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Volunteers sought for nature trail project at Navajo

On June 4 and June 18, members and friends of the Weminuche Audubon Society (WAS), Southwest Conservation Corps (SWCC) and Navajo State Park will improve and extend an existing nature trail at the north end of Navajo Reservoir.

To do so, however, they’re asking for some assistance from volunteers who enjoy hiking, mountain-biking, horseback riding, or simply pitching in to protect and enhance vital wildlife habitat.

If you’ve ever traveled south on Colo. 151 to Arboles or the state park, you’ve probably noticed the watchable wildlife viewing area on the east (left) side of the highway, just south of the Piedra River. Perhaps you’ve stopped and walked the short distance to a fine gazebo, read the interpretive signs there, or even wandered across the footbridge to the far side of the river.

Just beyond the bridge, the apparent trail briefly follows an abandoned narrow-gauge railroad bed, before seemingly petering out in the sage and rabbit grass not far from the reservoir’s high water line. In truth, the loosely-defined trail continues to Narrow Gauge Junction, an existing reservoir access point and parking area less than a mile from the bridge.

Planned improvements include trail enhancements from the bridge to Narrow Gauge Junction, and trail construction from “the junction” to Deer Run (0.7 miles).

Narrow Gauge Junction and Deer Run are two of seven access point/parking areas (and one campground) on the northeast side of the reservoir, all of which are readily accessible by County Road 500 (CR 500). Eventually, state park officials hope to extend the trail a total of seven miles from Narrow Gauge Junction to Cottonwood, the final access point/parking area before CR 500 veers from the reservoir’s east arm.

For now, though, workers will focus on upgrading the existing trail and extending it to Deer Run. In some areas, work will involve trail development and construction of rock retaining walls. Half-a-dozen beautiful and educational interpretive signs will be placed in strategic areas along the trail, while assorted nest boxes and roosting platforms will be installed, affording various raptors, waterfowl and songbirds vital resting and reproductive habitat.

Though the scope of this — the project’s first phase — may seem considerable, young, enthusiastic and skillful SWCC crew members will perform the more arduous tasks, as community volunteers assist where needed.

WAS will provide all necessary tools, gloves, drinking water and lunch each day, with park staff cooking the June 4 barbecue at the wildlife viewing area, while the June 18 lunch will be a catered affair at Narrow Gauge Junction.

Beginning May 31, SWCC participants between the ages of 16 and 25 will camp in the area, spending their first few days at Wind Surf Beach, before moving to the Arboles Point campground (adjacent to CR 500) until June 19.

SWCC is a nonprofit organization with regional offices in Durango and Salida, Colo., Tucson, Ariz. and Acoma, N.M. Since 1998, the corps has achieved significant conservation work throughout the tri-state region, as young adult corps members earn a living allowance, while learning valuable work and life skills.

Navajo State Park, on the other hand, is Colorado’s answer to Lake Powell. Aside from boating and fishing on 15,000 surface-acres of crisp clear water, the park also offers great year-round camping (138 sites), abundant hiking trails and varietal wildlife viewing opportunities.

The majority of funding for the Piedra River Trail project came from a $28,589 TogetherGreen “Innovation Grant” obtained by WAS, in partnership with SWCC and Navajo State Park. Archuleta County also contributed $5,400 for development of the interpretive signs, and the energy giant, BP, added $2,000 for tools necessary in trail construction and improvements. Once trail work is complete, WAS will “gift” the tools to Navajo State Park for ongoing trail maintenance.

Announced in March 2008, TogetherGreen is a five-year environmental alliance between the National Audubon Society and Toyota Motor Corporation. A $20 million Toyota grant — the largest Audubon has received in its 106-year history — supports TogetherGreen, which, in turn, funds conservation projects, to significantly benefit the environment.

Others providing professional expertise, labor, materials and art work for the project include photographer Jeff Laydon, artist June Jurcak and the Ignacio middle and high school students.

On June 4 and June 18, volunteer participants should park and register at Narrow Gauge Junction just off CR 500, a mile from Colo. 151. Dress for a day outdoors, and expect feelings of gratitude as you help protect and enhance vital wildlife habitat, while creating an amazing, easily-accessible environmental gem for all to enjoy.

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