So how to great trail systems come to be? The process is a long one that can take years, but with creativity, healthy partnerships, and dedication, new trail systems can be a valuable asset to our community at large.
1. Concept - The Royal Gorge Region is a veritable playground of outdoor recreation opportunities. Unfortunately, hiking and biking aren't easy to do when trails don't exist. Rogue trails can also be damaging to the ecosystem. Trail systems begin when an individual looks over a plot of land and thinks, "This would be a great, beneficial, and beautiful place to invite others to hike, bike, and play."
2. Partnership - FAR contacts the appropriate government or private entities who own the land. In many cases, the land is operated by BLM, and FAR is proud to partner with our local Royal Gorge Office. In fact, Oil Well Flats (located just 10 miles north of Cañon City) was the brainchild of resident, BLM adviser, and biking enthusiast Kalem Lenard. The BLM provided a significant amount of funding to help bring the project to fruition, and FAR provided additional funding and manual labor. The 7-mile system is now one of the most popular in our area. Sometimes private citizens offer an easement through their land so trail connections can be made - as did the Schepp family in the case of the South Cañon trail system. We are always incredibly grateful to those selfless individuals who offer their faith in our organization, trails, and the community at large.
3. Studies - Before land can be utilized, in many cases studies must be conducted to make sure that no flora or fauna will be adversely effected by the plans. These studies are conducted by an experts in the field.
4. Financial Consideration - Trails cost about $3-$7 per foot (and possibly more), depending on many factors, including the difficulty of the terrain. We rely heavily on money earned from our events (like runBlossom, Bikes & Brews, and the Whitewater Festival) to help us fund trail work. You'll find board members Brian V., Chris, Joanna, and Megan assisting with all of these crucial events. FAR also rolled out our 1% for Trails initiative in 2014, which has been gaining momentum. Our community partners have been incredibly generous in opting into the program, which provides a 1% donation toward our trail funds with each purchase. When we can, we also apply for state and local grants. Our grant writer, Kristyn, is instrumental in this step of the process. She puts in long hours researching and writing the grants.
5. Planning - This is both a science and an art. Board member Brian L. is a skilled engineer and utilizes his understanding of mapping, flood mitigation, and other environmental concerns to plot a trail that is both sensitive to the area and also fun. As a hiker and bicyclist, Brian plans trail systems that will be fun to ride, hike, and explore, but also sensitive to the ecosystem.
6. Flagging - The next step is to head out to the trail site and 'flag' the trail. You may sometimes see bright orange flags dotting the landscape in a proposed trail area. These have been carefully placed either by the BLM, Brian and/or Board member Thom to correspond to the best route given the above considerations.
7. Cutting - Cutting a trail can be done by hand, but for maximum progress, a trail cutting machine is often used. We partner with the City of Cañon to use a machine that makes each foot of trail the correct width. It takes the place of hand tools that would take volunteers hours of effort. FAR utilizes the expertise of other individuals and groups to aid in this step. For instance, Volunteers for Outdoor Colorado and the Youth Corps have helped cut trail in our area. We have also recently contracted with a professional trail cutter to help us work on some longer stretches of trail. Our amazing FAR volunteers, often led by board members Adam, Thom, Scott, or Brian, have also been attending Second Sunday Singletrack Workdays to help us create more trail in the Hogbacks, Oil Well Flats, and Section 13 areas. Your help is invaluable, as manual labor is much easier with many hands.
8. Promotion - If no one hears about a trail, it isn't a benefit to the community. FAR has worked hard in the last year to create our Recreation & Trail Guide. A resource for locals and visitors alike, the new publication is geared toward guiding hikers, bikers, whitewater enthusiasts, and and rock climbers to our local gems. We also promote outdoor recreation in the Royal Gorge Region at area events in Cañon City and Colorado Springs.
9. Maintenance - The environment has a funny way of reclaiming land. Oftentimes, trees will fall into the trail, brush grows over areas, and rocks fall into the paths. Our volunteers meet every Second Sunday of the month to work on particular areas or trail systems in order to keep them free of debris and ruts.
Stay tuned for more information on how this process is being applied to two new trail systems: South Cañon Trails and the Royal Gorge Park Trail System.