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!


  1. It is interesting to see all the volunteeers who have made a contribution. However, the State Division of Lands contributed $347,778 to this project in the form of Round 8 Question 1 Funds. Where did that money go? That works out to more than $30,000 a mile for a trail that is being built by the Federal government and volunteers. Also, the trail was originally 11 miles and is now 8 miles - what happened? It seems like a lot of money to come out of taxpayers' pockets for a trail that few will know about or use. PLEASE TELL US WHERE THE MONEY WENT - WHO THE RECIPIENTS ARE?

  2. Very annoying. I just wrote a long and lovely response to your question, and Blogspot ate it. ;)

    Trying again...

    As of right now, the money hasn't gone far because we have spent very little of it. It's our goal to keep it that way - we are putting as much effort as possible towards coming in well under budget, and the contributions from the community are going a very long ways towards helping us achieve that goal.

    Bill Wolf, formerly of Great Basin Institute, developed the original budget and wrote the Q1 grant in 2007/2008. At that time, the only responsible option was to budget for the trail to be 100% constructed by paid crews. We did not have any idea of the level of community support we'd receive and so couldn't anticipate those contributions in the budget or the grant application.

    The budget is built around using Americorps crews, and that's where the lion's share of the money will eventually go. Those crews are not free to us, unfortunately, although the project is significantly more affordable hiring Americorps to build the trail than it would be to pay Forest Service crews. And, as affordable as the Americorps kids are (and as cool as it is to have these kids out here on the project), we're still trying to do better. We are constantly looking for more cost-effective ways to get this project done, because we have to raise the money ourselves. We're exploring a wide variety of options as we go forward, all with the goal of getting a well-built, sustainable trail on the ground for the least amount of money possible.

    Since we won the grant the project has changed in several ways. One, as you've noted, the original trail length was shortened. Last summer, the trail designer and GBI crew boss modified the trail design in order to address concerns we'd been hearing from a handful of people in the community. We needed to reduce the route's footprint across a private inholding the trail needed to cross, and we wanted to move the trail route uphill from a fenceline and gate at the mouth of Talbot Canyon. It was our goal to discourage potential trespass by trail users onto private property. In order to accommodate those two things, the trail designers essentially eliminated a handful of switchbacks from the design. It makes the trail a bit steeper but we think it'll be a better long-term fit for the community. All work since then, including the NEPA surveys, has been based on the updated design. Sometimes, though, people refer to the old trail length when talking about the project - it's just a communication lag.

    Second, as you've noted, we've seen significantly more interest from the community than we could ever have anticipated. The contributions by the NDF crews and Hotshot crews, for example, will save the Americorps kids a tremendous amount of time, and the project a commensurate amount of money. Every foot of trail a volunteer builds is trail the Americorps kids won't have to - again, saving us money. Based on how things are going, I think our goal of coming in well under budget is going to be very, very achievable.

    To be continued...

  3. Finally, as to your last point, that few will know about or use the trail - I wasn't around then, but I'd be willing to guess that folks around here weren't all that impressed with the idea of building the Ruby Crest Trail, either. It must have seemed like a real boondoggle to spend that kind of money building a trail across a ridgline linking two dirt roads nobody ever used, especially in the middle of the Depression. This is a pretty conservative area, and I'd be willing to bet that the majority of local residents thought FDR was an idiot. A lot of them likely still do, but I don't think anyone questions the value of the Ruby Crest Trail any more.

    We're not building this trail for tomorrow, or the next year, or even the year after that. As the demand for recreational trails and recreational access grows, this trail and others like it will become increasingly popular. This will never be a hit with the flip-flop crowd, because it isn't that kind of trail. But for anyone ready to get away from everyday life, it'll be there, waiting. In 50 years, people will be glad that somebody took the time and effort to build this trail.

    I hope you get a chance to tour the project. I've been spending a lot of time up there in recent weeks, and it's gorgeous. Everyone I've taken up there has been absolutely blown away by the beauty of the route, the astonishing views, and the hikeability of the grade our designer laid out. We're creating something special, and I hope that you choose to be a part of it when the time comes.

