May 15

Last 2nd Sat Coe Trlwk Report

Here’s (another boring and exceptionally long winded) write-up for the Coe trailwork performed on Sat. May 13, plus some miscellaneous observations. This was the final 2nd Sat Trailwork for the 05-06 season. Trailwork events in Coe will continue in June and even during the summer, but the scheduled days are done until at least September because of our hot climate down there. Cross-Canyon west brushing, maybe sounds not so exciting, but 6 of us finished it to our satisfaction. The choice of this project came by suggestion from park staff. On Earthday they lead an April 22nd workday last month and chose west Cross Canyon to work on because it’s accessible and needed again, more brushing. The brush had grown in and blown in to the trail corridor during our very wet months. There was a short section towards the bottom which was left undone and our group completed this on Saturday.

Despite the extensive work that the Trail Advisory Council and ROMP volunteers performed a couple of years ago on the Cross Canyon west the brush had grown in again. The primary shrubs we battle here are Toyon. They are tough woody thorny and fast growing. It was simply a matter of lopping and sawing.

Eight of us met up at Hunting Hollow, bungeed our loppers and saws to two BOB trailers and rode the 9 miles or so up and over to the site and hacked away at the jungle until it was done. We finished at 1:00 pm exactly.

Tread work was not on the menu, nor was it needed. Along the way I was careful to check the tread and the function of the drains and reversals we created and maintained two years ago, especially curious to see how it was doing after the rains. It was doing very good for the trail. The trail is buffed. The April 22nd group have built some new and poor drainage features on the last 1/3 of the downhill. However we are consoled by the fact that they are shallow un-selfsustaining features that will disappear in a month or so of traffic. These are a series of shovel shaped hacks perpendicular to the tread direction.

From a hiking and equestrian point of view this type of drain doesn’t detract much. However, on a bike each wheel thuds as it crosses (a minor annoyance on a full-sus which can also be bunny-hopped). If they are weakly built (like they were) they don’t last more than a couple of months because the sides cave in, and if it rains a lot they do not flow well and quickly silt up. If perpendicular drains are heavily built with a large reversal downslope they can be great bike jumps or endo creating features. No matter what, in not too much time, the line riders and hikers use will wear a deepening notch through which the inevitable wet storm episode will concentrate the of flow water and actally enhance the erosive power of the hydraulic on the trail the drain was supposed to protect.

There is one 50 to 100 yard long section which is guttered to a minor extent which could use some relief eventually. This section is developing the cupped classic U-shape. Not a problem yet.

There is an endless inventory of trail problems in Coe from this winter. Amng them are these outstanding offenders:

Cross Canyon east: According to Chris K., one of our strongest volunteers, who rode up Spike, down Serpentine, up Wagon, down Crest and east Cross Canyon prior to meeting us at the work site, reports that east Cross Canyon needs a work party to remove fallen trees, create drainage, and brush. This trail, however, is still worthy of use currently.

Lost Spring: This trail is not worth visiting until it is repaired. There are at least 20 trees, mostly Grey Pine down. The go arounds require forging through poison oak infested woodland.

Live Oak Spring: A popular and vital connection to view Pacheco Falls from the trail along by Wood Duck Pond has downed timber again.

Willow Ridge Trail: Very brushy, some fallen trees and erosion problems.

Mudd Spring Trail (and all descending to upper Pacheco): Brushy

Elderberry: Brush

White Tank: Needs brushing again. The worst can be avoided until we brush it by selecting the descent of Rose Dam instead.

Thoughts on trail work in Coe specifically:

Some may question why should people volunteer to perform these tasks considering that trail building and maintenance duties could/should be performed by paid staff who are employees of our public agencies which we fund though our taxes. Paid park staff in Coe are insufficient in number to the task. Even so, they might be able to be much more active and pro-active, but I don’t know enough to make a fair judgement. Definitely, DPR takes the maintenance of the main roads very seriously.

As an aside, perhaps some of the public thinks that government should be more efficient and could allocate appropriate funds sufficient to make staff time available to attend to trail development and maintenance. Perhaps some folks feel that they are entitled to or deserve to have trails maintained for them. To a certain extent I do. Maybe we pay too much or too little in taxes. Whatever. However, my own opinion is that spending a lot of tax money on trail maintenance is frivolous in the big picture. Spending on public health, safety, education, infrastructure, and conscientious business development are higher priorities than trailwork.

It makes sense to me that the folks who use the trails take care of them, through financial support directly to volunteers and non-profits like ROMP, and by volunteering themselves. This way tax dollars are not wasted on special interests like ours, and the work is performed as needed in the way that the users desire based upon their direct involvment in the process.

Trail patrol and enforcement is an important ranger activity. This essential park staff duty is where much of the limited budget for staff must be going. One duty should include the anticipation of deadfalls by noting potential problem trees along the trail corridor. I’ll bet that many cases exist where some prudent pruning would avoid complex deadfalls that obscure trail and result in resource compromise due to volunteer trail go-arounds. Obviously there are several constraints. Among them are the facts that trees (dead or alive) are habitat as the homes of wildlife, trees provide shade for trail users, trees conserve soil and impede erosion, trees produce food for the fauna, trees produce nuts and seeds vital to their succession, and they are beautiful.

