Horse Gulch Blog

Watchdogging for the greater Durango area

26 Jun 2013

Star Wars Trail, and why the City should encourage directional travel on several trails

Posted by Adam Howell


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Test Tracks and Horse Gulch have trails that are narrow, steep, have blind corners and dominant user trends that warrant official and social encouragement of one-way traffic there for safety reasons. Two City Boards are currently studying the issue to determine if they agree.

Star Wars Trail, formerly known as the Snake Pit Trail is a narrow, steep trail with blind corners where recreationalists are advised to travel one-way in order to limit the chances of a collision or bad interaction. Hikers and runners should yield to bikers on this trail, as well, since it's easier for them.

Star Wars Trail is a narrow, steep trail with blind corners where people are advised to travel one-way in order to limit the chances of a collision or bad interaction. Hikers and runners should yield to bikers on this trail, as well, since it’s safer for them.

While recently walking the Star Wars Trail in Test Tracks (Overend Mountain Park) with some neighbors, public officials and my friend Ben Bain regarding our proposal to designate it as a one-way, mountain-bike specific trail, we met some serious ideological resistance.

“It’s confusing to me why one group gets to dominate over other user groups, because it’s fun,” said Barb Gysel, a neighbor that attended the walk and opposes making the trail user-specific or directional.

“You can see that this is also an area that is quite coveted by a lot of hikers, and to just in the whole course of this conversation start promoting or putting one group above another, when there are so many ways that people use this park, that would be a concern,” said Gysel.

As surprising as it is to find out that people living by the Park enjoy hiking and running up this steep trail with banked-out blind corners and minimal escape routes from downhill mountain bike traffic, we understood their opposition to any official designation of the trail as user-specific, whether the City is able to enforce it or not.

Our proposal sought to mitigate the risk of collisions on the trail by asking the City to encourage directional, user-specific travel while also asking for permission to build jumps, berms and water bars there.

Parks and Recreation Director Cathy Metz has told us that our request to do trail work on Star Wars will be granted only after she assesses the community’s perception of Durango’s first progressive freeride trail known as The Scratch, which is currently under construction in Horse Gulch.

This trail signage at the bottom of Star Wars Trail lacks any warning to uphill travelers about the dangers of the narrow, steep sections with blind corners.

This trail sign at the bottom of Star Wars Trail lacks any warning to uphill travelers about the dangers of the narrow, steep sections with blind corners where it would be more realistic for hikers to yield to bikers. Putting arrows on the map would be a good start.

Additionally, our request for working on Star Wars Trail would need to be approved  by the La Plata Open Space Conservancy, since they currently have the conservation easement for the land there, according to Kevin Hall, Durango’s Assistant Director of Community Development.

Our past requests aside, I now believe that multiple users can share Star Wars Trail if we can educate people as to the importance of directional travel there, and the reasons why hikers should yield to bikers on the narrow sections with blind corners.

On many steep sections of Star Wars Trail, the ability of mountain bikers to stop or yield to hikers or runners going uphill is more difficult due to the fact that even if they were going 5 miles per hour and began skidding with their brakes locked up, they would still continue to slide.

Star Wars Trail, in Test Tracks, is one of a handful of trails on City-owned open space where the City should encourage one-way travel due to steep terrain and blind corners.

Star Wars Trail, in Test Tracks, is one of a handful of trails on City-owned open space where the City should encourage one-way travel due to steep terrain and blind corners.

This is where collisions will occur, and why the status quo needs to be changed.

The current signage in Test Tracks (Overend Mtn. Park) does not make any recommendations on directional traffic flow. Yet Bain, this blogger and several other advocates of directional travel are asking the City to come to terms with these safety concerns and begin educating trail users through signage or their website as to the importance of going one-way on Star Wars Trail and Grabens Loop (runs from above into Star Wars Trail), and other local trails where safety is a concern.

In order to see the current user patterns change, the encouragement of one-way trail traffic would best be done through education and social pressure since most people don’t want to see cops or rangers writing tickets out on our trails.

