San Juan National Forest and partners improve access to Colorado Trail


By Esther Godson

San Juan National Forest

The San Juan National Forest, the San Juan Mountains Association (SJMA), Colorado Trail Foundation volunteers and other partners recently cleared a large section of avalanche debris on the Colorado Trail, near Elk Creek. 

Following heavy snows during the winter of 2018-2019, numerous avalanches impacted the Colorado Trail along Elk Creek. The result was four debris piles consisting of thousands of downed trees, which created a dangerous obstacle for Colorado Trail hikers and an impassable barrier to horses and other stock. 

This year, the Columbine Ranger District asked the SJMA to work in a shared stewardship effort on this debris removal project. The SJMA, with support from the community through the Weminuche Wilderness Stewardship Fund and matching grants from the National Forest Foundation and VF Foundation, enlisted the Southwest Conservation Corps (SCC) in the effort. The Columbine Ranger District Wilderness crew, SJMA staff, Colorado Trail Foundation volunteers and a Southwest Conservation Corps crew worked together clearing the first two of these massive debris piles.

“This was a really advanced and complex cutting situation,” said Columbine Ranger District Lead Wilderness Ranger Kristina Schenck. “For instance, the SCC and Columbine Wilderness crews cut out 500 trees in a stretch of eight days. Having the assistance of the SCC crew was critical for that work.” 

The entire project took over 18 days of the crews safely and slowly using crosscut saws to move the downed trees and debris. The coalition of partners plan to continue work with removing the third and fourth debris piles next year.

For more information, please contact the Columbine Ranger District recreation program manager, Jed Botsford, at 749-2778 or SJMA Executive Director Brent Schoradt at 317-1571.

All offices on the San Juan National Forest are conducting business and providing visitor services virtually. For information on the San Juan National Forest, call 247-4874.