Wednesday, December 5, 2012

A Warm Welcome to December and Some Pleasant Time on the Trails

The first weekend of December brought warm weather and great conditions for late season trail use!

On Saturday morning I decided to take the kids to Pineridge Natural Area to hike around Dixon Reservoir.  When we arrived at 9 am the trails were very busy with casual hikers, trail runners, mountain bikers, and quite a few other families, like mine, that got out for a family romp on the local trails.  It was great to see so many people out on such a great morning.  This trip was a special one for me because it was our daughter's first try at hiking by herself.  Granted, we didn't do a whole lot of "hiking" but she was very adamant about walking down a steep bit of trail from the parking lot to the reservoir.  As it turns out, the trail we were on was also great for the butt-scooch method of descending, I swear she thought it was a slide!  After we made it down that small bit of trail we stopped to throw rocks into the water - a favorite past-time of mine as well. I was able to garner enough support from the troops to walk along the water's edge and I took the opportunity to teach our son about some of the plants and talk about the animals we saw.  It's really quite amazing how quickly kids can pick up on things, the rest of the morning our son kept pointing out grasses!  After finding some mud, an area filled with spiders, and watching prairie dogs we made our way to a bench and watched some ducks swimming and diving.  It was really a fantastic morning on the trails at Pineridge and everyone that we encountered was very friendly and responded kindly to our kids as they said hello to everyone we passed.

Late on Sunday morning I took advantage of the nice weather again.  This time, however, I decided to take a casual mountain bike ride.  I didn't get much sleep the night before because I have been trying to finish Trailcology's federal 1023 form to receive 501(c)3 status, so this was a perfect reason to take it easy, enjoy the trails, and talk to some friendly people.

Starting off in Pineridge, I calmly and quietly rolled along the Timber trail (one of my favorite town trails) and absorbed the morning and the setting around me.  I enjoyed stopping to look upslope for any wildlife that may be hanging around and to observe the changes in the vegetation from the South end of the trail to the North.  The current management plan for the Natural Areas program has a focus on conservation, which I think is fantastic.  However, everytime I look upslope from the Timber trail I see opportunity.  Opportunity for future trail use that allows trail users to spread out more, reduce some of the wear and tear on the Timber trail, and allow flora- and fauna-minded people easy access to a beautiful bit of land.  I understand that wildlife use that section of land and it is an important corridor for many wildlife species but I have also noticed that the wildlife don't seem to be bothered by the human use in that area.  One particular example of this was when many trail users saw an Elk down by Dixon Reservoir several years ago.

The Elk saw all of us standing around taking pictures and he just continued on with his business like nothing was going on.  You may also be interested to know that this picture was taken in August and there is quite a bit of lush green vegetation!  I've gotten off subject a bit, let me bring this back around.  I can envision a way to potentially satisfy the growing needs of trail users as well as the needs of wildlife in that tract of land.  Down the road I hope to have another incredibly amicable conversation with the great people in charge of our Natural Areas program to see if my idea would be feasible.

I finally made my way through Pineridge and I was on to Maxwell Natural Area.  There are always a wide variety of people on Maxwell's trails and today was no different.  I stopped for many hikers and runners, talking to the families as I let them by or quickly saying hello to the focused runners.  Normally I enjoy the challenge of riding up the "A-trail" segment of the Foothills Trail and I push quite hard.  Today however, I just enjoyed my ride and casually rolled my way up the trail, stopping to take note of wear and tear that has made certain sections seem rockier than they were earlier in the summer.

Continuing on the Foothills Trail I rode down the newly re-routed "shoreline" segment and eventually down across the final north dam to reconnect with the Foothills Trail at the top of the road climb.  This section of the Foothills Trail, between the high point after the dam and where it intersects with trails in Reservoir Ridge Natural Area, is one of my favorite sections.  There is very rarely anyone up there, it's beautiful, there is often deer browsing around, and the trail is pretty fun.  On this particular day I decided to hop off the bike and hike around a bit in a Ponderosa pine stand.  I sat on a rock for a little while, overlooking the North-West end of Fort Collins and soaked it up.  What a fantastic resource we have in our town, our trails are exactly what the doctor ordered.

After I adjourned from my brief, but peaceful, respite I connected with the new re-route in Reservoir Ridge. I really enjoy the new re-route, I love how it goes high on the ridge and allows you to look out over the land.  For the most part, I think the trail is very well built.  There are a few pieces here and there that I believe will start to wash out because of a rock on the backslope side of the trail and nothing along the critical edge to keep the edge from collapsing as mountain bikers avoid riding over the rock.  These are simple enough to fix though and can be taken care of with some pretty light rock work.

