Thursday, November 15, 2018
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New Life for a CB Classic

Teocalli Ridge is back and better than ever
It has been a common refrain this summer. When people return from a tour on the new and improved Teocalli Ridge trail, the comment is almost always, “Best ride ever.” 
It hurts, there’s no question. It’s a long way out there and a healthy climb up there but once you’ve reached the top of the ride, the changes made last year make it all worthwhile. The new section is part side hill screaming downhill, part Deadman’s switchbacks, part Doctor Park high-speed Ewok forest sections and longer than the original descent.

The origins of the Teocalli Ridge trail are unknown. “It could have been created by stockmen to move cattle, or it could have been a game trail originally, then used by cows and stockmen, then by motorcyclists and mountain bikers,” says Aaron Drendel, recreation staff officer for the Gunnison Ranger District. “A lot of our historical routes were created before we started keeping detailed planning records.” Dan McElroy has been riding motorcycles in the valley since the late 1960s and still mixes in time on both motorcycles and mountain bikes. Back then he got information about the local trails from Ed Rozman and Willard Ruggera. “There was a small group of people riding motorcycles at the time and exploring all of these trails,” says McElroy. “Ed Rozman used to drive up there in the 1940s and he told us about trails and we used that as a clue. It was rough but it was in place.” The local motorcycle enthusiasts used pick axes, shovels and chainsaws to reopen trails such as the Teocalli Ridge trail that had overgrown and the Rocky Mountain Enduro Circuit had a stop on the schedule in the Crested Butte area. “You could get the worker bees out there to clean up the trails if the Enduro was coming,” says McElroy. The most recent need for repairs to the existing Teocalli Ridge trail came to light during travel management planning from 2006 until 2010, when it came to the Forest Service’s attention, says Drendel. “The decision was made to address natural resource concerns, public enjoyment and user safety.” But the work was needed and the funds necessary to do said work would have to come from elsewhere. “The money came from the Colorado State Parks OHV trail grant program,” explains Drendel. “The Gunnison Ranger District often applies for state funding to improve trails open to motorized use. This is a result of our trail program being proactive and looking for external resources to help out. Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s off-highway vehicle registration program is instrumental in providing financial resources to accomplish work on motorized trails, but we don’t just sit back and receive funds automatically.” With funds in place, the project was put out to bid and Clearway Services of Florissant, Colo. was hired to do the work. Clearway has been in the trail repair, building and decommissioning business for 17 years and worked in the Gunnison National Forest before, but never in the Crested Butte area. But Clear Way owner/partner Paul Planer always looks for work in the area. “We’ve been all over the place, Idaho, Montana, Colorado, New Mexico and it’s one of my favorite places,” says Planer. Planer and his two partners started the work last summer following the Fourth of July weekend and finished it up in late September with the three of them, and a couple of random volunteers one or two days, doing all of the work. Planer stays out of trail design, leaving that up to the Forest Service and their crew to lay out where the new trail should go. Drendel credits Greg Austin of the Gunnison Ranger District for the initial trail blueprint. Then in came Clear Way Services with equipment, materials and lots of tools and trail building experience. Riding the new trail, one cannot help but notice newly constructed switchbacks and water bars complete with cinderblock reinforcement. Planer and his two partners moved between 700 and 800 cinderblocks via a “power carrier” machine. Essentially, it’s a wheelbarrow-type container with two rubber tracks instead of a wheel, powered by a small motor. A couple of the switchbacks included more than just digging and laying down cinderblocks—specifically, the one switchback that, if you blow the turn, you’re in for a long fall. Planer says they chipped rock by hand, built supportive gabion baskets (rocks wrapped in wire) and anything else they could do to maintain a proper and sustainable turning radius. “That was the most labor-intensive part of the project,” says Planer. “There’s a little bit of everything on that corner.” While most, not all but most, agree that the Teocalli Ridge downhill is as good as it gets right now, it’s prone to damage given the location, weather and, of course, use. While the trail is open to all users, the portion of trail from the top lookout point to where the trail spills out onto Middle Brush Creek Road is recommended for downhill traffic only for motorized users. “Directional use is voluntary, but it can help with user enjoyment and safety because users will cross paths with other riders less,” says Drendel. “Also, a trail designed for a downhill flow is minimally impacted by tires rolling down it. However, when motorcycles accelerate up the steeper sections, the torque creates rutting and gullying. Over time the user experience will be impacted and trail maintenance needs will be increased.” “There’s no way to police it, it’s the honor system,” adds Planer. “It won’t hold up if it gets abused, doing the wrong thing at the wrong time. Hopefully, a majority of the people will enjoy the trail the way it’s designed.” But after being closed for the past two years, there’s no question the trail could get loved to death again. McElroy has seen user groups increase and trails suffer as a result. “These days, there’s so much burden on the trails,” says McElroy. “Both mountain bikes and motorcycles, there’s just a lot more pressure on the trails.” “After a trail is constructed, it is important for users to stay on the trails and be aware of their impacts… However, other user behaviors also influence sustainability,” adds Drendel. “Behaviors like cutting switchbacks, creating new routes around snow drifts, and roosting uphill on a muddy trail will have long-term negative impacts on erosion, user experience, maintenance needs, and natural resource impacts.” Drendel points out that while the trail is in place and open, it will need continued attention based upon how, and how much, it is used. “Finally, routine maintenance is also an important aspect of sustainability,” says Drendel. “We have a lot of support from our partners, through both volunteer projects and combining other resources, so trail users can be proactive and love their trails back to life instead of just ‘loving trails to death.’”

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