Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Hermit Park Slash Pile Burn Scar Remediation

As I mentioned last week, there is another project with Larimer County that Trailcology will be helping out with.  This project will remediate small fire scars where timber slash has been piled up and burned.  Management of these fire scars is important to help keep invasive plants from establishing and spreading into native vegetation.  When invasives spread like this it can be very costly to control the spread and try to eradicate the plants.

Slash piles are created when trees are removed for specific management practices related to forest health (recently there have been many beetle-killed trees removed).  The trees and all of the cuttings (slash) are piled up and left to cure until the appropriate conditions are met for burning.  Slash piles are only burned in the late fall to early spring time frame because there is usually more moisture and colder temperatures, which means there is a much lower risk of starting a forest fire.  When the piles are burned they have a strong effect on the soils directly below them.  Because there is so much fuel in an isolated location the soils experience a very extended period of high temperatures.  The heat can cause chemicals in the fuels to release onto the soil surface, creating a hydrophobic layer in the soil - a soil layer that resists water.  Additionally, the high temperature and long duration of the fire effectively sterilizes the soils, killing any seed sources for new plants.  Due to the impermeable soils and lack of seeds, native plants take a much longer time to establish on these small burn patches.  Invasive plants, however, are usually well adapted to establishing on disturbed sites.  This is primarily because of their ability to spread seed (think of dandelion seeds blowing in the wind) and establish themselves by germinating quickly.  Once a single invasive plant is established it will start to spread it's seed and it suddenly becomes a serious management issue.

To help prevent invasive plants from creating little monocultures on the burn scars there are a few simple treatments that we can administer.  It is important to treat these scars in the fall, winter, or spring because that is when the most moisture is available, giving the seeds the best opportunity to germinate when the weather warms up.  The first step is usually to break up the hydrophobic soil layer with a heavy rake.  Second, seeds are applied by hand.  Third, the soil is lightly raked to incorporate the seed.  Finally, the seeds and soil are protected from erosion and predation by applying a mulch of some form.  Then we let mother nature run her course and hope that the desirable native vegetation takes hold.

Here is the project release statement from Larimer County:

On April 6th there will be a volunteer project at Hermit Park Open Space to revegetate some of the fire scars where slash piles were previously burned. We want to do this to discourage weeds from moving into those areas where no other competition is present. Exotic invasive plants colonize disturbed areas with reduced competition from other vegetation, reproduce prolifically and then spread. Currently there are over 80 burn scars and another 150 slash piles that may be burned within the park. We'd like to take this proactive weed management approach because it reduces the use of herbicides and the overall cost, as well as protecting the integrity of the forest community at Hermit Park.

To register for this project please send an email to Casey Cisneros at cisnerct@co.larimer.co.us.  Please indicate that you will be volunteering under Trailcology.

This should be a fun day at a beautiful open space, hope to see you there!

Happy Trails,


Monday, January 28, 2013

Pineridge and Maxwell Social Hour

If you made it out on the local trails this weekend you probably noticed that they were rather crowded.  I took a casual ride on Sunday afternoon with the goal of enjoying the weather and dry trails.  I also decided that I would take the opportunity to try to canvas some trail users and ask them a series of questions to help me understand more about our local trail use.  Interestingly, I mostly managed to talk to people who have lived in Fort Collins for roughly a year or less.

I asked users four basic questions: (1) What is your preferred means of trail use, (2) what trails do you most often use, (3) what kinds of interactions have you had with other users while on the trail, and (4) what would you like for our trails in the future.  These questions were meant to specifically address how the trails are being used, what trails are most popular and therefore most heavily used, the kind of inter-user interaction that people experience on the trail, and what direction our trail systems may need to go in the future.  I want to make it perfectly clear that I only asked a very small portion of trail users these questions, this was merely to help give me some more direction and begin to get a feel of what the important issues are to our users.  In the future, I would be very interested in doing a much larger study about our users.  For right now though, I would like to share the little bit that I learned yesterday.

