Trail rehabilitation project delayed on North Maroon Peak
A major trail rehabilitation project on North Maroon Peak will be put on hold this summer because of funding issues, the executive director of the Colorado Fourteeners Initiative said last week.
Lloyd Athearn said he is hopeful the planned work on North Maroon will start in 2012, with a separate project on Maroon Peak picking up the following year.
“In my mind, it’s not a question of if we’re going to do this project but when,” he said. “It remains a top priority.”
Colorado Fourteeners Initiative (CFI) is a nonprofit organization that builds awareness about the ecological damage caused by the explosion of hiking and climbing on the state’s 54 peaks over 14,000 feet, and repairs that damage. Since 1994, it has rebuilt trails in more sustainable ways or rerouted trails to minimize environmental degradation. Two major projects are usually undertaken per summer, with crews camping near the work sites. Two other “roving” crews take on separate projects. The work is prioritized with the help of U.S. Forest Service officials.
In summer 2011, CFI planned to expand its scope with three projects requiring fixed crews. It aimed to tackle projects on North Maroon, Mount of the Holy Cross and Mount Yale. The funding isn’t available to tackle that aggressive of a schedule.
“It seemed like it was going to be a bit much to do all three of those projects,” Athearn said. “We’d have to make some pretty colossal leaps of faith about the funding coming through.”
The Maroon Bells project is expensive. Two years of work on North Maroon is estimated to cost $286,000. An additional year of work on Maroon Peak would boost the total cost of the projects to about $415,000, he said.
CFI collected some of its largest donations from individual contributors in 2010 despite the tougher economic times, Athearn said. But grants from the government and foundations are in question.
The CFI staff decided to reduce the work schedule, and the Bells project was the most logical to postpone.
North Maroon Peak is currently CFI’s highest priority for work, and Maroon Peak is the second highest among a survey of 16 peaks where work still must be undertaken, according to CFI reports.
A CFI project description says North Maroon is a “top priority for trail reconstruction and terrain restoration due to the significant natural resource impacts it is experiencing, as well as the increasing rate of change.”
The North Maroon Peak ascent is one of the most difficult and dangerous of the big peaks, so that limits activity to between five and 10 climbers per day during the heart of summer, according to CFI’s monitoring program. Nevertheless, the trail is ripe for damage.
“Steep terrain, highly erosive soils, and wet conditions due to late-season snow patches on north-facing exposures contribute to significant environmental impacts,” CFI’s material said.
That is a concern because a botanical survey found three plants never before found on a 14er: moschatel, northern hollyfern and harp dandelion, a native, “non-weedy” variety, the report said. In addition, rare plants have been found, such as Leadville milkvetch and green spleenwort.
The proposal for North Maroon is to target a one-mile stretch of trail after the ascent trail splits from the Maroon-Snowmass Trail. One main trail would be delineated through that stretch, and other social trails would be closed and revegetated.
“Trail delineation work will use native materials to build rock staircases, check steps, retaining walls and other trail features to stabilize the steep and loose soils, narrow trail width to between 12 and 18 inches – depending upon the side slope – and provide for needed drainage,” the description said.
Trail work would be too dangerous and “futile” because of falling rock beyond a rock glacier that marks the start of a more technical climb, the report said.
Maroon Peak also sees relatively light use, but environmental conditions boosted its rank as a priority.
“Maroon Peak is a high priority for route construction and terrain restoration work due to the presence of rare and unique alpine plants that currently are unprotected against recreational damage,” CFI’s project description said.
Athearn said CFI is approaching the Maroon Bells work like a government or business would view a capital improvement campaign: It will proceed when the funds are secured.
He hopes to attract funding from the Roaring Fork Valley, since the Bells are in Aspen’s back yard. There is potential for fundraising throughout the U.S. for all CFI projects because the 14ers are a popular destination for people across the country, he said.
The view of the Maroon peaks from Maroon Lake is one of the most photographed in Colorado and possibly the most photographed on national forest lands, Athearn noted. That makes him confident that funds for stewardship projects can be found.
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