Thursday, November 5, 2009

Secret-Lamoille Trail compared w/Ruby Crest Trail

During the scoping process for the Secret-Lamoille Trail project, one of the very few folks who spoke out against us asked "Why do we need another trail? We already have the Ruby Crest Trail!" Well, to my mind, there are several reasons:

1. The Ruby Crest Trail is internationally known for its scenic beauty and for the amazing backcountry experience it provides to users. And, because it's internationally known, it's starting to get more and more traffic. When I was a kid, it was rare to see anybody on that trail past Lamoille Lake, two miles in from the Lamoille Canyon trailhead. When I was in college you'd see folks camped at Liberty Lake. And then Favre Lake. And then North Furlong.

These days it's a rare trip that you don't run into other people along the length of the trail. That's not a bad thing - they've universally been pretty cool folks. But that experience tells me that the demand is there for more trails of that length, beauty and remoteness here in the Rubies. The reconstructed Secret-Lamoille Trail will give those folks an opportunity to visit a completely different part of the range while enjoying the kind of rugged Ruby Mountain experience for which we're rightly known.

2. The Ruby Crest Trail provides an alpine mountain experience. It crosses 10,000' passes, wanders around jewel-like alpine lakes, lets visitors see bristlecones and marmots and mountain bluebirds in their natural habitats. What it DOESN'T provide is a lengthy window for would-be visitors, nor does it provide much of an opportunity to enjoy lower- altitude plant and animal communities. You can't reliably get a horse over those passes before July 4th unless you're willing to tear up a lot of ground (I'm not, and neither is anybody with any sense in his head.) And once the snow flies you're done for the year.

The Secret-Lamoille Trail is a different animal altogether. Its high point of 8300' is lower than the 9000' Ruby Crest Trail trailhead in Lamoille Canyon. It will be open significantly earlier in the year, and portions of it near the Secret Pass trailhead will be suitable for year-round use in dry years. It wanders through lower-altitude plant and animal communities - pinyons and mahoganies and serviceberries and such - and in that respect beautifully complements the mountain experience provided by the Ruby Crest Trail.

3. For the most part, the Ruby Crest Trail is a Point A to Point B experience. That's not a bad thing - in fact, that's one of the nice things about committing to the trail, you know you're going to be there for a while.

The Secret-Lamoille Trail can certainly be a Point A to Point B experience, as well. The finished trail will be 50 miles long or so. BUT, when you start looking at maps, you can see a lot of other recreational opportunities made real by this trail - loop dayhikes and one- day horseback rides. Overnight out-and-backs to mountain lakes. Shorter multi-night trips than what you can easily do on the Ruby Crest Trail. The Secret-Lamoille Trail opens up a LOT of country and crosses a LOT of other trails - its reconstruction creates a multiplier effect that increases recreational options far more than what a Point A to Point B project would provide.

4. The Ruby Crest Trail is a wilderness trail. That's a GREAT thing for folks looking for a wilderness experience. However, people who ride mountain bikes can't ride in wilderness. Ever. And they like trails, too.

Much of the Secret-Lamoille Trail is non-wilderness, which means that it'll be available for mountain bikers to use. It will be the FIRST trail constructed specifically for use by mountain bikes in Elko County. That means it will be more enjoyable, more sustainable, and more user-friendly for mountain bikes than the very few riding options available here. Not only that, but bringing mountain bikers into the local trail fold means that there'll be more people out there willing to work to build and maintain the trail for the long run. It is my heartfelt wish and goal to get mountain bikers, horsemen and hikers together on trail teams to build and maintain this trail. Only by learning about what other groups want and need can potential trail conflicts be averted.

And - those who WANT a wilderness experience are served by this trail as well. Much of the trail's second segment, between Conrad Canyon and Soldier Canyon, is wilderness. And it is REMOTE. It goes through beautiful country that hasn't been publicly accessible for decades. It crosses trails that lead into some of the Rubies' least-traveled alpine areas. You don't HAVE to take "the (trail) less traveled-by", but it's there if that's the experience you're looking for.

I guess the bottom line for me is not "why do we need this trail," but rather "how did we ever get along without it?"

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