Local volunteers helped rangers from the Columbine District of the San Juan National Forest destroy an illegal mountain bike trail southeast of the Hermosa Creek Campground.
The rogue path was in the Hermosa Creek Watershed, a special-management area protected by law. The trail was about a mile long and was partly constructed on an old roadbed that led to a stock tank.
“Creating illegal trails is blatant disregard for taking care of the land,” said Matt Janowiak, district ranger of the Columbine District.
Rogue trails are not a new issue in the region. In 2014, the city of Durango approved a plan to shut down illegal trails while promising to work with local groups to create new trails. Numerous cities nationally battle with the debate as well, as similar conflicts have occurred in Boulder; Sedona, Arizona; and Reno, Nevada.
The issue with unmapped trails is that the Forest Service or other land managers can’t ensure that the trails do not erode or prevent sediments from entering waterways, which could potentially harm wildlife.
The Hermosa Creek Watershed Protection legislation, signed into law by former President Barack Obama in 2014, forbids mechanized vehicles from riding on non-designated trails.
“We had to let folks know that special management areas will be handled differently,” Janowiak said.
Volunteers from San Juan Citizen’s Alliance, San Juan Mountain Association and Trails 2000 helped rangers with the demolition by spreading shrub, rocks and small trees along the path.
The destruction of the trail comes during the public comment period for the Hermosa Creek Watershed Management Environmental Assessment, which lays out the district’s proposed uses of the area.
The Forest Service received complaints this spring that mountain bikers were actively constructing a mountain bike trail, and people asked if it was sanctioned.
The trail was destroyed because the Forest Service was concerned primarily about erosion, as well as sediments reaching Hermosa Creek. “When you create trails, it has to be done properly and sustainably,” Janowiak said.
Cliff Pinto, owner of Pedal the Peaks, had heard of the trail and says it has gotten a lot of traction in the last year, which he attributed to being shared through Strava, a social networking site used by mountain bikers.
“It was probably ridden by a small group of people for a long period of time,” Pinto said. “Then it was ridden this last fall, someone Strava’d it, and that created a snowball effect, which got more people onto the trail, which may have led to adaptations, and it started showing a lot more use.”
The Forest Service won’t conduct an investigation into who created the trail, claiming that determining who created the trail would be difficult. However, if mountain bikers continue to create illegal trails, rangers issue citations, Janowiak said.
“I think a reason that a lot of these are built illegally is because there’s a lot of energy around creating trails, and the bureaucracy to get a trail put in legally makes it untenable,” local mountain biker Harris Bucklin said.
The Forest Service decided to obliterate the trail, fearing that if it didn’t take any action, it would set a precedent and more trails would pop up.
“We’re trying to get word to the mountain bike community to talk with us first,” Janowiak said. “Please come talk to us.”