From a cyclist’s advocacy point of view performing trailwork is politically good for maintaining access. The level of volunteer trailwork enthusiasm may be used as an indicator of a leading and valid user group. If trails are wisely and properly built and maintained by volunteers, threats to their access will probably be diminished. Maintaining a regular trailwork schedule guarantees regular interaction with the land managers. The communication that results and the trailwork results in cooperation and a mutually beneficial readiness and openess to deal with any sort of issue that may develop.

From a practical standpoint, the Coe trailwork that ROMP volunteers have provided for the Trail Advisory Council, have immediate positive effects upon the trail experience for all users. Drainage relief and treadwork provides a good tread for hikers and trail runners and preserves the trail corridor for the future. Brushing prevents scratches and crashes due to hooking bars and not being able to see properly, reduces exposuure to ticks (not for the brushers themselves!), and makes route finding simple and prevents people from becoming disoriented, and maintains a high clearance needed by equestrians.

There is some disagreement concerning trail sanitation, drainage construction techniques, and trail corridor brushing widths. I’ve seen criticisms especially on the mtbr.com Norcal forum, and recieved them through the grapevine as well. I will discuss these in turn. There is no a final word on this, as we are pretty much dealing with aesthetic considerations and opinions. Which leads to this important fact everyone should realize: Three values must always be reconciled, often in compromise, in trailwork: Conservation, practicality, and aesthetics.

Width of brushing trail corridors is an issue. The State recommends that the trail be brushed to 4 feet wide. That by fiat of policy is our minimum goal. Obviously mountain biker trail-width only needs to be as wide as our handlebars, and most of us, including myself, enjoy narrower trails for certain reasons. For certain, narrow trails amplify the sensation of speed, which is a satisfaction. The wider the brushing corridor is, the more road-like the trail becomes, and if the tread is smooth enough, higher speeds are possible. The reality is that brush grows quite fast. We are not allowed to use power-tools as volunteers (although there is some advocacy going on to reverse this through a certifiaction program). Brushing is labor intensive.

Some regard the wide brushing of a trail as a negative. That is a short term view, though. The reality from the perspective of a volunteer leader systematically attempting to maintain a large trail system is that it is not practical to brush each trail once a year. The fact is that no matter how agressive we are, the brush grows back faster than we want. So the narrow trail easily returns in a season and a half. Now if there was a larger pool of labor and leadership maybe we could prune and groom the trails, but I don’t see that happening.

It’s sort of like the kid who wants another pet. If the kid is not taking care of the current pet, how can Mom and Dad justify getting another pet? Well, we want to develop new and better trails and improve existing ones. In order to get to these projects we need to demonstrate, in a way, that we can take care of what we have already.

The legacy trails in Coe are sometimes amazingly steep. Not designed originally for recreation, we often discover that they are difficult to pedal up. Many trails we ride are ridden as downhills only. Usually they are only the less experienced visitors who try to go up them.

The park has done a fair job of providing some more reasonable grades on trails near trailheads. But deeper into the backcountry there are many trails that go to 40% grades in places! The still steep (up to 26%), but climb-worthy trails around Hunting Hollow, such as Spike Jones, Anza, Jackson, and maybe the Grapevine, have all come under the blades of TAC and ROMP volunteers in recent years. Our efforts have effectively controlled erosion through the construction and maintenance of an extensive series of drains and tread repairs. On these four trails future sporadic trail work will hopefully be no more than drain cleaning and improved shaping. Some drain transitions are too abrupt. Some drains are redundant. And most drains should be converted into broader knicks and outslopes. Doing this would mean breaking down the berms more. The soil from this could be used to repair tread, filling gutters, and building up reversals, and can only be done when the soil is moist. For
sure we’ll need to work on blending them in, and making them less of a detraction.

I think next season’s trailwork should concentrate on continued work up Grizzly Gulch to address the many problems there, East Cross Canyon, Willow Ridge, and perhaps even Middle Ridge in the north. Before summer is over I would like to have finished brushing and drainage on the White Tank, Coit Ridge, Pacheco Creek area.

And as for sanitizing the technicality out of the trails, that is never our intention. I do not view gullies and comb ruts caused by hydraulic erosion as desirable technical features. The work we do attempts to reduce this outcome. Obviously I’ve spent a lot of time thinking on this. In Coe, in general, there aren’t ever many sustained technical areas due to the wonderful soil and relatively low numbers of large rocks in the trail. And I recognize that myself and others actually enjoy some of the very steepest trails as they are, as ridiculous as they are. To attempt to address every unsustainable grade and build realignments to them is an unrealistic proposition. My view is that only the super fall-line grade trails that empty out at stream beds are the ones which should be systematically modified (to reduce their impact on the riparian habitat). Not all trails need to be climbable for cyclists. Exceptions exist, however, where trails go close to or even over
archaeological sites, for an example.

In conclusion the focus on volunteer trail work in Coe will continue to be on tread repair, drainage, and brushing next season. We will probably be called upon to conduct an exceptional and apparently extensive realignment of the bottom of Spike Jones next winter. And we will do some realignment exercises on certain problem trail sections and file project evaluation forms for staff review on these.

We are getting a new trailwork sponsor as well. It is important to reward and recognize our volunteers. To that end, we try to arrange at least one or two overnight backcountry trips for them.

Thanks to everyone who helped out this past season at Coe doing trailwork and the IMBA Trail Care Crew visit. I am looking forward to having more fun in the dirt and the sticks.

-Paul Nam