Encourage directional traffic up Telegraph Trail and down Anasazi Trail

Several years ago I was riding up Telegraph Trail in Horse Gulch where about half way up past the switchback on a blind corner a mountain biker almost hit me head-on in what would have been a painful collision.

Telegraph Trail, coming up from the right, and Anasazi Trail going down from the pass to left side of this picture should be designated one-way trails.

Telegraph Trail, coming up from the right, and Anasazi Trail going down from the pass to left side of this picture should be designated as one-way trails.

Instead of hitting me as I was climbing, he abruptly swerved off of the trail and flew through the air, down the steep hillside into a tangled awkward mess in the oak brush.

He picked himself out of the oak brush on the hillside and climbed back up to the trail where he immediately started nursing several bloody scrapes on his legs, arms and face.

“The typical flow of traffic on this trail is going uphill,” I told the man as I stood there to make sure he was alright. The man told me that he was from out of town and that he had never ridden the trail before.

This middle-aged man avoided any serious lacerations, broken bones or ligaments, but otherwise, it was a pretty bad interaction on a trail that’s unofficially known for its directional travel (upwards) even though the views looking behind you into Horse Gulch are epic.

A group of people discusses a proposal to designate Star Wars Trail as a one-way, mountain-bike specific trail.

A group of people discusses a proposal to designate Star Wars Trail as a one-way, mountain-bike specific trail.

For most locals in Durango, the logical flow of traffic for an obvious loop route is to go up the Telegraph Trail, and down Anasazi Trail, or down a trail on the back side.

Why does directional travel make sense there you ask? It makes sense for safety reasons, and for the overall easier maintenance of the trail.

Think about how much wider the trail has to be to accommodate people going both directions on these steep hillsides. Is it necessary to build a trail that’s wide enough to accommodate people going both directions on this steep hillside? It’s probably not.

People who want to ride down Telegraph Trail also have a much more limited visual of uphill traffic, as the oak brush and traversing direction of the trail make for some seriously blind corners up high.

In contrast, for riders wanting to descend Anasazi Trail, a majority of that trail can be seen for riders as they ascend up Telegraph Trail, or even from the top of Telegraph Pass by the benches.

Also, while people go down Anasazi Trail, they can see if people are going up it from several different places on the trail, thus limiting any unexpected encounters.

Across the Gulch from Telegraph and Anasazi is The Medicine Trail coming off of Raiders Ridge–a steep and narrow trail with blind corners that’s mostly impossible to ride up, making it another candidate for designation as a one-way trail. This in the hopes that the City eventually recognizes it as an officially sanctioned system trail.

Two signs in Horse Gulch with the same map on each one, within feet of each other. The City is drafting a large sign to replace the big one in this photo. This blogger is asking that the new one includes arrows next to 4 trails that should be designated directional for safety reasons.

Two signs in Horse Gulch with the same map on each one, within feet of each other. The City is drafting a large sign to replace the big one in this photo. This blogger is asking that the new one includes arrows next to six trails that should be designated directional for safety reasons.

Signage in Horse Gulch makes no mention of directional travel  on any of its trails. At the base of the Meadow Loop Trail, two signs sit within feet of each other with the same exact map on each one. The bigger one of them is replaced a few times a year after it fades.

Durango’s Assistant Director of Community Development Kevin Hall recently presented a rough draft to the Natural Lands Board of a large trail head sign that he wants posted in place of the existing big trail map signs at both the mouth to Horse Gulch as well as the base of the Meadow Loop.

Let’s ask Hall, the Natural Lands Board and the Parks and Recreation Board to encourage directional travel on Telegraph, Anasazi, Medicine, and The Scratch Trail as part of the design on the new trail head map signage. Even encouraging one-way traffic on the Meadow Loop would be logical, given the few narrow sections where escaping away from a downhill rider could be difficult.

Surrounding communities successfully incorporate directional trails

Land managers in New Mexico, Colorado and Utah are educating and encouraging trail users to go one way on certain trails where a logical loop direction is identified, or where the safety of trail users is a concern.

The Alien Run Trail on BLM land in New Mexico is designated as one way, althouth I'm sure that it's enforced by social pressure and trail signage more than any other way.

