“Patience is going to pay off in the long run”
By Katherine Nettles
As summer takes the slow approach this year, many high alpine trails that have been under several feet of snow are yet to dry out, according to public lands officials. And it may be a while before they do. Upper drainages such as the Gothic, Washington Gulch and Slate corridors, Keblar Pass and Ohio Pass may not be available for access until July.
Within the U.S. Forest Service Gunnison Ranger District, district ranger Matt McCombs, and recreation staff officer Aaron Drendel, said the rare conditions of a long, wet winter and spring have created unique backcountry circumstances not to be taken lightly.
“Other than obvious hazards, like avalanche debris, runoff and wet trails… our visitors need to be aware that a lot of our trail damage occurs when our trails are wet,” says Drendel.
For example, he explains, “Even hikers can damage a trail in several ways. When people try to go around puddles they can cause ‘trail braiding.’ When bikes and motorcycles use them, it causes increased rutting.
“And then, rather than improving trails and access for recreation… we spend a lot of time and resources repairing trails that are damaged during mud season,” continues Drendel.
The way to avoid these problems is to be aware of how users can impact trails. Drendel says it’s better to go right through puddles, on foot or by bike, for instance. And while a few puddles are manageable, he warns: “If a trail is completely wet, turn around and find a lower, drier trail.” Otherwise, they get rutted, widened and braided by the pressure on loose surfaces.
The USFS also struggles to maintain gate closures and encourages users to respect the signs. “We get a lot of people going around gates,” said Drendel, which makes it more tempting for the next person and defeats the purpose of a closure in the first place. “They are used to keep trails closed,” he emphasizes.
Better yet, McCombs says to start with the lower, drier trails to begin with and don’t risk losing time to alternate plans.
McCombs confirmed that locally, Tony’s Trail, the Upper Loop, Bridges, Cement Creek and Caves trails are good to go for the season. “The Upper Upper Loop is in good shape as well,” he says.
“We need to wait on Gothic, Washington Gulch and Slate Corridors, as well as Kebler and Ohio Pass. We are expecting access to those upper drainages well into July,” says McCombs.
In the Gunnison area, all Taylor Canyon areas are now available. “Doctor Park is a good out-and-back from the bottom,” says Drendel, noting that it is not yet a full loop and there are about 4.5 miles available from North Bank campground. “All the campgrounds up to the dinner station campground are open in Taylor Park,” he adds. “Toward Spring Creek, there’s not much open.”
“It’s been a really unique year, and we are still at 400 percent of average (for water content). Patience is going to pay off in the long run,” says McCombs.
Another aspect of being patient, he adds, is with trail congestion as people have to share fewer available trails. “It will be busy in these places that are available now but it will pay off once these other places dry out. Acknowledging that we are all excited to get out after a long winter, and respecting other trail users” can go a long way, says McCombs, “until the summer moves on and more trails become available.”
In and around Crested Butte, the Crested Butte Mountain Biking Association (CBMBA) reports on trail conditions and gathers information daily from the Crested Butte Conservation Corps and other land use stakeholders, available at crestedbuttemountainbike.com/trail-information/trail-report/. For USFS information, the Gunnison Ranger District line is 970-641-0471 and the Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison National Forests’ Know Before You Go webpage at: www.fs.fed.us/visit/know-before-you-go..