By Mike Rutter, BMA Trails Program Director
I’ve been responsible for the maintenance and improvements on Picture Rock. As a primer, this trail was designed to be an access trail from Lyons to the upper loops of Wild Turkey and Ponderosa as well as Wapiti, hence the lower grades relative to other trails at Heil Valley Ranch. When I designed and built the upper half of this trail back in 2008, it was super smooth, fast, and flowy. Then use and erosion happened and the trail degraded to the point of being overly rocky and “pedally” with angry pinch point rocks that reached out to grab riders on the downhill and an endless rumble strip, bumpity bump pedal on the way up. I used to love riding this trail… and then I didn’t. I heard this sentiment from the majority of people that I encountered—either at open space meetings, trail encounters, or random folks on the street. People loved the bottom half of the trail as it was relatively smooth and flowy, something we don’t have much of around these parts. However, the upper half (my section!) was too rocky to be fun anymore… and I agreed.
BMA has endeavored to remove small, redundant rocks that popped up over the years as dirt washed away, rocks that created a rumble strip effect on this low-gradient (average 6-8%) trail that slow speed and flow and, in turn, narrowed the trail corridor to keep the singletrack experience tighter and thus challenging in that respect. We have also repurposed the pinch point “widowmaker” rocks that used to “kink” the trail and cause pedal strikes and sudden “offs” due to high vegetation in the spring and summer that obscured their presence and repurposed them into rollable or jumpable features. We have trimmed vegetation back to improve sight lines as well as increase flow. We have lowered some of the grade reversals to help carry downhill speed by moving the pinch points or rollable rock features downhill. We have opened up turns to allow an earlier entry while opening the bottom to limit braking (erosion) and more speed coming out.
I have worked with our volunteer trail builders/riders to analyze the sections that we work on to determine the best outcome (especially the more rocky sections)—leave in place, alter, or remove—to improve the flow of the trail and rider experience. I think there are plenty of rock, step-ups/downs, off-camber, tight/open sections along this entire trail corridor and that is our mission. While our changes might seem radical, there will again be erosion of these changes as well but hopefully in a more sustainable, bike friendly configuration. Keep in mind that if we aren’t addressing these concerns, then we risk Boulder County Parks & Open Space altering much of the progress we have made—whether they mean to or not.
These are the two criteria I follow for addressing trail maintenance on Picture Rock:
Maintain sustainability of the trail from erosion—both environmental and user-caused. This trail gets closed for long periods during the late winter/early spring and I have done a lot of rock armoring and drain additions to keep water from damaging the trail and hopefully keep the trail functional longer during this time.
Keep the trail riding as it was designed and purposed. An access trail designed for all rider abilities. Now, we can also add/keep reasonable mountain bike challenges within the trail tread as well as build alternate features for advanced riders—things that were advocated for by BMA and myself years ago that are now coming to fruition. During my 15-year tenure at Boulder County Parks & Open Space I was the only mountain bike advocate, and I worked to improve conditions for mountain bikers with BMA’s support despite constant pushback from county staff.
So, what to do when an intermediate-level trail erodes in such a way that a previously smoother trail becomes so challenging for riders that they either can’t ride it or start making their own lines around it? The iconic step-up rock feature (shown below) has been stumping many riders for years as it eroded into a tougher obstacle. BMA didn’t want to remove any rocks or make it easier to ride so we built an optional sustainable ride-around. Those still seeking this step-up challenge still have that option while others can take an easier line as they work up to the harder line. Win-win for everyone.
Questions, comments, points of view or otherwise? Shoot me a line at email@example.com. And sign-up to join me at a trail maintenance and building event.
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