The Alien Run Trail on BLM land in New Mexico is designated as one way, althouth I’m sure that it’s enforced by social pressure and trail signage more than any other way.

At the same time, other communities like Grand Junction and Moab are going a step further by allowing freeride features to coexist on some of their directional trails.

While Durango Mountain Resort has some cross country trails on U.S. Forest Service land where directional travel is encouraged, the greater Durango area lacks official encouragement of directional travel, even with safety concerns abound.

In Aztec, New Mexico, a trail head sign at the Alien Run Trail on BLM land encourages hikers and bikers to go one-way in a counterclockwise direction.

At Phil’s World Trail in Cortez, Colorado, a general clockwise traffic pattern is encouraged, but not required.

On the Free Lunch and Pucker Up Trails in Grand Junction, Colorado, hikers are not allowed, and directional traffic is for downhill mountain biking only.

In Fruita, Colorado, most of the trails have directional traffic encouragement on their signage, with some hills being too steep for bikers to stop or yield to others on even if they wanted to.

Captain Ahab Trail in Moab is designated as one way to make it safer.

Captain Ahab Trail in Moab is designated as one way to make it safer.

In Moab, Utah, the Captain Ahab trail is one way, and if you don’t follow the recommendation, you might get plowed over by a mountain biker on a blind hill top, below a ledge or around a corner!

With so many communities encouraging directional travel even just on cross country trails, why does the City of Durango not accept or recognize the safety benefits of directional travel on any of its preexisting trails where a narrow trail, steep terrain, blind corners, sloping banked out berms, dominant user trends (mountain bikers) and the popularity of loop rides exists?

Both the Natural Lands Board and the Parks and Recreation Board are having a joint Board meeting in August to talk about our proposal for the City to begin encouraging directional travel on its trails.

Meanwhile, let the Board members or Parks and Recreation Director Cathy Metz know your opinions on this.

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3 Responses to “Star Wars Trail, and why the City should encourage directional travel on several trails”

  1. I for one believe that designated trail directions make much sense, if for nothing else – just in the name of safety. Durango is growing in every dimension, and is not the small town it once was. The lifestyle and the activities that people move to such an area to enjoy have also evolved.

    I don’t think people that enjoy progressive riding want to exclude hikers from trails, but at the same time, they themselves don’t feel they should be excluded either. As it stands, all of Overend Mountain Park is 100% foot-traffic inclusive. One can walk anywhere in Durango one wishes. People that enjoy gravity biking have ZERO avenues to legally engage in the activity they love so much. Tell me, who is really being excluded here?

    The addition of the Scratch trail is monumental, and I hope it goes off in a positive manner – it makes so much sense, and could be a blueprint for future trails in the area. If a one-way designation is not supported by the public, then at least mark the trail as a “use at own risk – dangerous downhill traffic may be present”, or something similar, so that those traveling uphill are aware and take responsibility for their presence, rather than trying to find someone else negligent in the occurrence of a collision.

    And wow, how many committees have to be satisfied to make something happen? Durango sure loves it’s committees, from City Official Business to local orgs, it seems a committee is required to do anything – all the way down to a shade of green or blue or whatever for a logo or advertisement. Wouldn’t it be grand if just ONE entity was involved in respective matters? It would make things go so much smoother, with much less red tape to satisfy.

     

    Jerry Hazard

  2. GREAT article, btw! 🙂

     

    Jerry Hazard

  3. Thanks Jerry!

    I agree that having both the Natural Lands Board and the Parks and Rec Board meeting separately on so many different issues is overly bureaucratic.

    Right now they are both meeting to talk about The Scratch, our directional proposal, and also the management of the Cameron Sterk open space parcel down by the river that the City recently purchased. They have joint meetings together occasionally, but I get the impression that one of the Boards needs to handle each on of these issues.

    The red tape is thick–real thick.

    Also, I worked on The Scratch today. You’d be amazed at how many slabs of sandstone we were able to use to our advantage out there. Griphoists are great tools for that!

     

    Adam Howell

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