After I looped around at the North side of Reservoir Ridge, I came back down the re-route and I ran into another mountain biker who I spent some time talking with.  As it turns out, his name was Aaron and he had spent the summer working with Fort Collins Natural Areas and he had spent a good bit of time helping to build the new re-route.  We talked for quite a while about the trail and a wide variety of other things.  He was a really nice guy and I'm glad I had the chance to talk with him.  You never know who you're going to meet on the trail!

I continued my casual ride back home and concluded a great weekend of trail use.  Our daughter's first hike, teaching the kids about plants and animals, a great bike ride full of fantastic interactions, and an opportunity to experience the trails at a slower pace on my bike made my weekend pretty fantastic.  It's always nice to talk to people and hear their opinions about happenings on the trail and I take that information and use it to help me direct my plans with Trailcology.  I hope that one of these days I will get to meet everyone on one of Trailcology's projects and get to know you all on a first-name basis.  Imagine how fun it will be to run into everyone on the trails then!

See you on the trail!


Thursday, November 8, 2012

Overland Mountain Bike Club's Trail Vision Plan

The Overland Mountain Bike Club is working on a Trail Vision Plan to improve and build upon the trail systems in our region.  In order to effectively meet the needs of ALL trail users they have developed a short survey for trail users to fill out.
See their release below:

As you may have heard, the Overland Mountain Bike Club Trails Committee is developing a regional Trail Vision Plan.  We are working with trail planning and design consultants, Kay-Linn Enterprises, to develop this plan.  As a part of the development process, we have created a trail use survey and are asking for your input.

Please take 5-10 minutes out of your day and fill out the survey. You can access the survey here:

The more responses we get, the more encompassing our Vision can be and the more credible we can be with the land Agencies as we present our Vision.

Please pass this link on to any friends and family that you know that are trail users of any type (horse, hike, run, bike, etc).

Your time and opinions are greatly appreciated.

Take a few minutes and fill out this important survey.  Also, please take a minute to share this link with anyone you think would have an opinion about the future of trails in Northern Colorado!

If you have any questions, feel free to shoot me an email or leave a message on the Trailcology Facebook page!



Wednesday, October 24, 2012

IMBA World Summit: race promoter session

Part of Trailcology's mission is to support and foster trail users and as part of that, I plan on holding events for all trail users. These events are meant to foster trail user skills, develop relationships with their fellow users, provide educational opportunities, and engage users in Trailcology events. These events may range from scavenger hunts all the way up to full-on races. Trailcology will use these events as fundraisers and opportunities to connect with potential volunteers for projects. The IMBA race promoter session was focused on creating well organized and supported events that promote trail advocacy for the good of the trails and trail users.

In attendance were professional racers, race promoters, organization staff, land managers, and individuals (like myself) who are here to learn from the vast amount of experience that is available from these individuals. The purpose of this meeting, from IMBA's perspective, was to create a manual of Best Practices for race promoters to put on the best events that they possibly can while engaging the community and promoting trail advocacy. Even though this session (and conference) were focused on mountain biking, the information and experience that was bright to the table was absolutely phenomenal. For example, the Lifetime Fitness crew, who puts on the Leadville 100 series, was in attendance and they put on all kinds of events!

I'm excited to review the manual of best practices when it is made available to the attendees because it will be full of great information that will only enhance all of the ideas that I already have for great events! Speaking of which, you might be wondering what kind of events I'm talking about, right? Well... Ok, here's a sample of my ideas: themed trail run scavenger hunts, educational family hiking events, community short-track bike races held at the Holiday Twin drive-in (currently in development), and social equestrian events. I have many more ideas too, but I don't want to give away the farm already!

Stay tuned for updates about Trailcology events during 2013!



Saturday, September 8, 2012

Larimer County Small Grants and Trailcology

I have submitted the first grant proposal for Trailcology!

Larimer County provides small grants for community partnering that are meant to help unite communities while providing some level of outdoor education, experience, access, or improvements.  I submitted a proposal for a simple project that will help educate trail users about invasive plants, their effects on the environment, and what can be done to help prevent their spread.

If this project is funded I will help develop about 10 high-quality signs that each contain a picture and information about a different invasive plant.  The signs will be installed trail-side in areas where that particular invasive plant is along or near the trail.  This project will target high-use areas such as Horsetooth Mountain Park, Lory State Park, Pineridge Natural Area, and Maxwell Natural Area.  I will organize a small group of volunteers to hike to previously designated areas where we will install the signs along the trail.  At each location we will talk about the invasive plant and the information contained on its sign.  I will aim to organize a diverse group of volunteers that consists of hikers, trail runners, mountain bikers, and equestrians.  Through diverse groups such as these I hope to create a deeper sense of community within the trail user groups and create "sustainable trail users" that understand having sustainable trail systems also requires open communication between the users which will reduce conflict.

