September is one of my favorite months of the year. The changing of the seasons brings the arrival of fall along with cooler temperatures and brilliant colors to Larimer County. Autumn is one of my favorite times to hike. I love to hike in our open spaces in Larimer County. The oranges, reds, and yellows that line the hiking trails bring an extra delight to my time with nature.
A few years ago, I started to volunteer with nonprofit organizations to give back and help to maintain the trails and open spaces that I love. I have volunteered on several projects over the years from riparian area restoration projects after the 2013 floods to the recent county trail mitigation projects at Horsetooth Mountain Open Space.
After learning about trail maintenance and the work that needs to be done to maintain a quality trail experience and continue to be good stewards of our natural resources, my perspectives have changed. From those experiences, I cannot hike any trail without noticing the work, the trenches dug on the sides to divert water off the trails, or the vegetation mitigation work along the sides to prevent more social trails from developing.
There are approximately 800,000 acres of public lands in Larimer County and nearly 950 miles of public trails managed by various entities. Larimer County Natural Resource Department manages approximately 98 miles of trails on 40,000 acres of public lands. If you took those 98 miles of trails and laid them out in a straight line from north to south it would almost reach Castle Rock from Fort Collins.
It’s easy to see the importance of Larimer County having a dedicated professional trails manager and staff to maintain these trails to ensure a safe and resource-sustainable experience for visitors to parks and open spaces. I have experienced and observed this firsthand as a resident and now as a county commissioner.
It takes robust funding to maintain our parks, open spaces, and trails, but the benefits our community and visitors receive are even larger. For example, at Devil’s Backbone Open Space (DBBOS), $200 per acre is the approximate cost to manage that property. The amount includes the annual maintenance cost of trails, education activities and materials, enforcement, visitor management, site and facility maintenance, ecological management (vegetation management, weed control, etc.), and administrative costs. Since DBBOS is 3,007 acres in size the total annual costs exceed $600,000, although capital maintenance and replacement costs are not included in this estimate.
Capital projects include projects greater than $50,000 such as replacing restrooms, reconstructing parking lots, or major ecological renovations. Although Larimer County uses volunteers and organizations to help with trail maintenance and other items, it still takes a trained staff year-round to maintain these treasured resources.
I hope as you join me experiencing the natural beauty of Larimer County open spaces you will consider some of these things and be a good “leave no trace” steward. I hope to see you sometime out on our trails system. Happy Trails-Get Outside!
Jody Shadduck-McNally is Larimer County commissioner representing all of Larimer County.