Down and dirty: Motorized users step up environmental work
Special to the Aspen Times Weekly
Aspen, CO Colorado
BASALT — The morning air was crisp; the sun peaking its way through the mountain tops when I arrived at the Basalt Mountain parking lot just before 8:30 a.m. on the last Sunday in August. A group of 20 to 25 people huddled under a tent just before the trailhead, enjoying coffee and bagels as they discussed the day-long project ahead. In a little less than 10 minutes, they would be suited up in full gear on their “machines” to hit one of their favorite trails — only this time with an intention beyond just getting dirty.
The smell of the single-track trail more than two miles past the parking lot was that of algae in a stagnant pond in the dead of summer. The early morning gave way to heavy heat, leaving the cottonwood sticking to the backs of knees as riders parked their bikes and led the group through narrow tree passages, rock and debris until reaching the muddy stream crossing.
Flies and mosquitoes hovered as the group dug and lifted heavy rocks and branches from the banks on the side before placing them like a bridge over the crossing. With seven hours to go, the enthusiasm ran high as the group connected over a common effort to preserve a favorite trail for the interest of multi-recreational use.
Lending a hand
In partnership with the Roaring Fork Outdoor Volunteers (RFOV) and cooperation with Mount Sopris District Recreation Ranger Jon Thompson, the Colorado Backcountry Trailriders Alliance (CBTRA) volunteered to repair a damaged trail on the lower north fork of Cattle Creek.
“What we're doing today is armoring back a damaged stream on the upper creek crossing so that it has enough paving to facilitate multi-use, including dirt bikes and horses,” said RFOV Executive Director David Hamilton, whose organization works closely with multi-user groups to maintain trails in the White River National Forest.
“This is the first project we have worked on with the CBTRA,” he said. “We are surprised with the large turnout.”
Hamilton wasn't the only one who came ready to work. Mountain bikers, dirt bikers and hikers alike convened at the stream with gloves, picks, rock bars and CamelBaks as they filled in eroded areas and gathered rocks to create a solid bridge crossing.
“I am supportive of the CBTRA's efforts to maintain the trails,” said Glenwood Springs mountain biker Greg Wetzel. “Many different users enjoy these trails including myself. If I'm riding them, I might as well work on them, too.”
Bringing motorized to the table
Since its start-up in 2002, the CBTRA, headed by President Mike Thuiller of KTM in Carbondale and Vice President Traci Schalow, have initiated efforts to not only preserve the use of motor bikes within the White River National Forest and BLM lands, but educate riders and other users on trail sustainability, stewardship and personal responsibility.
Thuiller, who's tall, thin and subdued appearance doesn't do justice for his 40-plus years of dirt biking in the valley, including mechanical engineering and welding expertise, pairs perfectly with Schalow, his energetic 5-foot counterpart who is not only a role model for women who ride, but the primary event coordinator.
“One of our biggest concerns today is the decommissioning of trails outlined in the Forest Service Travel Management Plan,” said Schalow, who also works closely with White River National Forest Supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams and district ranger Jon Thompson to assess trails in the interests of multi-users.
Currently, forest rules allow for 800 miles of single-track riding to mountain bikers. Compared with that, only 56 miles of single-track riding are made available to dirt bikers. According to Schalow, the discrepancy came from supervisors being unaware of the interests of motorbike users.
“I think previous supervisors held the notion that dirt bikers enjoy riding on double-track (four-wheeler and jeep roads). While some do, most of us prefer the single-track because of the challenge and remoteness it offers … so we can't help but feel a bit slighted with only 56 miles of single-track available to us,” she said.
Motorized users as a whole have been the most alienated of user groups, mostly due to a reputation — right or wrong — that their engines create more damage. Historically, they have also been given the smallest voice among user groups when the Forest Service has asked for feedback on management plans.
According to Thompson, with more representation in recent years, the motorized groups should see more usage in the forests.
“The TMP (Travel Management Plan) has been in the works for 12 years now and is dynamic when it comes to revision,” he said, explaining the need to balance recreation needs with conservation needs.
“It seems Fitzwilliams has recognized that our user group has been underserved in past years,” said officer of Rocky Mountain Sport Riders (RMSR) Spencer Ball, who rode his dirt bike from Gypsum to help out in the day's project. “With his direction, we are working hard to bridge the gap in communication between groups while teaching fellow riders proper etiquette.”
Since its founding in the spring of 2010, the RMSR has adopted 125 riders and 50 permanent members, from Summit County to Rifle — most of which lies within the White River National Forest's footprint.
Politics aside, the collaborative day-project shed light on group initiatives beyond the simple promotion of the dirt biking sport; after all, a motor bike could easily pass over the damaged rocky stream on the upper creek crossing.
Thuiller and Schalow's efforts with the RFOV demonstrated their support for multi-recreational use and, as Schalow recalled, “most of us who ride also mountain bike and hike, that's why coming together really helps.”
“If there is one common denominator amongst all groups, it would be conservation,” Thompson said, “I think we can all agree on that.”
Dirt etiquette and safety points
“The majority of us riders are considerate,” Rocky Mountain Sport Riders officer Spencer Ball said with regard to multi-recreational use. “But all it takes is for one rider who isn't familiar with the rules to give us all a bad rap.”
According to the CBTRA and RMSR, those who ride should remember these rules and safety tips:
1. Riding uphill on a dirt bike, specifically with a motor under your butt, doesn't mean you have the right away.
2. Share the trail by moving to the side for hikers and mountain bikers.
3. Motor bikes have the potential to scare horses. When you see a person on a horse, be courteous and turn your motor off.
4. In order to prevent deep ruts, trail cutting and off-trail excursions, stick to the trails and don't ride when the terrain is wet.
5. Always wear proper riding gear, including: helmet, boots, padded pants, chest and shoulder protectors, gloves and goggles.
6. When possible, ride with a partner or group to prevent getting stuck out in the backcountry alone without help.
7. Bring lots of water on the trails to prevent exhaustion; riding a dirt bike is an intense workout and you don't want to become dehydrated.
8. Make sure to perform a pre-check of your bike by topping off fluids, checking the tires and brakes, because breaking down miles from home isn't fun.
9. Bring a tool pack that can dissemble the primary parts of the bike if something goes wrong.
10. If you are going backcountry, it is safe to bring a day's worth of camping gear in case you break down and have to spend the night.
11. Consider investing in a GPS because many of the trails aren't marked, which means getting lost is easy.
12. The last thing you want to have happen is to run out of gas, so it is essential to know your bike and mileage limitations.
13. Most importantly, don't dare go out on the trails without first registering your bike.