If you enjoy Colorado’s network of backcountry roads (or primitive tracks anywhere in the U.S.), watch out for bulldozers “improving” them. Just last summer we headed for one of our popular local 4×4, ATV and mountain bike trails (Schofield Pass) and found it graded into submission by USFS funded heavy machinery. Thankfully rains and washouts reversed the grading after just a few months. Any way you look at it, a waste.
The insanity continues, this time with major carnage on roads south of here near Ouray, Colorado.
According to a recent news report, “San Juan 4×4 trail Corkscrew Gulch is finally open, if temporarily, after a long wait for four-wheel-drive enthusiasts. The Ouray County Road and Bridge Department will begin work later this month to reverse damage done to the road by the U.S. Forest Service last summer.”
During my decades here in Colorado, I’ve seen this sort of thing play out all over the state. Unlike the case of Corkscrew Gulch, nearby locals often shrug their shoulders, as sometimes the “improvements” do make their lives easier by smoothing access to remote homes, hunting locals and such. But those same improvements destroy or greatly alter what has become a major part of our recreational heritage; that of rough challenging backcountry roadways. And the “improvements” may attract more people.
If the USFS is constantly under funded as so many claim, where is the logic in doing unnecessary road work, which in turn possibly attracts more users who require funds to manage?
More, I’ve heard it said that any funding shortfall in a U.S. Government agency is usually a matter of allocation rather than real need. I’m not sure where the USFS is in that equation, but they could certainly take much of their backcountry machinery money and use it for timber management, improvements to main roads, or a few more Wilderness rangers (to name some needs that seem more pressing than randomly moving dirt on a jeep trail.)
According to the article cited above, officials say at least some of the work is done to prevent erosion and resulting stream sedimentation. Sure, some need for water bars and erosion fixes is obvious. But where is the data that shows most of the trails in question make less sediment after being graded and modified? In my view, it’s frequently the opposite.
Simple field observations easily show that many trails evolve to an ideal surface that looks aesthetically primitive, is fun for recreators using the average 4×4, mountain bike, motorcycle or ATV, and obviously produces little silt. When grading is attempted on these surfaces, the fill simply washes out or is pounded away by traffic.
Granted, portions of some trails need upkeep or they could deteriorate to the point of being impassable even for foot travel (especially in the case of shelf roads built on glacial till rather than blasted out of bedrock). For example, a section of a popular trail near here was taken out by a mudslide this spring, and needed major repair (which was completed quite nicely, thanks USFS). But most of these trails have been in use for over 100 years, they tend to stay open and passable without much official intervention, and nearby streams are doing fine.
When I pen these rants, government employees frequently point out that they’re “just doing their job as required by various laws and regulations.” I’m sure that’s so in some scenarios. But in the case of backcountry road work, much is obviously done at the discretion of various officials. Take your money and run — that’s all I’m asking.
Comments anyone? You want your tax money smoothing those trails, or you want them ready to test your mountain bike skills?
WildSnow.com publisher emeritus and founder Lou (Louis Dawson) has a 50+ years career in climbing, backcountry skiing and ski mountaineering. He was the first person in history to ski down all 54 Colorado 14,000-foot peaks, has authored numerous books about about backcountry skiing, and has skied from the summit of Denali in Alaska, North America’s highest mountain.