Recently, one of our favorite local trails underwent a significant redo; what used to be a fairly steep steady grind to the top became a rolling, back and forth trail that wound its way to the top. Managed and built by dedicated volunteers primarily from a local mountain bike group, the new trail is designed to reduce both erosion and maintenance, slow down bikers and offer a new trail experience for the many riders, runners and hikers who take to this popular trail. A good half mile longer than the original, the new trail has produced both criticism and appreciation from its many users. Interestingly, trail runners have been the most vocally critical of the new trail, lamenting the new dips, long switchbacks and lost climbs. We've run the new trail – both directions – and have no issues with the new version. Sure, we miss the steeper grind that inevitably tested us, but reducing erosion and maintenance are laudable goals and make perfect sense, a compromise worth making to us.
It did get us to thinking, though, about how this whole trail building process worked, whether it works similarly in other places, how runners and other users can best participate in the planning and development, and how to volunteer one's time.
We've talked to the guys building the trail – the good people from COMBA who've given a ton of time and energy to improve the trail experience. Here's what they told us about the new trail:
"We want to build a multi use trail for all that is fun and challenging all the while achieving the sustainability and low maintenance goals. This trail is a bit of an experiment incorporating new water shedding features called rolling grade dips. RGDs can be fun on bikes and a move away from the old straight constant grade trail. The trail sheds water efficiently, reduces the overall grade and allows for varying grades for punches and rests.
This style is becoming more common on front country systems for a couple of reasons. The trail slows bikes down yet creates more playfulness in the trail experience. High use multi-use trails need safer experiences for all and slower speeds help. For cyclists, if they can’t have fall line fast and/ or gnarly which tend to be less sustainable and therefore higher maintenance, they want a trail experience and more distance. We call this more trail better trail. We create lower grades leading to greater distance and we achieve a unique experience with the trail. The destination and the speed are no longer top priority. With a rolling and curving trail there is less braking to reduce erosion, more speed control as the bike is forced to change trajectory, and the trail itself becomes the target experience for the rider. The advantage for the cyclist in this trail is the playful challenges and progression. We often will install features like rocks or kickers to add to the sense of fun for those looking for a challenge. The saying goes if you take away something, in this case fast decent/steep challenge climb, then you create something to replace it.
The biggest reason for this style is low maintenance. Land managers don’t want to spend time nor money on maintenance. Steeper, straight and/or flat trails tend to cup causing ruts and the need to build drains. Drains fill up fast or blow out. Visitors will walk out of the ruts causing braiding. By installing RGDs, we have very quick and light maintenance. As you will notice we install many RGDs to reduce water carrying sediment very far. Also you will notice we in-slope much of the trail to keep people off the outside critical edge so we don’t have trail blow out or widening. Insloping also forces the water and cobble off the center part of the trail like a gutter on the inside. We call this lift and tilt.
This trail is a multi-use multi-directional trail adding to the build challenge. We just won’t please everyone. It compromises on a lot of fronts which simply means nobody gets a trail built for them alone. We’ve all got to give up some things. For the biker it’s speed; hiker it’s straight up; trail runner it’s stride. Its not ideal by any means and a land manger is perplexed by the community complaints. This land manger in particular is concerned about a few complainers, although on the trail we are getting many thank yous. That said, most people don’t like change and a feeling of something being taken away."
If you are in the Denver/Golden area and are familiar with Green Mountain, check out the new trail and, most importantly, chime in with your feedback. Your voice matters:
1. Top priority is feedback emails sent to the city thanking them for the trailwork, the sustainable design, the new challenge, the longer distance, the inclusivity of the comba guys asking for input, something new, etc. By the time we are done we’ve donated over $25k to the green on this project alone. Email one of the below:
-Kathy Hodgson city manger
-Adam Paul mayor
-Barb Franks Lakewood City Council Ward 4 (green mountain)
-Andrew Sprafke Park Supervisor
2. Volunteers. 2019 dates tbd
3. Feedback and ideas from runners preferably while we work and also after some snow beds the trail in. Trails@comba.org
Your input is invaluable and your feedback to the city are paramount if we want to continue fixing the local trail system.
Probably what struck us most are a couple of things: 1) It seems the mountain bike community is a whole lot more and better organized than the trail running population. Here in Colorado COMBA took the reins and contributed serious cash to the new Green Mt project. With so many cyclists, runners and hikers using our local trails, those of us who enjoy them on two feet need to find our voices and get involved on the front end. It would be better to be in on the process and not just stuck critiquing when the work is done. 2) How do we - runners - do that? There isn't really a trail running org like COMBA. Why not? We don't have that answer, and would ask all of you how you see that.
Chime in. Send us your thoughts (email@example.com).