On Saturday, Aug. 5, a crew of about 20 hard workers spent the day making improvements to the Three Lakes Trail in the Lost Lake area on Kebler Pass.
The project was part of Summer Trail Days. A partnership between the U.S. Forest Service Paonia Ranger District and the Western Slope Conservation Center. Trail Days brings employees and volunteers together to improve hiking trails within the Gunnison National Forest.
In this case, crews constructed a puncheon-style bridge on a heavily-used section of trail at Lost Lake Slough. Workers hauled timber for the bridge platform, tools and other materials up to the work site, and peeled bark from spruce trees felled a few days earlier to be used for the base.
"This has been on our radar for a while," said Funka. The soggy area is a problem for hikers, and the original timber bridge was deteriorating to the point where it wasn't serving its purpose.
A small crew also hiked the three-mile trail to clear overgrown vegetation.
It's an ideal day-long volunteer project, said crew leader Barrett Funka with the Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison National Forest Paonia Ranger District. Volunteers enjoy working on projects with tangible outcomes at the end of the day. In this case, he said, the outcome is more opened trails and a new bridge over a very wet and muddy segment of a very busy trail.
They chose this project because, anecdotally, the Three Lakes Trail that connects the Lost Lake Slough, Lost Lake and Dollar Lake is probably the busiest trail in the district, said Funka. Within minutes of setting up their base, more than a dozen people had passed by, including two mountain bikers who decided the trail would be better enjoyed on foot and returned minutes later without their bikes.
This was the second Trail Work Day project of the season, and the second year for the program. Crews also completed two projects in 2016, including repairing a stretch of Dark Canyon Trail on Anthracite Creek by building a rock turnpike spanning a wet segment of trail, and building two smaller turnpikes.
This year they decided to focus on two iconic trails in the area, said Funka. On July 14 a crew made improvements to Lamborn Mountain's Bell Creek Trail. One of the biggest challenges was getting crews up to the site, which requires four-wheel-drive vehicles. About a dozen volunteers -- a good number for a Friday -- installed water bars and check steps to slow erosion, cleared brush, and re-established segments of the trail where erosion had already occurred. "That was a very productive day," said Funka.
More than a dozen volunteers, many of them who have helped out in the past, showed up for both projects this summer, and that's encouraging, said Funka. "We're trying to engage our public more in the stewardship of our lands, especially on trails."
This summer the Paonia Ranger District also hired local teenagers to work on the GMUG Youth Conservation Corps (YCC), and the Forest Service ran its first seasonal trail crew in years. Crews are opening up more trails than they have in years, said Funka.
With its success to date, the Trail Work Day will likely return next year. While it's a lot of work for the Forest Service, "It's been worth it." Funka said he sees the program as planting the seeds for a more organized trail stewardship program in the area. "But we're not quite there yet."