Trail builders for the new Overlook Trail in Dolores moved boulders, cleared trees, and flinched at rattlesnakes during their first days on the job this week.
An experienced crew of 20-somethings with the Southwest Conservation Corps is building the Dolores portion of a six-mile trail that connects town with the House Creek Campground.
The short, but steep initial section negotiates through a cliff band, and involves three switchbacks. For the hearty trail builders, it is an ideal assignment because of the technical aspects.
"I love Colorado, the people, and moving rocks for trail building," said Johnny Swansen, 25, of Illinois. "After this, I go back to bartending in Chicago."
But not before tons of rocks are hauled up using a specialized come-along. The boulders will then be stacked into a 100-foot retaining wall needed to build two switchbacks.
Crew leader Jevin Hoeper directs the rigging that relies on a 10,000 pound test line and grip hoist anchored to massive boulders.
"Seventy-five percent of our time is finding boulders and hauling them to the site," he said, adding that no heavy equipment will be used for the job.
"Our trail crew has been great and work well together," adds Carith Kamermans, a trail-design specialist with the Forest Service. "They love it because of the technical aspects of moving rock by hand on a steep hillside."
The SWCC is on site thanks to a GOCO grant secured by Dolores to construct their portion of the six-mile, non-motorized path dubbed the Overlook Trail. The highly anticipated trail will connect Dolores with the popular Boggy Draw hiking and mountain biking system.
"Completion of the trail won't happen overnight, more like a couple of years," says trail manager Chris Bouton with the San Juan National Forest. "This is definitely the crux though. The rest is less technical and we will be able to use volunteers when the time comes."
Special thanks was given to landowner Mary Dufur, who granted a permanent easement that allows the trail to gain the mesa to public lands.
"It has been a real community effort," Bouton said. "The support of town and the property owner were key to its success."
The forest service needs additional funding to complete their portion. If they are awarded a $100,000 grant from Colorado Trails in February, completion will happen sooner.
An interesting feature of the trail is a hidden slot canyon that hugs the cliff wall before emerging onto the mesa behind the big rock above the cemetery. Cliff overhangs and nice views make this new trail special as well.
The grade and trail is designed to accommodate mountain bikers and horses, but it will be a granny-gear grind for cyclists.
Once on the mesa top the trail will arrive at an overlook with plans for interpretive panels of Native American history, the logging towns of Big Bend and McPhee now under the reservoir, and the importance of McPhee Reservoir and water to the region.
For safety the public is advised to avoid the work site near the Dolores cemetery due to the dangerous rock work.
As for the rattlesnakes, "one was coiled and ready to strike" Bouton said. "We're definitely watching out for them."