I was able to talk with a couple of equestrians, numerous hikers, and several mountain bikers - the trail runners proved difficult to speak with because I didn't want to break up their run.  The first thing that caught my attention was how polite people were when I approached them and how willing they were to speak with me.  The first question about preferred means of trail use was really kind of redundant but I was interested because I wanted to see if some people normally run even though they were on a mountain bike, or maybe they normally mountain bike but were instead out for a hike with their family. It was just an easy way to open up the conversation and gain a little bit more insight into the habits of our users.

The Pineridge and Maxwell Natural Areas trails came up as the most often used trails.  Some people indicated that they normally use these trails on the weekday and then go other places on the weekend, like Horsetooth Mountain Park or Lory State Park.  Coyote Ridge also came up as a popular trail.

I found the conversations about user interactions to be pretty interesting.  The majority of comments were about how fantastic and friendly all of the trails users are in our area, and I would have to agree.  There were a couple minor comments about mountain bikers coming down the Foothills trail behind Hughes Stadium but it sounded as if it was more of an understood situation that hikers just get off of the trail for the mountain bikers - even though mountain bikers are required to yield.  I was also particularly interested in how often the trails outside of Boulder and Lyons came up during the conversations.  There were a number of people who mentioned that things felt different on those trails and that people weren't as friendly or considerate.  Not once did I ask for a comparison of the regions, it just came up naturally.  Interesting.  Once again I can't help but feel that we have an amazing group of trail users in our region!

The final question about the future of the trails didn't have as many comments as the previous questions.  Some of this is related to the users who are relatively new to the area, they just didn't have much of an opinion because they were satisfied with the trails.  Some of the mountain bikers had more input.  Better trail connectivity was the one issue that seemed to come up the most, especially from East to West.  There were a lot of positive comments about how well trails are connected going North to South but people want the connections to make a big loop without having to spend much time on the road.  This was definitely limited to the mountain bikers that I spoke with but I wonder if the trail runners would agree.  We have many long-distance runners in our area who would benefit from a large well-connected loop.  Aside from the connectivity there were also some comments about the quality of the trails, Reservoir Ridge was mentioned specifically.  Maintaining the trails is a yearly job and I'm really hoping that Trailcology can have a positive impact through volunteer efforts to keep our trails in good shape.

More than anything, it was great to be out on the trail and have so many convivial conversations about our trails.  I did gain a bit of insight about our trail users but I don't plan on using those few conversations to direct my goals, they were merely important pieces of the puzzle that will eventually help me build a bigger picture.  I really appreciate the time that those folks took out of their afternoon to chat with me, and I hope that we may cross paths again down the trail.

Happy Trails!


Monday, January 21, 2013

A Good Day on the Trails at Bobcat Ridge and Some Talk of Alternate Lines

Today I was able to escape for a few hours to enjoy the trails at Bobcat Ridge Natural Area.  I was excited to head into the hills a bit because I had heard that the trails were dry and in good shape, and they certainly were.  We are having some fantastic weather for late January and there were lots of people taking advantage of the nice weather at Bobcat Ridge today.  I had the opportunity to chat with a fair number of trail users and tell them about Trailcology (nothing like grassroots marketing) .  There was a mountain biker named Trent who has only lived in the area for about 8 months, Dave and Jan who have been in the area for about a year, a trail runner named John, and several other couples who's names I didn't catch.  Everyone was incredibly friendly and obviously enjoying the great weather.  Again, I couldn't help but think what a great area we live in!

I wanted to collect some pictures of the Ginny Trail today to talk about alternate lines on the trail.  Some of these lines are manmade using logs that were left after the Bobcat Gulch fire burned through in 2000.  These alternate lines are mostly for mountain bikers but I suspect that there are other users who get a kick out of the novel bits of trail that have been built on the Ginny Trail.  Of course, there may also be some trail users who do not like the alternative lines because it adds confusion to the trail or to their interactions with mountain bikers coming down the trail, I don't know for sure.  I would love to start a dialogue about how different trail users perceive these alternate lines.

Have a look at some of these alternate lines.

This is one of the first alternate lines that you come across as you are going up the Ginny Trail (photo is taken looking down the trail).  This is an interesting line because it completely bisects this section of trail.  Aside from the issues related to riding (or falling) off of the line and through the vegetation, this segment does a good job of separating the adventurous mountain bikers from any other trail users who happen to be at the section at the same time. 