This is one of a number of proposal ideas that I have prepared for Trailcology.  Future proposals will range from small scale trail maintenance, through ecological projects like slash-pile burn scar remediation, and all the way up to the development of new trails to create a more sustainable network.

I have already partnered with the Overland Mountain Bike Club's trails committee and I am working toward relationships with hikers, trail runners, and equestrians to help create a unified voice for the future of our trails.

Stay tuned for future updates about the Larimer County small grant as well as upcoming projects!



Sunday, September 2, 2012

Sunday Trail Run In Fort Collins

My normal means for trail use is my mountain bike, but today I decided to switch things up by taking a short run instead.  I haven't done any trail running since the Tough Mudder so it was high time I stomped some trail.

It's easy to forget how different your experiences on the trail can be when you run instead of hike or mountainbike - riding a horse is in a class of its own.  Hiking is usually a social, family kind of time.  It's great because you know you are going to be going at a slow pace and you will be able to talk with whoever you're hiking with.  It's also easy to stop and observe things that you might miss if you ran or rode by.  Mountain biking allows you to see a greater length of trail in a much shorter time.  It's very possible that you will see more things, like wildlife or friends and acquaintances, but you pass by small details that you would not miss if you were going much slower.  This is where I found myself today, going much slower than normal and running under the mid-day sun.

The first difference that I noticed today was how different the trail looked to me.  I have hiked, run, and ridden the trails at Pineridge a number of times, but most often I'm on a bike.  Today, I noticed more of the undulations in the trail and the finer details of the trail tread.  Normally I roll through the sections and I feel the undulations in the trail through my bike, without much regard for the flatter parts of the trail.  Running the trails today made me more aware of the topography in front of me and it was great to again see the trails in this light, it made everything feel new again on familiar trails.  It also reminded me of the trail runner perspective regarding the other trail users.

When I'm on the mountain bike I do my best to adhere to the rules of the trail.  Sometimes people get off for me even though they have the right of way and sometimes I have my head down on a steep climb and catch myself rolling up on some hikers faster than I intended to.  As a trail runner, things feel a little different.  There's no machine between me and the other users (unless they're on a bike) and it's much easier to maneuver around each other.  I didn't come across any mountain bikers today but I was thinking about how I would handle a variety of encounters with a mountain biker.  I know that, as a trail runner, I would have the right of way because mountain bikers must yield to hikers and runners.  But because I also mountain bike, I would probably yield to a mountain biker under several different circumstances.  I wouldn't do this because I was afraid, but more because I respect the mountain biker and I understand the effort and concentration that it takes to climb a steep pitch or safely descend in technical terrain.

As I was finishing my run today I thought, once again, about how nice it would be to have all trail users work together in Northern Colorado to participate in projects that improve trail quality for all users.  Also, it would be great to get users together to help with educational projects that help everyone learn more about the environment where we play and our impact upon it.

I'm looking forward to getting Trailcology off the ground and working on projects with people from all walks of life that want to improve our trails and the relationships between their fellow trail users.



Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Hewlett Gulch Gets A Little Help From It's Friends!

This past Saturday I volunteered with the Wildlands Restoration Volunteers (WRV) to help finish building a new section of trail in Hewletts Gulch.  Hewletts was heavily impacted by the High Park Fire that occurred this summer, much of the landscape and trail were scorched by the fire.  Prior to the fire, WRV had begun a trail project that would close the current "trail" that created a lollipop loop at the North end of the Hewlett Gulch trail and create an official, well-constructed, trail to take it's place.  The High Park Fire put a hold on the trail construction until the United States Forest Service (USFS) deemed the area safe to return.  After many hazard trees were felled and the monsoon season came to an end, volunteers were allowed to return to finish the project.

Freshly cut section of trail
I made it a point to join the project manager and crew leader who were going to run out ahead of everyone to flag the remaining section of trail.  It was another great opportunity to have a voice in the creation of local trails.  We placed the flags along the route according to the topography and in a manner that would create a fun and sustainable trail for mountain bikers - the targeted users for this trail.

After the rest of the volunteer crews came and we had our crew talks, we started creating the new trail, using  the flags that marked the critical edge as our guide.  It's amazing how quickly you can cut a trail into the side of a hill but it's even more amazing to realize that there is much, MUCH more work to be done on the section you just created to make it a finished, sustainable product.  There is a lot of fine-tuning that takes place to make sure you have the proper outslope and backslope for the trail!

