The work is done and the fun can begin. The newest singletrack bike trail was completed earlier this week by the Gunnison Trails crew, crossing another route off their to-do list of completing a larger trail network at Signal Peak.
“Duane’s World” — named after local historian Duane Vandenbusche — is located at the base of Chicken Wing and is the longest trail the nonprofit team has built, clocking in at 3.2 miles. Compared to the nearby grueling passages that take riders to the peak, the new installment offers riders a “mellow climb,” as Gunnison Trails Executive Director Tim Kugler explained.
“It's a much more sustainable climbing experience and a welcome edition,” Kugler said. “Should make for a really fun trail descent.”
The addition is just one installment to the Signal Peak system the Gunnison Trails crew is planning on adding, thanks to a $185,785 award from Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s non-motorized grant program. The organization was able to purchase tools and pay a small team of workers. The grant was awarded in the spring of last year and funds through the summer of 2021.
Construction on Duane’s World capped off at $80,000. Additional funds came from various groups across the valley, including the Gunnison Stewardship Fund through the National Forest Foundation, the City of Gunnison and the Community Foundation of the Gunnison Valley.
Work began last summer, with the crew members creating the alignment of the trail and flagging. By mid-August, the space was beginning to take shape with the help of dozens of extra hands through volunteer events.
Originally, members of the Western Colorado Conservation Corps (WCCC) were tapped to help out the existing Gunnison Trails crew of three for a few weeks in the summer, however, the COVID-19 pandemic changed their plans. Kugler and his team were able to “get clever” with the funds and still allowed to utilize them toward paying local workers to join the team.
“We were really fortunate that we could still pay eight local folks, and we are able to do it in a safe way,” Kugler said. “It’s a win/win situation.”
Now in its fifth year of operation, the Gunnison Trails crew are the people who not only are on the ground, creating the trails, but continually maintain existing and new trails and the elements of them.
In a typical year, the nonprofit hires three individuals to work on the land — which can be as far as Lake City — through out the season, which lasts the beginning of June through the end of October. With help of the grant, this year’s trail crew was made up of a few veterans of the crew and new members: Matt Steinwand, Logan Ramsay, Abby Westling, Maria Skarzynski, Sully Marshall, James Bivens, Gordon Gianniny, Nate Mount and Cosmo Langsfeld
Trail crew leader Langsfeld said it’s certainly been a “learn-ing curve” leading the larger group, however, the makeup of the team of eight makes the long days enjoyable.
“It’s such a good group, good energy, good work ethic,” Langsfeld said. “I just try to keep a good, positive, healthy work environment. I love it, it’s fun.”
Up next on the docket for the crew is constructing three more trails in the Signal Peak region. Kugler said the remaining funding from the grant will continue to pay for local trail builders to join the team, as opposed to the WCCC. Despite COVID-19 not affecting the actual building of the trail, the uncertainty of preceding on the project is something with which the group is grappling. Not knowing if volunteer days will take place would serve as another learning curve considering workflow. Kugler said the last volunteer work day — which takes place on National Public Lands Day — brought 60 people to the site, where they finished a third of the trail within a six hour period.
(Roberta Marquette can be contacted at 970.641.1414 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.)