Long-awaited new trail construction has begun at Phil’s World, despite a pending appeal of the project.
The Tres Rios office of the Bureau of Land Management approved 22.5 miles of additional trails in January, but the decision was appealed by nearby landowners, who cited impacts to wildlife.
Their petition to the Interior Board of Land Appeals that the project be put on hold pending the appeal has been denied, allowing trail construction to begin, said BLM recreation planner Jeff Christenson.
He and a trail crew from Southwest Conservation Corps began work in late April on the Poquito Burrito Trail, a 2.25-mile technical loop that spurs off the Stinking Springs trail.
“I think it will be the most challenging mountain biking of all the trails at Phil’s,” Christenson said. “It also makes for a nice side hike into an interesting canyon.”
During a recent tour, Conservation Corps team leaders chopped and dug the trail route in three groups, making fast progress. Piñon and juniper trees were cut back, but none were removed.
The trail drops in and out of Stinking Springs Canyon, a rugged, rocky drainage featuring granny-gear climbs and out-of-the saddle descents that favor full-suspension bikes.
The trail route was slightly adjusted to encompass a unique slot canyon feature that descends from a mesa top.
The split cliff was cleared of dead trees and debris, then flat boulders were positioned in the tight corridor to allow step-down passage by experienced mountain bikers.
“For some riders, it will be a hike-a-bike section,” Christenson said.
The Poquito Burrito trail is expected to be completed and opened to the public this summer. It will be one-directional, going clockwise.
Proper trail building involves many strategies and building techniques to accommodate users, prevent erosion and to shed water away from the trail.
A clinometer that measures slope angles is used to determine the best trail location and ideal grade for hikers, bikers and horseback riders.
“We play off the natural features and take a sustainable, low-impact approach,” said trail leader Ryan Brink.
Features such as boulders, outcrops and large trees are used as anchor corners to direct riders and prevent users from cutting switchbacks. Gateway corridors where the trail goes between prominent rocks or trees give riders something to aim toward.
Subtle changes in grade along steeper trail sections pitch up, flatten out briefly, then pitch up again, allowing a brief rest for bikers in the midst of a climb.
During a mild spring day, trail builders alternate between carefully shaping sloping curves to using brute strength with pick axes, sledges and rock bars against stubborn boulders and roots.
“It’s physical work and satisfying because you know it is providing recreation for the public,” said trail builder Zach Rice, of Louisville, Kentucky.
To wrestle large boulders into place or out of the way, they use a rock hauler, said Celine Simmons. The heavy-duty carrier has multiple handles so the strength of several people can be used.
“Building this new trail from start to finish is especially nice,” she said, taking a break from using a rock bar to nudge a boulder into place “I love my commute from tent to this canyon, and look forward to one day taking my kids on this trail and telling them I helped build it.”
The trail crews have a kindred spirit, said Rob Laymen, of Durango.
“It requires physical work, but also critical thinking, to build a trail correctly. We all play on public lands, and this is a way to give back and support the recreation culture.”
Additional trail building at Phil’s World depends on securing funding and volunteer labor, Christenson said. Whether the new planned trails stay the same or are adjusted also depends on the appeals decision, which could take months.