Sunday, June 6, 2010

Breaking ground and blazing trails

I have to say that this entire project has done more to impress me with the citizens of Elko County than I could ever have imagined. Yesterday, we celebrated our first National Trails Day with this project - and even on graduation weekend for Elko and Spring Creek high schools... even with it being about the first decent day we've had all spring... even with all of that, we had more than 40 folks show up to roll up their sleeves and get this trail underway.

Best of all, they had a great time and are going to bring their friends when we do this again. Awesome!


We had the official groundbreaking for the project on Friday, and had a nice crowd on hand for the speechifying. We've had some amazing support for this project (check the list of partners over to the right) and it was really great to hear their take on why all of this work has been worthwhile. Gerry Miller from the Northeastern Nevada Stewardship Group emceed, with comments from Lou Schack from Barrick, commissioners Sheri Eklund-Brown and Warren Russell, and USFS District Ranger Gar Abbas. After the brief ceremonies, everybody grabbed a shovel and headed to the trail to turn some dirt... the cool part is that most folks stuck around for a while to take a short hike up the route. How fun is that?

Then, yesterday, folks started showing up to roll up their sleeves... what an amazing community celebration! We got about 3 switchbacks worth of trail on the ground, on top of the work the Americorps kids did last week. Boy, will they be surprised at all the new trail that happened while they were gone! They'll be showing up again tomorrow evening... I can't wait to see their faces. ;)

We had all kinds of folks there... kids as young as 9 and as old as 86... fisher folks, horsemen, mountain bikers, hikers. David Ashby, the former USFS recreation planner for this area and one of the key people to get this project off the ground, came down from Burley, Idaho with his family in tow... so cool to see them and to celebrate his part in the project. We had a dozen kids from NYTC, who did a great job and had a blast doing it. A real cross-section of our community.

Best of all, people had a chance to "pay it forward"... we've all been enjoying the trails other folks built all those years ago, now it's our turn to build a trail for people who'll enjoy it 50 years from now.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Horsemen and hikers and bikes, oh my!

I had a conversation last night with an anonymous commenter in response to my "What A Community" post that I think is worth sharing with everybody.  The poster was concerned about the multi-use concept of this trail - she hadn't spent a lot of time sharing trails with mountain bikes and was concerned about how those interactions would go. Since there isn't currently any actual mountain bike trail around here, she's probably not alone.  

There are a lot of things that trail builders can do to help prevent user conflicts between horses and mountain bikes, and since this is a new trail we're incorporating a lot of lessons learned elsewhere. One of the real keys is in trail design... you can design a trail to keep MTB speeds in check, and to make sure everybody sees everybody else in plenty of time to act accordingly. Those two things alone will resolve about 95% of user conflicts.

Some of it, too, is in education, and that's also part of what I'd like to see accomplished here. It is my dearest wish to get mountain bikers and horsemen working side by side building and maintaining the trail, so that each can learn from the other about how they use the trail - and each can learn that the other folks aren't bad people, just people enjoying the trail differently. Nobody wants to cause wrecks, either for horsemen or bikes.

As far as protocols go... everybody yields to horses, bikers yield to everybody. That isn't always practiced... a lot of times it's easier for a hiker to step off the trail than for a biker, and they often do. But that's the protocol and most people follow it, especially if you remind them with signage.

The standard protocol for a mountain biker approaching a horseman is for the biker to stop a ways from the horse and talk to the rider, finding out what the rider needs to have happen to pass safely. The biker usually steps off the trail with his bike, preferably to the downhill side, while the horseman rides past. That lets the horse see and smell the human under all of that sweat, and keeps the bike downhill where it won't "pounce" on the horse.

Every trail user needs to be responsible for his own actions. Mountain bikers need to understand that horses are prey animals and react accordingly. If a horse doesn't know what that scary-looking thing is, it is going to react like any other animal that thinks it's about to be eaten. In all likelihood, too, the horse's rider is now scared to death and the situation can spiral out of control. By increasing education and understanding among mountain bikers, and by designing a trail to keep speeds slow and sightlines good, those kinds of wrecks can be avoided.

Horsemen have responsibilities, too. Their primary responsibility is to be certain that their horse is ready to be ridden on a multi-use trail. A lot of times a horseman lets his animal stand around for a month at a time, gets on for an hour or two, and wonders why his horse doesn't trust him and/or misbehaves. A horse on a multi-use trail needs to be thoroughly desensitized, and he needs to trust the leadership ability of his rider. Even if you're in the wilderness where there are no bikes, there are plenty of things for a horse to spook at and cause wrecks. In the last couple of weeks, for example, I've flushed about a dozen grouse up there. They spooked me, never mind a touchy horse. There will be deer up there, cows breaking out of the brush, mules and llamas (a lot of horses don't like either), hikers with big backpacks, loose cinches and turning saddles - all kinds of things that will give a spooky horse fits. A rider that accepts his/her responsibilities as a trail user will ensure that his partnership with his horse is strong enough to be on a trail of this nature.

For what it's worth, I own five horses.  There's only one of them right now I'd take on this trail.  With some work on my part, three of the others would likely be fine.  But I'd never try it without spending some time desensitizing.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

What a community!

Just got back from Elko and a day full of meetings with folks from the USFS and the Northeastern Nevada Stewardship Group... had a call from Craig Smith, one of the Friends of the Secret-Lamoille Trail who had made some signs to help volunteers find us on our work days.

Craig is the Wells HS shop teacher, and unfortunately for all of us here has decided to leave our lovely climes and take a job near Teton National Park, in Wyoming.  Tough duty.

Before he left, though, he wanted to do his bit for the trail.  I should have known better than to expect anything less than something amazing.  These signs are beautiful and will serve us well for years to come.  Look for them this Saturday as we work on the trail on National Trails Day.

Thanks, Craig, we'll miss you and look forward to having you back for a hike or MTB ride sometime very soon!

While one great volunteer is moving on, a few more are coming to join us. 

Jerry and Shar Williams from the Reno Chapter of Backcountry Horsemen spent their Memorial Day weekend here in Lamoille touring the project.  They're very excited about the opportunities the project presents, and are staunch supporters of the multi-user trail concept. Our kind of people!  They plan on working with us on the trail themselves, and hope to make this a regular project for their Reno BCH chapter - great news!

One of the more interesting aspects of having Jerry involved is that he is an experienced horse packer, and teaches horse packing techniques for BCH.  His insights into what works best for pack strings will be invaluable to us as we move ahead with the project. The fact that horses and bikes will share the trail will make his contributions critical to the trail's success - by pointing out potential problem areas he'll help us keep this trail enjoyable for everyone. 

Welcome to the team, Jerry and Shar!