Caring for the land and serving the people— one trail at a time

Courier photo by John Waters On June 5, Sandy Pounder (left) and Adrian Sulahian, trail crew employees of the Rio Grande National Forest were clearing downed trees on the Willow Lake Trail in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.

RIO GRANDE NATIONAL FOREST— On June 5, trail crew employees of the U.S. Forest Service, Sandy Pounder and Adrian Sulahian, were busy working on the Willow Lake Trail No. 865 clearing downed trees. The phrase, "Caring for the land and serving people," captures the Forest Service mission and these two exemplified that while working on the trail.

The 1.8-million-acre national forest has hundreds of miles of trails that are accessed by foot, horse and in some cases by mountain bike. Working on a trail crew has the benefits of being outside in spectacular settings. The work is hard and requires extreme stamina and fitness. In Wilderness Areas of the forest, all mechanized equipment is banned so every fallen tree obstructing the trail, large and small, must be cut by hand using the tools the crew carries.

According to Gregg Goodland, Public Information Officer with the Forest Service,

"What they were clearing off the trail were downed trees and logs as high up the trail as they can get in a day. This is a common early-season tactic for trail crews. Since the higher country only becomes accessible later in the year, they can focus efforts on the lower-elevation sections of the forest. This typically coincides with the users that are day hiking those trails who turn around when the snow drifts become abundant. Later in the year, the crews will return to those same trails and do more clearing in the higher elevations and, if needed, heavier maintenance that was identified on the early trips."

The 9.5-mile-out-and-back trail that Pounder and Sulahian were clearing, also has an elevation gain of almost 2,900 feet. And yes, they carry their tools up 2,900 feet, and back down.

Nationally the Forest Service is responsible for maintaining over 160,000 miles of trails.

Forest Service trail managers apply standardized concepts and tools to administer the many miles of National Forest Service system trails. These concepts help trail managers across all forests and grasslands to design, construct, and maintain trails in a similar way that provides a consistent user experience.

Aside from employees to do trail work, the Forest Service partners with outside groups such as Volunteer for Outdoor Colorado (VOC). In a 2023 interview with the Valley Courier, Anna Zawisza at VOC said that volunteering with the group is easy, "We work statewide engaging people to do active stewardship work, that means pretty much anything that can be done on public lands without a lot of training, we are doing. Planting trees, doing wildfire mitigation of fuel.” For more information on Volunteer for Outdoor Colorado, visit:www.voc.org.