This is a cool section where a log bridge has been built to bisect the trail.  I could see this line being used by hikers and runners in addition to mountain bikers.  You may notice that this bridge is much wider than the log skinnies that are found on the trail.  While this may not be the favorite of some mountain bikers because it is not as challenging as some of the other features, it is a great alternate line choice for novice mountain bikers to explore.  Additionally, this feature has the added benefit of allowing trail users to get off of the north facing segment of trail that will probably be muddy as the snow melts.  Whether intentional or not, this is a well placed piece of trail.

This is the second log skinny that you come across as you come up the Ginny Trail (photo taken looking down the trail).  This log skinny is in a nice location for beginner mountain bikers because there is little to no consequence for falling off.  However, this feature is immediately adjacent to the trail and may present an issue when mountain bikers interact with other users at this location.  Of course, there may be some folks who enjoy watching the mountain bikers ride (or try to ride) this feature.  But for those who are less than thrilled with the location of the feature, it's easy to understand why.  It would be very easy for there to be some negative interactions if mountain bikers don't let the other users pass first.

Obviously I have presented a few worst case scenarios.  I do not believe that there would be very many mountain bikers who are so brazen as to risk crashing into another trail user.  But again, I don't know for sure.  On the flip side, I have also pointed out some really positive points to these alternate lines.  Allowing users to avoid muddy sections and damaging the trail, providing some passing points for users, and providing fun and challenging technical features.

After spending some time on the trail today I noticed a variety of further opportunities for alternate lines.  Lines that give mountain bikers some of the technical terrain that they crave, while also helping to get them off of the main trail and away from hikers, runners, and equestrians who might not favor a mountain biker hurdling down the trail toward them on rocky sections.  I'm not sure where the City of Fort Collins stands on the issue of these alternate lines but they have, at least, been tolerated up to this point.  This would be a question I would like to ask the Natural Areas crew.

Personally, I feel that there is room for more features like these on our local trails, as long as they are created and placed intelligently.  Alternate lines can be problematic when they send mountain bikers shooting off a feature toward the flow of general trail use, but when built and placed appropriately they can provide a number of key benefits to the trail, with a primary benefit being the reduction of unwanted interaction between agressive mountain bikers and the rest of the trail users.

In addition to a few more pictures, I would like to leave you with these questions:

What are your thoughts on alternate lines like these?
What kind of interactions have you experience around alternate line features?
Would you like to see more alternate lines on more of our local trails?

Happy Trails!


Friday, January 11, 2013

Spring Volunteer Opportunities with Larimer County

As I mentioned just the other day, I have collaborated with Larimer County to help complete some early volunteer projects on two different County properties.  These projects do not involve trail maintenance but instead they address issues on the land near the trails.  This is what I call the "trail system" - the greater landscape around a trail.  Both projects are meant to address concerns around watercourses by planting riparian plants in strategic locations to improve streambank stability.  These projects should be a lot of fun because they get you off the trail and into the water (if you so choose)!

As an avid trail user I often find myself stopping along a trail and staring at the surrounding landscape, soaking it all in.  I use more than just the 18" tread of trail, I use the entire landscape.  It is important to appreciate and respect the surrounding landscape because it can ultimately have an effect on your enjoyment of the trail.  Improving riparian areas near a trail may bring additional wildlife or help stop erosion that may otherwise close a section of trail.  Similarly, treating invasive plants near trails can improve the quality of your experience by keeping your shoes free of seeds or, more importantly, by restoring the native vegetation that is much more beautiful than that of an exotic monoculture and better for the ecology of the land as a whole.

The first project will take place at the River Bluffs Open Space on March 23rd.  Here is the project release:

Larimer County is hosting a Volunteer Habitat Improvement Project at River Bluffs Open Space on Saturday, March 23. The project will run from 9-5. The makeup date is Saturday March 30. The purpose of the project is to restore the riparian corridors of Fossil Creek and the Poudre River by planting trees and shrubs. Over 1,200 plants will be installed, mulched and watered. 