  4. Oh, one more (very important) thing... the grant covers work from Lamoille Canyon to Conrad Canyon, not just to Talbot Creek. The Conrad Canyon trail design hasn't been completed, but between construction of new trail and re-construction of old trail I anticipate that money will need to cover another 6+ miles of trail work. In addition, we'll be rehabilitating some severely damaged portions of the Talbot Creek trail, in order to build a more sustainable trail going into the future. The USFS hasn't put any effort into maintaining that trail, as public access has been so limited in recent years. So that $347K is covering a lot more ground than Lamoille Canyon to Talbot Creek.

    Hope that answers all of your questions.

  5. The depression produced a lot of public works projects and the construction of many major trails. For example, the trail up Mt. Whitney which includes 99 swicthbacks dynamited out of the side of the mountain. I have a couple a questions. In three years time, what would you estimate the usage on a weekday in July. I cannot imagine many hikers interested in hiking much of the trail (16 miles RT). Backpackers, they could go further but there tend to be fewer backpackers than hikers. Horsemen? What - maybe 6 groups of 4 on average? Mountainbikers - maybe 6 groups of 6? I don't know. I think the trail will get maximum use during hunting season. Also, I am a horseman and have never encountered a mountain biker on a trail. You seem to have experience with mountainbikers - in your experience, and with regard to the trail you are building, will mountainbikers be racing as fast as they can - is it a race - or obstacle course, or do they go slowly along at perhaps twice the speed of a hiker. I imagine a mountainbiker or group of them racing around a corner and spooking horsemen. Please give me your detailed assessment - educate me or refer me somehwere I could learn that. Personally, I would dread mountainbikers - somebody has to get off the trail to pass - is there a custom, like in my experience people going downhill (or uphill) deferring to people going in the opposite direction. Like hikers generally defer to horsemen because it is easier for them to manoever and step off the trai - what happens when six horsemen going one direction go around a bend and encounter six mountainbikers headed in the other direction?

  6. The Mt. Whitney trail is truly amazing. I'm absolutely awed every time I'm up there at the work those Depression-era crews did. Same on the Ruby Crest Trail - the switchbacks between Lamoille Lake and Liberty Pass, for example, are so amazingly beautiful. Guess I've turned into a trail geek.

    I'm actually more of a horsewoman than a mountain biker these days, although I do both. As a ranch kid, I was riding horses before I could walk. I didn't start mountain biking until I turned 30, and am still an aerobically fit beginner skill-wise. I enjoy it (a lot) but I'm not all that good at it.

    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.

  7. If you live around here and are interested in letting your horse get a good look at a bike, let me know and we can get together. I have a lot of cattle trails on my BLM allotment that I bike all the time; we can practice in a place that's safer than on the side of a mountain.

  8. What USE to you see of this trail after the initial enthusiasm. My experience is that except for Island Lake and Lamoille Lake on a weekend in the middle of the Summer, there are very few people. Like on a Wednesday to Island Lake, I doubt you can count 100 people - more like 50. Thomas Canyon, I doubt 20 people hike that the entire length on a weekend. Robinson Lake - fewer. EXCEPT when hunters are out.

  9. I'm only guessing, here, so take it for what it's worth.

    Given it's location, at the mouth of the canyon rather than the head, I anticipate the Lamoille Canyon trailhead will see a fair amount of after-work use by the fitness crowd - trail runners, hikers, mountain bikers. Beats going to a gym. There are a number of really nice viewpoints at various distances along the route that will work for good turn-around points, so people can tailor their workout accordingly.

    On weekends, I imagine you'll see mountain bikers doing the out-and-back to Talbot Creek, until we are able to take the project further, at which point they'll ride up the Talbot Creek Trail or the Conrad Canyon loop. Since there is no other mountain bike trail in this part of the world, I think it'll get regular use, both by locals and by out-of-town folks looking for a way to enjoy the Rubies. As to raw numbers - it's hard to say, although like anything else I would anticipate that use will grow as word gets out and more people pursue these forms of recreation. As a side note, this winter I saw dozens of backcountry skiers from Utah and Tahoe up Lamoille Canyon, all of whom were interested in expanding their recreational horizons beyond their home bases. This is a new phenomenon; while we've had winter visitors in the past I don't think we've seen anything like these numbers. I anticipate we'll see similar growth in out-of-town summer visits once word about this trail gets out.

    Weekend day-hikers have a nice destination about 4.5 miles in, a nice viewpoint by a pretty spring. That makes for a 9-mile RT, a nice distance for a day hike. Once the second segment is done, there will be about three more really nice day-hike length hikes incorporating this trail and a couple of existing trails to Cold Lakes and up over the top from Robinson Lake.

