JEFFERSON COUNTY, Colo. (KDVR) — While the spring pattern of sun and snow is needed to get the Front Range out of drought conditions, the cycle creates a muddy mess for people who frequent Colorado trails and those who are tasked with maintaining them.
“Once you add moisture into the equation, any trail that’s on a natural surface becomes much more fragile,” Mary Ann Bonnell with Jefferson County Open Space said.
This season, several trails in the JCOS network have been closed periodically due to mud and fragile conditions. Bonnell said visitors will sometimes try to power through, saying they “don’t mind” the mud, but in reality, it creates problems for erosion regardless.
Hikers have two options: hiking through the mud and carrying a piece of the trail with them, or skirting along the outside of the trail to trample plant material, ultimately widening the trail.
“It’s just not sustainable to have visitors travel on these surfaces or go around these surfaces,” Bonnell said.
Bonnell said this pattern can cause a single-track trail to balloon from a 4-foot corridor to a 25-foot corridor, which takes away from the natural feel of the trail.
And while some residents complain about muddy conditions calling on park rangers to close trails, others tell Bonnell trails should be back open.
“I had a gentleman call me last week and say, ‘Mount Falcon has been closed for three months and you guys are just lazy,'” Bonnell said. “That’s a perspective. It’s not correct. Mount Falcon has been closed off and on for the last three months because we’ve had precipitation off and on for the last three months.”
Members of JCOS do trail checks in the morning and afternoon for conditions, and also have to take care of gate closures and signage to reinforce the closure. Some parks logistically can’t be closed, due to multiple entrances.
“Closing trails is not an act of laziness,” Bonnell said. “It’s an act of love and care for the trails we care about, but also it takes work.”
And while rain is in the forecast for Denver and the Front Range on Tuesday, the bigger headache for trail maintenance is snow that takes a while to melt.
“Our trails are designed to take on the rain,” Bonnell said. “If the trail is designed properly, it’s a bench and there are areas where the water sheets off, and so you really don’t have that water sitting. When you have snow parked above the trail alignment and then warmish weather, maybe 35, 40, 45 degrees, that snow just sits up there and weeps above the trail for the entire day.”
Bonnell said this spring has had a consistent cycle of solid snow, followed by a slow melt, and so the trail maintenance has been more difficult and closures more frequent.
You can sign up for alerts and closures through Jefferson County to get texts or email alerts for closures here.