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Hermosa Creek trails repaired after fire, erosion damage

Forest Service works on 5.5 miles of paths in heavily used area
Crew members with the Southwest Conservation Corps reconstruct the Stony Gulch portion of the Hermosa Creek Trail on Sept. 9. (Courtesy of Don Kelly/U.S. Forest Service)

Hikers, bikers and other outdoor enthusiasts have 5.5 miles of freshly improved trails to explore in the Hermosa Creek trail system northwest of Durango.

Some sections of the trail system showed signs of erosion and other damage caused by the 416 Fire in 2018, monsoon rains and heavy snowpack.

The U.S. Forest Service, with help from Colorado Parks and Wildlife and the Southwest Conservation Corps, spent about two months this summer repairing sections of the popular trail network.

Some work will continue until mid-October, with possible periodic trail closures, said James Simino, district ranger with the Columbine Ranger District.

“I’m excited for the project. It’s a great opportunity for us to improve the trail conditions for the public,” Simino said. “I would just like the public to make sure they’re using proper trail etiquette while they’re up there.”

The Hermosa Creek watershed includes a 37,236-acre wilderness area and a special management area, designated in 2014 by the Obama administration. It is one of the most heavily used areas in the Columbine Ranger District, according to the Forest Service.

The trail system includes one of the premier backcountry mountain bike single-track trails in the state, according to the Forest Service. It is also open for hiking, horseback riding, fishing, camping, hunting, snowmobiling and certain off-highway vehicles.

In 2018, the Hermosa Creek watershed experienced the 54,000-acre 416 Fire. The watershed is marked by burned areas, which can include hazards such as falling trees, unstable soils and debris flows.

“Then we had significant monsoon events right after the fire, then snowmelt issues,” Simino said. “So there was some erosion, and that’s really what this project is fixing. In addition to fixing those problems, it’s also making the trail safer for the recreators.”

The burn area is beginning to recover with the help of trailwork and tree planting projects, said Rebecca Robbins, Forest Service spokeswoman. The federal agency partnered with Mountain Studies Institute in April to plant 900 trees in the 416 Fire burn area. More tree-planting projects are in the works, she said.

The Forest Service trail restoration project started in July around the Lower Hermosa Trailhead, about 4 miles northwest of Hermosa off County Road 201 and Forest Service Road 576. CPW contributed a $121,000 grant to help make the project happen.

Forest Service and Southwest Conservation Corps crews completed trail realignment work at the Dutch Creek Crossing, repaired drainage on sections of the trail and improved trail tread and stability.

In addition to shoring up the trail tread by constructing crib walls, crew members rebenched and widened sections of the trail. They also closed user-created shortcuts and trails that were causing damage and erosion.

“It’ll be in better shape,” Simino said. “There shouldn’t be as many wet spots because we’ve improved drainage. The trail should be wide enough to meet other users on the trail.”

With the initial 5.5-mile project completed, the crew members will continue with additional improvement work until mid-October, Simino said. There may be intermittent trail closures associated with a reconstruction project in the Stony Gulch area northwest of the Lower Hermosa Trailhead, he said.

Crews will be using machinery such as chainsaws and mini-excavators to complete trailwork and remove fire-weakened trees. The Forest Service reminded trail users to pay attention, follow signs and, if possible, select another trail to recreate on in the area.


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