It was a mile, at most. One mile of unauthorized trail near the Hermosa Creek Campground.
Earlier this month, a small army consisting of a San Juan National Forest work crew and volunteers from the San Juan Citizen’s Alliance, the San Juan Mountain Association and Trails 2000 spent a day obliterating it with chain saws and Pulaskis, using branches, rocks, small logs and plenty of muscle.
Did such a short section of trail, especially one grown popular with local mountain bike riders, deserve such a decisive response?
Yes, and unequivocally so.
Yes, because the trail was constructed, and being improved, without the permission of the Forest Service. And because the trail was located in the Hermosa Creek Watershed, a new special management area created by the Hermosa Creek Watershed Protection legislation that became law in 2014. The illegal trail, which no doubt was a fun little run on two wheels, illustrated the basic reason why the legislation was created and enacted in the first place: to protect a beautiful, popular and easy-to-access area from being “loved to death” by recreation.
The comment period on the just-released environmental assessment of the legislation, including decisions made about what forms of transportation will be allowed and where, is open now through July 10. It will, with input from the public, guide the management and protection of this beloved landscape for generations to come.
With that in mind, it is hard to imagine a worse time, or a more inappropriate place, to blaze a rogue mountain bike trail. Local cyclist Harris Bucklin likely spoke for many when he expressed frustration with the time and bureaucracy involved in getting Forest Service permission to build new mountain bike trails.
That’s understandable. Mountain biking evolved with a great burst of energy and joy in the ability to explore off established roads. That sense of freedom still fuels the popularity of the sport.
Without communication and a willingness on the part of the Forest Service to consider new trail construction in appropriate places, more illegal trails will likely emerge. But in no way does that justify their construction, or mean they should remain.