• October E-Newsletter

A Summer Spent on CCF's Trail Crew

Written for the October 2017 E-newsletter by Patrick Morrison

Repairing the Little Cottonwood Canyon Trail

When the trail crew met for our first day on the job, we found ourselves in a what would turn out to be a unique situation: we were all in the same room, sans tools, chain saws, and trail dirt.  More importantly though, most of the trail crew was new to the Cottonwood Canyons Foundation, and for two of us, new to trail work in general.  Experienced or not, we all had an overwhelming excitement to get started. Our office was about to become the tri-canyons for the next six months.  The season progressed, the blisters came and went, and soon enough we found ourselves an efficient crew able to crack tread with the best of them.  Now at season’s end, it’s rewarding to look back at a few of the things that truly made this season of work remarkable.

To start, we were fortunate to be paired with excellent and diverse partners.  We began our year with the Access Fund and the Salt Lake Climbers Alliance working in the Alpenbock Loop area of Little Cottonwood Canyon.  From these groups we learned how to transform huge granite boulders into trail features like stairs and rock plating, and helped them to improve and centralize the spiderweb of trails to the many climbs in the area.  As climbers, it was appropriate they’d be using rock for most the work, and it was impressive to see how delicately (and sometimes not so delicately) they could manipulate the stones.  Since this area is accessible and popular, there’s unfortunately graffiti sprayed on boulders throughout the trails.  Working alongside volunteers from Black Diamond, we learned how to remove it and after a few days we made real, noticeable progress.

Our primarily partner, the Salt Lake Ranger District, was a phenomenal resource and guided many of our projects.  The few weeks working side by side on projects like the Dog Lake to Desolation connector trail, and the Lake Solitude re-routes, were certainly some of our more enjoyable weeks.  One of the biggest takeaways from working with such an experience department is how much thought goes into planning and building a trail.  Considering accessibility, drainage, slope grade, etc. is a complex process, and they were consistently generous in their teaching and advice.  Additionally, we got to train with Forest Service’s wilderness trail crew members and were the first CCF crew to get to take the S-212 Wildland Fire saw training course. There’s a lot of hazard trees out there, and being able to fall trees is will give us many more options in the future.

Bike trail bridges we installed at Snowbird

CCF certainly has a special relationship with the ski resorts in Big and Little Cottonwood.  This relationship is particularly special for the trails crew, considering the majority of us had moved here to ski.  Getting to work on bike trails in Snowbird, working on a new trail through Albion Meadows in Alta, and the work at Lake Solitude and Silver Lake, was a fitting way to show this personal attachment to the lifts.  Additionally, getting to participate the Wildflower Festivals at these ski resorts was incredible, as it brought us into contact with individuals who felt the same attachment to these areas, but for entirely different reasons.  This passion for flowers rubbed off on us and throughout the season we started identifying all sorts of flowers for our volunteers on the trails. We were quick to text photos and questions to Tim, CCF’s botanist, and hopefully didn’t pester him too much.

Of course, so much of the work we were able to accomplish this season would not have been possible without our volunteers.  A special recognition should go the the Wasatch Front 100 Mile Endurance runners.  We could take these crazy athletes far up the mountain, work them hard, and they’d love every moment of it.  They hike so fast we quickly learned to stop letting them set the pace on the way up the trail.  Everyone seemed to really appreciate that they were helping to build trail that they’d be racing on later in the year and it was a delight to see. But it was more than just the runners who’d share that connection.  From all of our volunteers, whether they were a student, from a business, or just someone out to swing a tool, one of the more common phrases we heard was, “I’ll never a hike a trail the same way again.” This educational aspect continued to be quite rewarding!

Volunteers moved most of this dirt at Dog Lake

There’s much that is special about trail work, and we were reminded of this constantly from hikers passing by, volunteers spending a day out of the office, or even just ourselves in casual conversation.  So many people use the canyons for so many reasons, and it feels like at some point or another, we came into contact with all of them.  The majority were gracious and vocally appreciative of the work we were doing and we suspect a little jealous of where we get to spend our days. We also knew that even though we’d answered the same question to every hiker going by, it’d be followed by a kind word of thanks.  So now as the season winds down, we find ourselves similar to the volunteers who will never walk a trail the same way.  Until next year, have fun out there!