Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Keep our backcountry trails challenging


By JOEL CATER

Last year, while riding the Lodgepole Trail out Greenhorn, I was cruising beside the creek, pacing to lower my heart rate and catch my breath in anticipation of the impending climb. The ascent was always a good one; it took every ounce of concentration and energy to reach the top. Often, with the top in sight, I'd lose focus and make some error, causing me to drop my foot to the ground. However, those failures only made success much sweeter when I could clean the whole thing. That day I was ready for the challenge, but while rounding the corner to begin my climb I noticed something different. Rather than a challenging climb, there was a series of easy switchbacks that covered five times as much distance with no physical or mental challenge. I was disappointed and kept asking why such a great trail would be eliminated.

Not only are challenging trails being eliminated, but interesting obstacles like rocks are being removed. Last year I didn't speak up, but after seeing similar trail rerouting and grooming on Imperial, Two Dog and others, I wondered, "Why is this necessary?" Some claim these rerouted trails prevent erosion and a visual scar. However, my view is the drawbacks of these trail modifications outweigh those concerns.

First, trail erosion isn't as big of a problem as it's made out to be. Erosion is a problem due to loss of vegetation and visual scars in the hillside. However, a trail that is five times longer causes a longer scar and five times more vegetation loss.

Next, a trail that meanders all over a hillside intrudes on more wildlife habitat. While riding down the rerouted Lodgepole Trail, I displaced the same grouse several times as it tried to find a safe place, only to end up on the next switchback. This type of wildlife habitat intrusion will result in more undesirable encounters, such as with snakes.

In addition, current trail rerouting is not always consistent with International Mountain Bike Association guidelines. Looking at a GPS track of the original Two Dog trail shows that it ranged from 10 to 15 percent grade. IMBA states that trails should be 15 percent maximum and 10 percent average. Two Dog was already within these guidelines. IMBA also states that smooth transitions should be used. Current switchbacks have fast sections followed by sharp turns resulting in additional braking and consequential erosion.

Steep trails are less of a problem than long trails. There is less vegetation loss, shorter hillside scars and reduced wildlife habitat intrusion. A steep trail offers some challenge and excitement while technical obstacles like rocks and roots make trails interesting. What if all the black-diamond runs were removed from Baldy? I'm not sure if trail cleaners and rerouters have considered these issues, but I hope they will. I also hope more people will speak out so we don't lose all our valley's challenging trails.

Joel Cater is a resident of Hailey.




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