    Backpackers and horsemen looking for an overnight will have a wide variety of destinations, and I imagine we'll see about the same level of traffic on this trail in a couple of years as we do on the Crest Trail. Once the trail to Talbot Creek is completed, these folks can use existing trail to get to Verdi Lake, Conrad Canyon and the headwaters of Thorpe Canyon. As the project progresses we'll improve all of those trails, making for a better experience and more sustainable trails going forward.

    And, obviously, this trail will be very popular during hunting season. Our trail designer ran into a hunting guide up there last fall who was pretty happy about what we were doing - it'll make it a lot easier for the hunting guides and other horse-packers to get from canyon to canyon. And, those folks who don't want or need to work with guides will now have easier access, from the Lamoille Canyon trailhead and (in a few years) from the trailhead in Soldier Canyon. Hopefully, people will stop hanging on the doorbells of the folks who own property at the forest boundary; they have to be getting tired of strangers wanting to tromp across their land. The Forest Service can refer these folks to the Lamoille Canyon and Soldier Canyon trailheads, rather than to the folks who own property up there.

  10. I have never done the Ruby Crest Trail. At the height of the sseason, perhaps late July of early August, if I were at the center of the trail, how many groups of horsemen/backpackers would I see going in each direction. My guess: 4-5 of each going in each direction - what do you think, you would know better than me. Very good presentation on hiker/cyclist/horseman etiquette. I WOULD LIKE TO MAKE A SUGGESTION: This trail is in and out, and about 16 miles round trip, but people can then go on - to Conrad, Verdi Lake, off trail and who knows where. It is generally a good idea for people going on a lengthy trail to tell someone where they are going and when they expect to return, so if they encounter misfortune, somebody has an idea they are in distress and where to look for them. This happened on the Ruby Crest Trail last year - somebody did not show up on time, an alert (in hindsight a false alarm) went out, and all ended well. For this reason, and to assess the usage of this trail, I suggest a resigister at the trail head where people sign in, give the date, time and destination, and estimated return date/time, and sign out. Perhaps include a telephone number - their cell or a freind's contact info. One person could sign in for groups. Also, I have heard there are ATV and snowmobile users already planning to try this trail - is there anything being done to hinder or prevent that?

  11. In the past few years, when I've done the Crest Trail, I've generally not been the only party camping at Overland, Favre or Liberty, and I generally pass a party camped at Lamoille (I don't camp there). That's a real change from when I was a kid, you never used to see anybody up there. I generally don't go up there during hunting season, don't figure I need to be in the middle of that, so I don't know how much use the trail gets from hunters. I'd guess quite a bit based on the numbers of horse trailers at the trailhead. You never really have the place to yourself any more, though. That much I can tell you.

    We've really run into challenges estimating usage on this trail because there are no good numbers for the Ruby Crest Trail. The USFS doesn't have a register up there and has never done a survey. FWIW, I agree with you - we sincerely need a register at all of the trailheads for this project, not only for safety's sake but so we understand where to concentrate our efforts/money on maintenance. It'd be nice to know, too, the balance between user types - hikers, bikers, horsemen, snowshoers, skiers, etc.

    I'm not at all surprised to hear that there are jerks revving up to tear the trail apart. Sometimes people amaze me. Fortunately, nothing will change as far as snowmobiles are concerned - there's not going to be any more snow now than there ever is - and the trail is narrow and sidehilled enough that an ATVer will find it to be pretty miserable and unsafe riding. I guess a skilled dirtbiker could ride this trail, but from what I understand they're not big fans of switchbacks. They could gas it right up the fall line, I guess, although there's nothing stopping any of them from doing that right now.

    One can always hope that people will be respectful, particularly given all of the work the community has put into this. Beyond that, we've done everything we can with trail design to make this trail unattractive to motorized users. There are so many more fun places for them to ride, hopefully they'll leave this un-fun (for them) trail alone.

    FWIW, I truly believe in the development of sustainable motorized trails, just as I do the development of sustainable non-motorized trails. It's just not my gig. If any of the moto-folk are interested in working with the Stewardship Group to make a project like that happen, we're all ears. I won't take the lead on it but will be happy to pass along all the knowledge I've developed in recent years making this project a reality. Things never happen unless people make them happen - if the moto-folk want more good, legal riding, then their best bet is to tackle a project like this one, focused on their specific needs.