National award recognizes community effort on McPhee Overlook Trail

Wednesday, July 18, 2018 10:33 AM
The Southwest Conservation Corps helped to build the McPhee Overlook Trail in 2015. Johnny Swanson hands a winch to Drew Strawn as Jevin Hoeper prepares to move large rocks.
Kelly O’Neil, of Southwest Conservation Corps, cuts out a dead tree while clearing a path for the McPhee Overlook Trail.
Mountain bikers use the 7-mile McPhee Overlook Trail starting from Dolores to access the 35 miles of single-track in the Boggy Draw area.
Doc’s Marina is visible from the McPhee Overlook Trail along with Sage Hen on the other side of the lake.

A three-year community effort to make the new McPhee Overlook Trail a reality has been recognized by the Coalition for Recreational Trails, a national outdoors federation.

The 7-mile trail in Dolores was granted the Annual Achievement Award for its public-private partnership in fundraising and construction.

Opened in 2016, the trail on the San Juan National Forest begins in Dolores and travels along mesa cliffs with panoramic views of McPhee Reservoir. The nonmotorized trail is popular with hikers, mountain bikers and horse riders, and it connects to the House Creek campground and the 35-mile Boggy Draw trail network.

“The sweat equity of volunteers, the cash match of our partner groups and the sheer determination by all of you to complete this project resulted in this award,” said Tom Rice, recreation planner for the San Juan National Forest. “Congratulations and thank you for supporting such a great project.”

The trail was built in cooperation with the San Juan National Forest, town of Dolores, Southwest Conservation Corps, Southwest Colorado Cycling Association, Mesa Verde Backcountry Horsemen, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, Woods Canyon Archaeological Services, Great Outdoors Colorado and dozens of volunteers. It was funded in part by a $105,000 Colorado State Trails grant, and a Great Outdoors Colorado grant.

The town of Dolores was critical in creating access by negotiating a trail easement with a private property owner through the first ¾ mile before it reaches public lands. The town also secured a $25,000 GOCO grant to construct the first part of the trail that switchbacks up the mesa.

Total project value came in at $445,000 with $182,000 of in-kind services and labor from a local trail advocates and professional services.

Trail construction was technical in places. The beginning switchbacks required portable winch systems, known as grip hoists, to move large boulders. Massive retaining walls were built to support the switchbacks, and the trail was cut through a narrow sandstone canyon. Trail crews were boated across McPhee Reservoir to complete early segments in the middle of the alignment.

A specialized Forest Service trail crew conducted blasting where the trail corridor needed to go through bedrock.

“The crew did a great job of completing quality work that will enable the trail to be safe and sustainable,” said Carith Kamermans, a trail specialist with the San Juan National Forest.

In the nomination for the award by Conservation Legacy, officials noted that the trail promotes a healthy community, provides convenient access to public lands for Dolores residents and boosts the recreation-based economy.

“From its very inception, the McPhee Overlook trail has been a strong example of realizing the benefits of collaborative conservation work,” according to the nomination.

“The trail now serves as successful testimony and template for a partnership based approach to conservation project implementation.”

The Annual Achievement Award was presented to trail partners on June 5 in Washington, D.C., at a ceremony on Capitol Hill.