Volunteers are asked to register before the event and must be at least 18 years old or 12-17 years old and accompanied by an adult. A pizza lunch and beverages will be provided. Volunteers will need to wear warm, hardy clothing as they will be outside and on their feet for the entire day. Work gloves and waders are recommended, but not required. Contact Jeffrey Boring at jboring@larimer.org to register.

Even though this Open Space is not as heavily used as many other sites, I still feel that this is a great opportunity for trail users to get out early in 2013 and help make a difference on our public lands.  This is a rather large project and a great chance to meet new people!

The second project will take place in Devil's Backbone along the Blue Sky Trail on the Indian Creek drainage on April 13th.  Here is the project release:

The Larimer County Department of Natural Resources is hosting another Volunteer Habitat Improvement Project at the Devil's Backbone Open Space along the Blue Sky Trail on Saturday, April 13. The project will run from 9-5. The purpose of the project is to restore sections of the riparian corridor of Indian Creek by planting trees and shrubs. Previous to Larimer County taking on management of the valley, key shrub and tree communities along the stream channel had been removed. This project is aimed at assisting the recovery of plant communities in those disturbed areas that support a wide array of wildlife in the area. 

This project will require 12 volunteers - first come, first serve. Volunteers are asked to register before the event and must be at least 18 years old or 12-17 years old and accompanied by an adult. For more information, contact Casey Cisneros through e-mail at  cisnerct@larimer.org.

This is an excellent opportunity for trail users to lend a hand on the land where one of our favorite trails lies.  While this project is not as large, it is still a great opportunity for trail users to get together and help restore some riparian habitat along a great trail.

To register for either of these events, please send the project leader (see release statements above for projects' leader) and I an email with your information and we will get you all setup.  Feel free to email us with any questions or concerns that you may have.  Additionally, please share this information with your trail-loving friends as well!

I can't even begin to explain how excited I am to have these two projects coming up and I hope to see you there!

Happy trails,


Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Trail Volunteer Opportunities are Beginning to Pop Up!

Over the winter I have been busy making connections with agency staff to try and develop some projects for Trailcology.  I am happy to say that all of the meetings have gone very well and Trailcology is in a great position to help with a wide variety of trail and trail-related projects.

The earliest projects may be this spring in conjunction with Larimer County.  Keep an eye out for more information on Facebook and this blog as Spring draws near.

Additionally, I have begun the process of finding an Intern to help me with some tasks that have been receiving less of my attention than is deserved.  I'm looking forward to the possibility of having a right-hand person to help make sure that Trailcology volunteers have the best experience possible while out on a project or at a Trailcology event.

Good things are coming and I can't wait to hit the ground this Spring!



A New Year for Overland Mountain Bike Club's Trails Committee

Last night was the first meeting of the Trails Committee for 2013.  The Committee has a new leader, Todd Thibodeau, who is off to a great start with a very well-structured and organized first meeting.  For those of you who don't know who Todd is, he is the man behind the Curt Gowdy and Glendo trail systems in Wyoming.  Todd is very in tune with the needs of multiple users and has been very successful with his trail planning and overall vision for trails in the greater Northern Colorado and Cheyenne region.  I firmly believe that Todd will help lead the Committee, and Overland, towards successfully completing the Trail Vision Plan and making sure that it is well rounded for all users.

Some early results have come in from the survey and an overwhelming amount of users were interested in better trail connectivity, more trails, and more technical trail options.  I would expect these to, at least in part, determine the focus of the Vision Plan.

The one thing that will make the Vision Plan stronger, more acceptable to agencies, and better for all users, is for as many people to fill out the survey as possible!  SO, if have not yet filled out the survey please do so, and share the link with as many people as you can!


I'm looking forward to continuing the representation of all trail users during this process.  I realize that no one elected me to this position but I firmly believe in shared-use trails and as a person who uses trails in every manner possible, I feel confident that I can adequately represent everyone's needs.

If you want to make sure that your voice is heard, fill out the survey and contact me with any comments or concerns that you have.  I am more than willing to talk through any concerns that people may have to make sure that we get this Vision Plan right.

Happy Trails!