNA started developing a more extensive multi-use winter trail system with the Forest Service. In 2014, a network of user groups and retailers came together to support the system and consider ways to maintain it.
The multi-use system mostly follows existing summer trails, with the addition of a couple new connecting routes. Trail crossings occur along stretches with high visibility and low speeds.
Their first maintenance efforts involved enlisting volunteers to pack trails with snowshoes whenever it snowed, but their efforts weren’t enough to pack the snow well. The trails were too narrow and rough for the snowmobiles used by MBNA.
“We wanted to keep that unique, twisty, fun, narrow feeling that the trails have in the summer time,” McCoy said.
A group of cyclists continued looking for a better option and last year came across a piece of equipment known as the utility task machine, which is sold under the brand name SnowDog. A SnowDog looks like a lawnmower sitting atop a continuous track, and it’s smaller and lighter than a snowmobile. The operator is pulled from behind while standing on a grooming implement.
They’re designed for low-speed, utilitarian winter travel, and they have become a popular option for cutting single-track trails through snow. The mechanically-packed trails are about 24 inches wide and solid enough for hikers and cyclists.
“With the advent of fatbikes, a lot of clubs around the U.S. starting (looking for grooming options), and we could learn from each other,” McCoy said.
BikeNet raised the money to buy a SnowDog and employ a packer, while MBNA hired the packer and provided a place to park the machine.
In January, about 8,000 skiers used the Tie City ski trails. That’s in addition to more than 1,200 visitors who used the multi-use trails starting at Tie City. An unknown number of users started at the Happy Jack or Summit trailheads.
Hinckley said MBNA never imagined it would be in the winter sports business, but everyone has a better time when they can spread out and use trails designed for their specific sport.
“If we can provide a good experience for everybody, we’re more than happy to do that,” he said.
McCoy said the maintenance arrangement and the differentiated trails are a win for both groups.
“It meets all the things our clubs respectively want,” he said.