Upstart group working with partners to blaze new trails in Moffat County

Many trails in the area, like this one, are impassable in areas because of lack of maintenance.

From some perspectives, Northwest Colorado’s vast wealth of outdoor recreation space was given all the grooming and artistry it needed by an ancient hand.

But, as the region seeks to shift a portion of its economic focus toward attracting visitors to the region — often on the sturdy back of that god-given exterior space — there are those who know that a little bit of love is due these areas to maximize their utility for humans.

That’s essentially the mission of the Northwest Colorado Trails Corp., a relatively new group seeking to help update and maintain the trails in the region that are populated by motorized recreators as well as mountain bikers and trail horse riders and others.

“There’s a lot of trails that don’t get maintained,” said Samantha Jager, who’s working on securing grants for the group. “Local people, when they want to go ride, they bring equipment with them because the trails don’t get logs cut or cleared often, if at all. The idea was to get grants to do trail maintenance.”

Among the early targets for the group are the trails in the Sand Wash Basin and improved access to Duffy Mountain.

“Most of the government programming is done for Sand Wash Basin, because of the races we do out there,” Jager said. “Archaeology fees have been paid out of pocket, trails were walked on foot with cultural and environmental regulators. That’s mostly done, so we’re starting there.”

In Sand Wash Basin, the plan is to maintain and improve largely unmaintained trails, as well as expand the offerings to fit different types of recreational needs.

“Mountain bikers, dirt bikers who enjoy single-track are getting destroyed by side-by-sides and ATVs,” Jager said by way of example. “Those are 50 to 62 inches wide, and those trails are getting damaged, washed away, that kind of thing. We’re making sure that we can keep those nice, have ATV people be able to have fun, too.”

Trails like this one are in need of maintenance.

Additionally, there’s the issue of education.

“A lot of people from out of town just don’t even know where the trails are,” Jager said. “Or they start driving around looking for them and might end up somewhere above their ability level or get stuck without equipment to get out. That’s a safety concern.”

Sand Wash is technically an “Open OHV (Off-highway vehicle)” area, meaning trails aren’t strictly necessary for enjoying the land.

“Although that’s fun, it can be hard on the environment,” Jager said. “One of the problems is the environment supports the number of people we have going there, but with increasing numbers of travelers, sometimes locals are better stewards of the land.”

That’s part of the concern of others working to attract visitors to the region, including Visit Moffat County’s director Tom Kleinschnitz.

“You see stories of over-tourism, small mountain communities being overrun,” Kleinschnitz said. “What we’re trying to do is put together consensus, think about what are really meaningful management actions that will give us visitor-ready services, and do it responsibly.”

That, in part, has led to the organization of a larger group in which the NW Colorado Trails Corp. is included. The Northwest Colorado Outdoors Coalition, of which Kleinschnitz is a principal member, is looking to bridge gaps and gather collective insight and agreement on how to move forward with this and similar ventures.

“This group is trying to pull together different recreation interests,” Kleinschnitz said. “Motorized, non-motorized, others, and my organization and the chamber as well. We want to get people together to talk about what we want. It’s to take a step back and look at the appropriate way to present visitor opportunities for Moffat County.”

Moreover, these trails are largely on public lands, including the Bureau of Land Management among others. They’re also in locations that are frequented and adored by non-trail aficionados — hunters, wild horse advocates, campers and more. That means partnerships are critical.

“We’re talking to hunting outfitters to make sure our work doesn’t infringe on elk habitat or their patterns of migration,” Jager said. “We have people with (Colorado Parks and Wildlife), BLM, already on this as well.”

Those conversations have also benefited from the Northwest Colorado Outdoors Coalition, Jager said.

The next question, as ever, is how all this work gets paid for. Jager is on top of that. Already, just less than $500,000 in grant money has been awarded for preliminary studies and planning.

“Once planning is done, we can start putting numbers on projects,” Jager said.

But she acknowledges it’s going to cost a lot.

“In the future, numbers-wise, it’s going to be a lot of money,” she said.

But there are abundant grants for these purposes. They just need to be accessed. That’s Jager’s job.

“We’re not going to do all this as one big project,” she said. “These are several small projects, over time. It depends on what we’re told the land can sustain. In this area, there’s a push to keep the area the wilderness — you hear that from a lot of locals. We want to stay out in the middle of nowhere, don’t want to be a Moab or Summit County. We’re trying to keep it what the community wants.”

Jager said, depending on the speed of grant award decisions, maintenance in Sand Wash could start later this year. Duffy Mountain, where road access, trail maintenance, bathroom and trash receptacle expansions and more are in the works, would be next up.

“It all depends on the government,” Jager said. “We have to do it at their pace.”

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