Rau: Trail building involves more than meets the eye | SkyHiNews.com

Rau: Trail building involves more than meets the eye

Diana Lynn Rau
Staff Photo |

After helping with several work projects for maintenance on Fraser Valley trails, volunteers start evaluating the process of trail building and the inevitable follow up – maintenance to keep the trail usable. Last year HTA sponsored a workshop presented by Subaru/IMBA for local trailbuilders – the guys who put their hands in the dirt and create these trails. Trailbuilders can make maintenance difficult or easy and the IMBA instructors covered many pertinent points worth repeating.

First, is the trail sustainable? Does it have a minimum impact to the ecosystem? On the social level, does it reduce or minimize user conflict? On the economic level, does it require minimum maintenance?

Next, does it address the factors of erosion: usage, wind, water and gravity? People have to think about how these factors affect the trail and observe these effects through time if possible. Usage straight down a fall-line or a river bed just doesn’t work over time. Water flows downhill, and you have to think about volume and velocity as well as realize that water doesn’t like to change direction. Contour trails are much easier to maintain and are much easier on the ecosystem.

Another essential element is the grade of the trail (often based on the ability level of the trail). This incorporates average grade, which should always be less than 8 percent, the soils the trail is built on, the outslope of the trail which sheds water but which should not be more than 5 percent, and the inclusion of grade reversals, which create undulations in the trail that are fun to ride but also stop water and create watershed areas and reduce erosion. That’s a mouthful but these simple factors are so important!

“Again, trail builders must think through the application of different trail building techniques to make sure they work for the particular situation and a wide range of users.”

And these factors are all determined by who will be the users of these trails. What do they want from these trails? Hikers want viewpoints, trail runners want loops, equestrians need compacted trail treads, skiers like rolling terrain and viewpoints, and both like different combinations based on ability level. Beginners want basic wide open trails that are mellow and smooth with good visibility. Intermediate riders or skiers are more self-sufficient and confident – they want more distance, ups and downs and love loops. The more advanced users want more advanced features – the steps, the jumps, the logs, and sick climbs and downhills incorporated into the natural features that are tight and technical.

Are the trails going to be used year-round or just during the warmer months? Will the trails be groomed for winter usage or just skied or snowshoed in by the users? Is the trail corridor wide enough for grooming equipment like a smowmobile pulling a drag or groomer while maintaining the summer characteristic look of a single track?

Often classroom knowledge gets put to work in bits and pieces. Part gets applied but other parts are forgotten. Rocks lining a wet section of the trail are great but the rocks need to allow the water to flow through while keeping the rider from digging into mud and creating bottomless mudholes. Hikers can negotiate steep switchbacks, but trails designed for bikes need to have the proper radius in the turns to allow accents and descents that are smooth and appropriate for the level of difficulty. Skiers can climb in switchbacks but need open areas and wider turns for descents while a snowshoer can come down about any trail. Again, trail builders must think through the application of different trail building techniques to make sure they work for the particular situation and a wide range of users.

The Fraser to Granby Trail and the upper sections starting from the Winter Park Resort to Winter Park town and down to Fraser are meant to be part of a corridor system. A main corridor typically has an 8-10 foot wide tread and is either paved, lightly graveled or a natural base. This type of corridor can be groomed in winter to allow classic skiing or even skate skiing as well as snowshoeing or even just walking. Usage is normally heavy as in the Winter Park – Fraser portions of our corridor trail.

To the west from the Fraser ballfields to Tabernash to the YMCA and on to Val Moritz and Granby Ranch, the corridor is often allowed to grow in with vegetation in summer months such that the user perceives almost a single track trail. Yet the corridor is still there for the other uses in the other seasons.

Eventually this corridor is meant to extend from the top of Berthoud Pass through Grand County to Muddy Pass on the west. This was a dream of the BOCC Trails Master Plan in the ’80s. Due to the dedication of groups like FVPT and HTA, parts of this dream have become a reality with much more to be built. Come to the second public meeting for HTA’s Trails Master Plan Subarea 1 (winter Park/Fraser Valley) presentation and open house Tuesday, July 21, at 6 p.m. at Winter Park Town Hall to see what the government agencies, the user groups and the coordinators of HTA have compiled on trail systems in East Grand. Staff and Board members will be there to answer questions and discuss the plan.

A tremendous amount of work has gone into creating and recreating this master plan – we want all to be involved and become a part of it!

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