For the third year in a row, substantial improvement work is scheduled for the popular trail network on the Pole Mountain Unit of the Medicine Bow National Forest, which sits a few miles east of Laramie.
And for the second-straight year, the Pole Mountain trail project was honored with a national award for the collaborations that have enabled the work.
The Coalition for Recreational Trails gave the project its Tom Petri Annual Achievement Award for the public-private partnership between Wyoming Pathways and the Laramie Ranger District during an event in June in Washington, D.C.
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 that was collected from federal gasoline taxes paid by off-highway recreationists. The money is used by states to build and maintain trails.
Last year, Wyoming Pathways, a nonprofit advocacy group, received a $50,000 grant from the Recreational Trails Program for the second phase of work on Pole Mountain. Matching donations, in-kind contributions and volunteer labor generated an investment of $115,000 for reroutes of portions of the Headquarters and Middle Aspen trails.
“We rebuilt close to 2 miles of trails and maintenance last summer,” said Tim Young, executive director of Wyoming Pathways. “They were very impressed with that program, and we’re very excited to receive the award and the recognition for it.”
The trails were repositioned to locations better for reducing soil erosion and resource damage. Of the Headquarters re-route, Young said, “the new trail takes a much gentler climb with more sustainable grades, and it’s more fun.”
He estimated volunteers contributed about 500 hours of work during several public work days. Wyoming Conservation Corps crews and a professional trail builder were also part of the effort.
Other partners over the duration of the project have included Common Outdoor Ground, Laramie BikeNet, University of Wyoming Outdoor Program, Wyoming State Parks and Cycle Wyoming.
“It really is a terrific project with lots of partners,” Young said.
In 2017, Wyoming Pathways received a $46,000 grant for the first phase of work on Pole Mountain, which consisted of basic maintenance on 19 miles of system trails, such as making sure trails were able to shed water without causing erosion.
Following the completion of the first phase, Wyoming Conservation Corps won an Annual Achievement Award in the category of youth conservation/service corps and community outreach.
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.
Last 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.
Forest Service spokesman Aaron Voos said the project has a lot of public benefits, and public feedback has been positive.
“There’s been a lot of good work done, and we’re excited that the work is going to continue,” he said.
The 2019 phase of the project is set to include reconstruction of about 2 miles of Aspen Trail, tentatively to begin in August.
Despite its award-winning résumé, the Pole Mountain trail project did not receive a Recreational Trails Program grant for the 2019 work. The Wyoming arm of the grant program is administered by Wyoming State Parks, Historic Sites and Trails.
However, Wyoming Pathways did receive funding for the $100,000 project from the National Forest Foundation and other partners.
Young said he’s excited for the future of the trail system, which will eventually connect with the Pilot Hill parcel and take trail users directly to Laramie.
“It’s already good, and it’s going to continue to improve in terms of the quality and the connectivity to the community,” he said. “I’m very excited about that aspect of it — helping to enhance quality of life and livability in Laramie.”