By Kevin Kuhl, USFS Red Rock Ranger District
This season has likely been one for the record books! We have the largest trail crew we’ve ever had, and likely some of the highest volunteer attendance for maintenance-based trail events. Our last event had over 45 people show up and sign-up space on the list overflowed to the margins of the paper! Since the beginning of the season, we’ve had seven public volunteer events and five more are planned. All had turnouts of 25+ people except one very cold, wet morning where only 15 hardy people joined in.
With our crew members mostly new to the District or Forest, we organized a weeklong training conducted by Flagline Trails (funded through the SRRTF) to teach the finer aspects of Red Rock trail maintenance, the theory behind the work, project layout and how to teach volunteers to assist us with this work. This jump-start on building our crews’ district knowledge, in combination with the consistent weather, has allowed for great soil moisture … which equals more drainage work than normal. Small rock projects have also been added due to damage from the summer monsoon storms.
The crew has been prepping for the Cathedral Rock project by learning some advanced rigging and rock splitting skillsets to better utilize our crews on the final Phase of the project. This training is also conducted by Flagline Trails. Last year, most of the rock was split and hand-carried with nets. Due to the steepness of the project site, we will be utilizing grip hoists, wire ropes, nylon slings and mechanical advantage to move the rock. We hope this improves efficiency and safety.
A forest closure order has been signed off, closing the trail from the Templeton Junction to the terminus at the top from February 1st to March 31st. This will once again allow our crews to better manage the project site and production of work, while not having to worry about falling rocks on hikers below them due to steep terrain. We’ve arranged for Friends of the Forest and The Westerners Hiking Club to assist us in trail closure education and outreach at the Cathedral Rock Trailhead and at the Templeton junction during the closure.
Tetra Tech, a contract firm based in Colorado, is assisting with the Red Rock Trails NEPA project. They have surveyed most of the shorter linear project areas and are close to 50% done with the Turkey Creek system. We anticipate public scoping for this project to be released this spring.
Solutions for Staffing To increase our employee recruitment, we have been able to attract more applicants from Flagstaff with formalized commuting assistance. We started the first vanpool program on the Coconino National Forest for Trail Crew employees. This is not a Forest Service funded program, but uses a rental vehicle funded by Federal Transit Subsidies and administered by the Department of Transportation – often at no cost to employees. Eight people are now benefiting, which makes daily commuting from Flagstaff far more attractive, based on our challenges with limited local government housing.