By Bob Milford
Pagosa Area Trails Council
The Pagosa Ranger District of the San Juan National Forest’s trail crew, in partnership with the Pagosa Area Trails Council (PATC), many other trail volunteer groups and the Southwest Conservation Corps youth crews have been able to clear 100 percent of the district’s trails in 2020 and 2021.
Our goal when the Clear the Trails Campaign started in 2018 was to get all Pagosa Springs area trails cleared of the spruce-beetle-killed trees that have been falling on our local trails at an epidemic rate. This goal of clearing 100 percent of the trails was achieved much sooner than originally planned.
The work of clearing and performing much-needed trail maintenance was accomplished by the amazing Pagosa Ranger District trail crew, the Southwest Conservation Corps and by local user groups and outfitters such as San Juan Outdoor Club, San Juan Back Country Horsemen, DUST2, Pagosa Trail Riders, Phantom Trail Clearers and local outfitters, who contributed over 3,000 hours of volunteer labor.
Many of these trails are located in the Weminuche and South San Juan wildernesses where cross-cut saws must be used instead of chain saws per the Wilderness Act of 1964. The Pagosa Ranger District has 485 miles of summer trails, with 175 miles located in designated wilderness areas. Between 2018 and 2021, more than 22,800 trees were cleared from district trails at an average of 5,700 trees per year.
Unfortunately, standing dead and weakened green trees continue to fall each year on the trails and likely will do so into the foreseeable future, with more than 5,000 downed trees needing clearing from trails annually. Our goal is to continue to keep these trails clear and safe each year.
In 2019, the Pagosa Ranger District and PATC jointly applied for and were awarded a Colorado Parks and Wildlife State Trail maintenance grant. We received $106,000 from the grant plus another $13,600 for a 21CSC grant. PATC donated $20,000 for the cash portion of the grant for a total of $139,600. The funds for the cash portion were raised from local nonprofits, individuals, local government, businesses and local outfitters. Additional funding was also provided by the Forest Service. The grants and funds raised were critical to the successes realized thus far, without which we could not have come close to achieving our shared goals.
The Pagosa Ranger District and PATC are again in the process of applying for a 2022 Colorado Parks and Wildlife State Trails grant for $150,000 to continue trail clearing and maintenance. From local donations, PATC will provide a $20,000 cash match for the grant, and an additional $10,000 will be provided by the Wolf Creek Ski Conservation Fund as a cash match. The Wolf Creek Ski Conservation Fund is based on a partnership established between the Wolf Creek Ski Area and the National Forest Foundation (NFF), where local season ticket holders donate $5, which are matched by 50 percent by the NFF, to be used for local forest conservation programs.
If we are successful in our grant application, it will provide an extra $180,000 for the clearing and maintenance of Pagosa trails for the next three years.
PATC has set up a website for information on local trails at pagosatrails.org. It provides detailed trail descriptions with pictures and maps of trails in our area, plus current trail conditions. It also provides “Leave No Trace” and need to know information and education for all trail users. It has been a very popular site with over 200 visitors per day during the summer season. We invite you to check it out as well as join us in our efforts to conserve this resource that is so important to our community and visitors alike.