As motorized users head for the high country in Jackson County this summer, one of their most frequent questions is, "Can we get across the river at the Helena Trailhead yet?" District Ranger Mike Wright answers, "This is going to be a tough year to access the Helena Trailhead -- both for trail users and for any Forest visitors who like to camp, hike, or fish at the north end of the trail." But he's quick to add that the wait will be worth it, "This year what we're working on are projects that provide long-term safety for Forest visitors and permittees. In the Helena area, that means limiting access to Forest Road 660 so that hazard tree removal contractors can work safely and efficiently -- and it means keeping the Helena Trailhead closed to motorized uses for one more year."
The additional year won't be wasted, though. With support from the Jackson County Commissioners, the Forest Service has obtained a generous grant from the Colorado State OHV Trails Program to construct a new multi-user crossing at the North Fork of the North Platte River. $357,865 in OHV registration sticker receipts are coming back to Jackson County for the Grizzly-Helena Trail Crossing Project. In addition to staff time already spent on the project, $80,000 in Forest Service Legacy Road and Trail funding has been committed to come up a design for a safe, sustainable crossing at this complex site. Forest Service Rocky Mountain Regional Office engineering staff will be providing expert oversight of a design contract with HDR, a consulting firm headquartered in Nebraska with offices and subcontractors familiar with the Medicine Bow-Routt National Forests. HDR will develop preliminary and final designs to meet the backcountry objectives and multi-user safety needs for the crossing, which is envisioned as an extended boardwalk similar to those seen along the Yampa River in Steamboat. Forest Service engineers, hydrologists, and trails specialists will reconstruct the existing trail on either side of the crossing and put into action a restoration plan for areas that need extra help to recover.
Forest Service Trails Coordinator Jon Myers says that volunteers will be a key part of implementing this project. "We expect construction to happen in 2011, and we'll be looking to our motorized user groups to help reconstruct the trail to the crossing." Recreation Program Manager Paula Guenther agrees, "We're also hoping to involve volunteers to collect native seed from wetland plants to use in stabilizing the areas that have been damaged by off-trail use." Volunteers and students may also grow the collected seed into seedlings, and then help replant sensitive wetland areas with the locally grown grasses and shrubs. Partnerships the District Botany Program has with North Park High School and outdoor groups that focus on restoration of wildlands will be important for restoration efforts.
Busy beavers have kept trail users guessing at the trail crossing for years. As quickly as trail managers added culverts, stepping stones, and even short board walks to provide safe crossing for hikers, mountain bikers, OHV riders and horse packers, the beavers moved dams and changed the stream channel location from one side of the wetland to the other. Meanwhile, OHV riders forged their own paths to find shallow water, creating ruts and damaging wetland vegetation in the process. In August, 2008, based on recommendations from District Ranger Mike Wright, Forest Supervisor Mary Peterson signed an order closing the trail crossing to motorized uses until a safe, stable crossing was constructed and resource damage could be repaired.
Receipts from OHV registration stickers are used to fund trails projects like this one around the State. The Grizzly-Helena Trail Crossing Project grant has already been in the works for two years -- through application, review, and agreement steps that allow the State and Forest Service to exchange direct and in-kind funding. The Parks Ranger District's proven commitment to OHV trail management has also earned another $60-80,000 each year in Good Management grant funding from the same source, much of which is focused on clearing hazard trees from popular trails this year.
Helena Trailhead and the northern sections of the Grizzly-Helena Trail can be reached from other access points than Forest Road 660 to Helena Trailhead. The Lone Pine North and South Trailheads offer the closest trailhead access. Motorcyclists can ride directly north from Lone Pine North Trailhead, and ATV riders can detour along the Brown's Creek Road (Forest Road 650) north to where it joins the portion of trail suitable for and open to ATVs. The Grizzly-Helena Trail itself is open as far as the south side of the North Fork North Platte River crossing, so riders can return the way they came.
For more information on the Grizzly-Helena Trail Crossing Project, please contact Paula Guenther, Parks District Recreation Program Manager, at 970.723.2721. For additional information on Bark Beetle management activities on the Parks District, please contact Mike Wright, District Ranger, at 970.723.2701.
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