A cooperative effort to build and maintain trails in the Pole Mountain unit of the Medicine Bow National Forest has received national recognition from the Coalition for Recreational Trails.
The University of Wyoming-based Wyoming Conservation Corps (WCC), the Wyoming Pathways organization and the U.S. Forest Service’s Laramie Ranger District are partners in the Pole Mountain project, for which volunteers contributed more than 3,000 hours of work on nearly 19 miles of non-motorized trails in 2017. Phase 2 of the project will take place this summer.
“This project was supported by a variety of organizations and community members, which led to the development of rich partnerships that will allow this project to grow well beyond year one and into a long-term, sustainable trail program,” says WCC Program Director Patrick Harrington, who received the award on behalf of the partnership Tuesday at a ceremony in Washington, D.C.
The Coalition for Recreational Trails is a federation of national and regional trail-related organizations. It works to build awareness and understanding of the national Recreational Trails Program (RTP), which returns federal gasoline taxes paid by off-highway recreationists to states for trail development and maintenance.
Wyoming Pathways received a $46,000 RTP grant for the first phase of the Pole Mountain trail project, matched by $26,000 from Wyoming Pathways and other local support. This week’s award from the Coalition for Recreational Trails is the Annual Achievement Award for outstanding use of RTP funds in the youth conservation/service corps and community outreach category.
“Wyoming Pathways’ mission includes assisting local communities with high-priority projects like Pole Mountain, which is the closest public land to Laramie and the state capital, Cheyenne,” says Tim Young, executive director of the organization. “With the assistance of the WCC crews, we were able to start key maintenance work on an ambitious plan to greatly enhance Pole Mountain trails to better serve forest visitors and protect resources.”
The Pole Mountain area contains some trails that are planned and are part of the National Forest System network, and others that have been worn in by decades of human use. They are used by hikers, mountain bikers and equestrians in summer and by Nordic skiers, snowshoers and fat-tire bikers in the winter. Pole Mountain’s year-round trail use is increasing because of its proximity to population centers on Colorado’s Front Range, proximity to Cheyenne and Laramie, and the growth of outdoor recreation in Wyoming.
The increased use has led to degradation in the area, and the project aims to build and maintain sustainable trails that will hold up under increasing use. The project, a culmination of years of groundwork laid by local advocates and organizations, has taken shape through collaborative planning involving Wyoming Pathways, the Forest Service and UW entities.
Four WCC crews were engaged for a total of 40 days last summer to begin the work on the ground, and over 50 community volunteers contributed labor as well. The community volunteer work was supported with trail construction courses offered by UW’s Outdoor Program; volunteer generation by UW’s Service, Leadership and Community Engagement office; oversight by local Forest Service officials and Wyoming Pathways; and tools provided by Wyoming State Parks.
Administered by Residence Life and Dining Services in UW’s Division of Student Affairs, WCC is a grant-supported AmeriCorps program that engages members in conservation-based projects throughout the state. Founded in 2006, the WCC continues the civil service tradition of the Civilian Conservation Corps of the 1930s and Youth Conservation Corps of the 1970s. Hundreds of students have completed projects relating to energy, wildlife, recreation, grazing, timber management, public lands restoration and maintenance, and water and air quality.
Earlier this year, Wyoming Pathways announced receipt of a $50,000 grant from the Wyoming Recreational Trails Program for Phase 2 of the Pole Mountain project this summer. Once again, the work will be done by WCC crews and volunteers.
Additionally, in February, the U.S. Department of Agriculture designated “Wyoming Forest Gateway Communities,” of which the Pole Mountain unit is part, as one of 15 national trail priority areas where work will be done to address a $300 million trail maintenance backlog nationwide. The cooperative, community effort already underway on Pole Mountain meshes perfectly with the USDA priority designation, says Laramie District Ranger Frank Romero.
“This project highlights the on-the-ground impact that can happen when we reach out to our community to pool resources and gain support for the public lands that we all enjoy,” Romero says. “National recognition of the community efforts on Pole Mountain is well deserved.”