Fire damage won’t stop snowmobiling in Grand Lake
The Grand Lake snowmobiling community faced a tight deadline to save the area’s favorite winter activity after the East Troublesome Fire downed thousands of trees.
Already hit hard by the pandemic and a missed hunting season during the devastating fire, the head groomer at Grand Lake Trailgrooming likened snowmobiling in the small town to the ski resort’s economic drive in Winter Park.
“It’s a big driver to the economy during the winter months, especially for a town at the end of a 16-mile, dead end road,” Cameron Stone said.
Known as the Snowmobiling Capital of Colorado, a number of businesses in Grand Lake depend on that tourism to make it through the winter. Immediately following the fire, Stone knew that the trails would need to open.
“We really didn’t want to consider a winter without a snowmobile trail,” Stone said.
In response to the fire, the US Forest Service partnered with local organizations and a number of volunteers to keep snowmobiling open this season.
While the number of trails won’t be as many as in previous years, 30 miles will open this winter after the massive grassroots effort cleared more than 5,000 hazard trees. The work was completed in just over a week earlier this month.
“There is a high amount of complexity in felling partially burned trees, especially when upper portions of the tree are capable of snapping and falling in unexpected ways,” Sulphur District Ranger Shoshana Cooper explained in a statement. “We wanted to try to get this done before winter storms made the whole project more complicated.”
The US Forest Service thanked the army of volunteers who helped complete the extensive mitigation work along key roads and trails before too much snow fell.
The Grand Lake Trailgrooming Board also played a critical role in the effort, according to the Forest Service, by re-desigining handout maps and way-finding signage to help users navigate the open portions of the system.
Along with the Grand Lake Trailgroomers, the Forest Service credited On the Trail Rentals and the Headwaters Trails Alliance for their assistance in providing equipment, tools, fuel, funding and people.
Stone said a number of donations from the public — from fuel and ATVs to monetary gifts — also assisted in the tree removal process.
Areas that reopened Thursday include the easternmost portion of the Grand Lake snowmobile trail system and the Willow Creek Reservoir boat ramp for ice fishing access, according to the Forest Service. New maps are available at fs.usda.gov/arp.
However, riders are asked to exercise extra caution this season. Burned and weakened trees pose an extra risk to snowmobilers traveling at high speeds.
“For everyone’s safety, this year we are requiring users stay on designated, groomed routes and ride only in the identified open play parks,” Cooper said. “Even though we’ve done our best to mitigate the obvious hazards, this is a burned area and we ask the public to be cautious and vigilant when recreating out there.”
Grand Lake Trailgrooming is waiting for enough snow to open the system, but the 30 miles of trails are ready to go once conditions allow.
“Hopefully, we get snow and have the trails open, (and) we get people into the town of Grand Lake,” Stone said.
All snowmobile staging will occur at the Idelglen Trailhead, and users need to either download maps from the Trailgroomers’ website, which is coming soon, or pick up a free map from a participating Grand County business.
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Rep. Joe Neguse is pushing to improve access and funding for public lands in Colorado and around the country.