After our four-man team finished cutting the rough trail, three of us jumped on the opportunity to build a rock wall that would act as a bridge between two adjacent high points along the trail.  We spent the better part of the day piecing together, and locating, suitable large rocks to form the base of the wall.  Once we had 6 primary rocks in place we started to fill in the gaps with small and medium sized rocks, creating a very solid structure that was easy to walk across.  The final step was to fill in the remaining holes with gravel/rubble and loose soil.  Eventually, the soil and gravel will work its way down through the cracks and cement-in the large rocks at the base.  We had created a wall of rocks that became the base of the trail in a topographical dip that would have promoted run-off and erosion.  Now the water will run off the down-slope edge of the trail in a gentle manner, reducing erosion potential.

Roughly 40 volunteers came out with WRV on Saturday and we were able to finish about 95% of the remaining trail, which was good enough to allow the USFS to open the Hewlett trail to the public on Monday!

This project was a lot of fun and a great way to meet new people who are enthusiastic about trails.  Most people were hikers, some were mountain bikers, and some just like to volunteer!  Trailcology will strive to bring together all manner of trail users and I hope that we can get to know one-another so that, while we're enjoying the fruits of our labor, we can stop and have a friendly chat with a familiar face, regardless of their choice of trail use.



Friday, May 25, 2012

Lory State Park - 5/22/12

I was fortunate enough to spend about 3 hours on the trails at Lory State Park this past Tuesday evening. Lory State Park has beautiful trails and I always enjoy getting into the higher elevation habitats. I snapped a number of photos while I was out on the trails, have a look at a few of them.

Upper Timber trail
Mid-Timber trail, amongst the switchbacks
Lots of flowers blooming
I noticed a couple of things while I was on upper Timber trail and Westridge trail that really caught my attention and relate to my goals for Trailcology.

Timber and slash piles
Along the Timber trail I noticed a number of slash piles. All of the land management agencies that manage forests deal with timber issues, such as thinning. Thinning forest stands can be a sound approach for a variety of management goals. Unfortunately, the pine beetle epidemic has been a primary cause for a large portion of thinning plans in recent years. You may have traveled right past many slash piles on any number of trails in the region but not given them much thought. After timber is cut and all of the "slash" is piled up it is left to dry out and await the proper time to burn them under ideal weather conditions, usually during the winter. A side effect of burning slash piles can be extreme localized heating of the soils that causes the top layers of the soil to become hydrophobic, or water repellent. This becomes a serious problem because water is not able to filter into the soil, nutrients are destroyed, and many native plants are not able to grow. A fire scar is left on the land that will, many times, yield to exotic or invasive plants that are able to colonize and grow in the poor soil conditions. To prevent exotic plants from establishing and to promote the growth of native plants, active management techniques must be used to "rip" the soil and break up the hydrophobic layer to seed and establish native plants.

Cheatgrass patch

Another situation that I noticed was along the Westridge trail where a sizable patch of Cheatgrass (Bromus tectorum) was established right along the trail. Cheatgrass is an infamous grass that initially came from the Eurasia region and is well known for displacing native vegetation, promoting frequent fires, and traveling in the socks and shoes of trail users from one area to another. This annual grass can be very difficult to control and often requires multiple management actions and yearly follow-ups to maintain control. This can be quite a burden on land managers because of how intensive the treatment and monitoring can be. Even with thorough control and monitoring it is extremely difficult to control the spread of cheatgrass because of how easily it moves around with trail use. Take a close look at the picture and avoid walking through any areas of grass that look like this. They are usually dead, brown, and ready to stick in your socks by June or July, if not earlier.

Situations like slash pile burning and invasive plants along the trail provide an opportunity for trail users to help the land managers with various management tasks. More importantly, recognizing these situations while on the trail can help prevent unwanted spread of invasive plants and allow you to become more intimately connected with the land.  Trailcology wants to bring together all trail users to work on projects like these that make you feel more connected with your trails and provide valuable ecological rehabilitation.

Take a look around on your next hike, run, or ride and see what kind of rehabilitation or restoration might need to be done on your favorite trails.



Sunday, May 20, 2012

Welcome to Trailcology!

Hello and welcome to the Trailcology blog!  I am excited to bring you the first pieces of public information about the newest trail organization, and aspiring non-profit organization, in Fort Collins, CO.

