How one county in Colorado is elevating the standard for trail LOVE

Trails need our help! American Trail Running Association vice president Ellen Miller, shares a new initiative in her home state designed to respond to that need. This is a program that could certainly be modeled in other regions across the country.

In Eagle County/White River National Forest, the public that uses the trails created a program and two new positions to help care for trails.

We all love recreating on trails, and in Eagle County, Colorado that is evident with the Vail Valley’s first-ever national Adopt-A-Ranger Program. In 2016, Vail Valley Mountain Bike Association (VVMBA) partnered with the U.S. Forest Service (USFS), for this unique, first-of-its-kind program. Recognizing the USFS dwindling budget and staff cuts, the Vail Valley community is committed to stepping up to help. The VVMBA and USFS hatched the Adopt-A-Ranger plan to fund two new positions focused on local trails, one of them being a U.S. Forest Service job. The Adopt-A-Ranger title was updated in 2017 with a new title, Adopt-A-Trail, as funding covers an entire program, tools and all!

Our vice president Ellen Miller.

A new Trail Ranger and Trail Coordinator were hired, by using a GoFundMe site. The group collected their operational goal of $50,000 from public trail users in three months, with trail lovers including individuals, local businesses, corporations and organizations contributed generously to the campaign. In June, there was a lottery, and 30 trails were adopted by local organizations. Those groups of at least four people were asked to tend to that trail for at least two days in the season in exchange for having their name displayed as the adopter at the trailhead. No experience was necessary and training was provided.

The goal was to help the Forest Service tackle the day-to-day, mundane tasks of trail maintenance. Training was also available for all of the teams that wanted the extra help or to better master their new trail maintenance skills. All of the trails the first year were on Forest Service land. Needless to say, the local USFS is grateful for the support of their work, and they appreciate having more trail users involved! Final statistics include: total volunteer hours 1302, total of volunteers 416, 134 pounds of trash removed, 87 miles of trail corridor cleared, 499 drainage structures cleared, and the list goes on! The Adopt-A-Trail, like others across the nation, is a two-year commitment where members of a group or business do basic trail maintenance on a section of trail three times a year. The volunteers become the eyes and ears of the trail as well, in case anything major happens to the trail. The Adopt-A-Trail Coordinator, Michelle Wolffe, organizes trail work schedules and events and collects data from work days. The Vail Valley Mountain Bike Assoc. also organizes trail volunteer work days, group work days, Trail Stewards Program and Trails Remediation Projects.

In 2018, the commitment continued when The Town of Vail, Colorado offered an informative Wildlife Forum to the Valley residents. Panel members included experts in the wildlife science, such as Bill Andree of Colorado Parks and Wildlife, Rick Thompson of Western Ecosystems Inc., Kelly Colfer of Western Bionomics LLC, and Jen Austin of the USFS. The meeting delivered extremely important information, including the explanation of how we are desecrating the local wildlife population with development, growth, and possibly improperly planned new trails, which can disrupt migration corridors, Winter range feeding zones, and specific calving areas.

To show commitment to the preservation and sustainability of wildlife in our Valley, a TRAIL AMBASSADOR PROGRAM began, where residents /trail users can volunteer time to help educate the public on Seasonal Wildlife Trail Closures at specific trailheads. The USFS and Town of Vail installed new seasonal closure signage and closure gates to educate the public about being respectful of these areas, especially during calving season. Dogs, as well as people, have been found to be an unwelcome disruption to calving wildlife.

By offering this information, I hope it will encourage more trail runners to get out and help organizations who are committed to the maintenance and smart, sustainable construction of new trails, and preservation of wildlife (even in urban areas!).

For more information on this highly successful program, contact the VVMBA or the Adopt-A-Trail Coordinator Michelle Wolffe at: [email protected].