First, a little bit about me.  My name is Chris and I have been a trail user for as long as I can remember.  I have used trails in just about every manner possible but mostly for hiking, trail running, mountain biking, and the occasional horseback ride.  I have been passionate about the environment for just as long.  As a senior in High School a friend and I started a student group that we called Environmentally Concerned Others Advocating Change Together (ECO ACT) which started an in-school recycling program, held tree sales, and promoted environmental advocacy, among other things.  My first year of college took me from Pennsylvania to Washington State and the Evergreen State College where I got my first taste of landscape ecology and environmental management.  While I loved the Evergreen State College, and still do, I decided that it wasn't the place for me so I transferred to Colorado State University.  It was here that I became more involved with ecology and restoration ecology.  As an undergrad I studied Rangeland and Forest Management and was involved with the Range Club and Society of American Foresters.  Many volunteer projects and field trips gave me a working knowledge of a suite of issues that land managers face.  During my undergrad I worked for the Fire Science Laboratory, the United States Forest Service, and the Restoration Ecology Laboratory.  My experiences with these jobs were invaluable and helped set me on the path for my Masters degree.  I stayed at CSU for my Masters where I studied Rangeland Ecosystem Science with an emphasis on Restoration Ecology.  During my graduate career I worked for the Restoration Ecology Laboratory and the Center for Environmental Management of Military Lands (CEMML).  I also helped found the Society for Ecological Restoration student guild at Colorado State University, which is now a strong student group that continues to work on amazing projects that get students involved in restoration ecology.

Today, I am a Natural Resources Specialist with CEMML and I am fortunate enough to work with a variety of highly experienced professionals that deal with wildfire, water quality and compliance, land management, wildlife, botany, geographic information systems, and even cultural resources.  While I thoroughly enjoy the work that I do, I felt that I needed to develop something that would allow me to combine two passions of mine; trails and ecology.

Trailcology is what I have dreamed up.  Two years of pondering, talking with friends, land managers, and my family have led up to this point where I have given my full effort in creating an organization that will benefit our trails and their surrounding landscape.

Trailcology aims to unite all trail users in a joint volunteer effort to improve trail sustainability, trail-user sustainability, and the health of the landscape.  Trail sustainability refers to the maintenance and design of trails and trail networks.  Without properly cared for and developed trails, trail degradation can lead to decreased user enjoyment and increased negative impacts on the landscape.  Trail-user sustainability is an important part of trail use that is often over looked, but critical to a healthy trail environment.  Trail-user sustainability refers to the education and level of understanding that a trail user has regarding their impact on the land, their influence on other users' enjoyment of the trails, and their ability to co-exist with different types of trail users.  The health of the landscape is most important.  Severely degraded and eroded areas diminish the enjoyment of users and add challenges that land managers need to address.  Aside from disturbance, exotic and invasive plants are a nuisance for land managers and can easily be carried from one trail system to another by trail users.  Quite frequently, disturbance and invasive plants go hand-in-hand and trail users are a prime source of disturbance and invasive plant spread.

As Trailcology continues to develop and come into it's own as a part of Fort Collins, and the surrounding region, I will be partnering with various entities to develop and assist with diverse projects that improve trail sustainability, landscape health, and inter-user relations.  Currently, I am working with Larimer County to develop a Fire Burn Scar Remediation Project in Horsetooth Mountain Park.  I will also have an educational booth at the 40 in the Fort mountain bike race to promote education and awareness about invasive plants and their spread.  I have plans to talk with Wyoming State Parks about developing projects in Curt Gowdy and Glendo State Parks.  Additionally, I will be connecting with the City of Fort Collins Natural Areas to try and develop some more volunteer projects.  As more information for current, new, and developing projects becomes available I will post it here.

Critical to the success of Trailcology will be the help and support of a diverse group of volunteers that want to have a positive impact on the trails and landscapes that they use and love.  I will be meeting with, talking to, and hopefully partnering with a number of trail user clubs and organizations in the region to gain volunteer support for my projects and possibly theirs as well.  Trailcology will aspire to be a uniting organization that can bridge the gap between hikers, trail runners, mountain bikers, and equestrians.  By working together we can have a substantial impact on the quality of our trail systems and experiences.

I have many more ideas and plans than what I have expressed here but those are for a different post.  I am also in the process of finishing up the Trailcology mission statement, organization goals, by-laws, etc.  I appreciate your time in reading through my introduction to myself and Trailcology.  I hope you are as jazzed about it as I am!

If you would like to be put on the Trailcology email list please send me an email at  Please include your name, preferred trail use type, and type "Email List" in the subject line.  Feel free to include any other information that you like.  I'm looking forward to working with anyone and everyone who wants to improve our trails and experiences!


Chris Herron