New Trails to be Built in Durango

Approval received following in-depth analysis of Smokejumper’s Trail and Sugar to Skyline connect

Trails 2000 will build two new trails—the Smokejumper’s Trail and a connect from Sugar to Skyline Trails—in Durango during the late fall of 2017. In late September, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) signed off on the environmental analysis (EA) required for trail proposals on federal lands, marking the final step required to start building the new trails. Find out how you can help out at trailwork.

The Smokejumper’s Trail, which will start at the top of Skyline and run north from Raider Ridge, is in honor of Joseph Philpott who died in an avalanche in 2013. Philpott grew up in Durango and went on to major in Forestry at NAU and CSU. He worked for the BLM as a smokejumper based in Boise, Idaho. Joe was an adventurous, conscientious young man and his parents were interested in honoring him to capture his dynamic nature.

Joseph Philpott.

“When we came to Trails 2000, Mary [Monroe Brown, executive director] suggested that we work on a trail that would reflect Joe’s amazing life and personality with a trail from Raider Ridge north on the BLM land. When we walked it, it felt like Joe,” said Margo Philpott, Joe’s mother. “It has beautiful ridgetop views, it’s rugged and is part of a long traverse that he used to run and train on.”

In 2014, Trails 2000 completed the Sugar Trail, connecting Skyline to Horse Gulch Road. (The Skyline Trail was built by Trails 2000 in 2009 to connect the Skyridge area to Powerline and the top of Hyper Extended Ridge.) Trails 2000 hoped to connect Sugar directly to Skyline at that time, but a portion of the trail would need to cross BLM land.

Trails on federal lands (Forest Service and BLM) require a level of environmental analysis necessary for NEPA—the National Environmental Policy Act. Trails 2000 entered into the proposal process and hired local environmental consultant, Heidi McGrath, a good friend of Joe’s and the Philpott family, to help see it through to completion.

“EAs are a lot of work and require analyzing various environmental impacts, from wildlife and plants to soils and recreation. It’s a time consuming process and a bit arduous, especially for small nonprofits. In Durango, we are surrounded by 60 percent of public lands, and trail proposals like that of Trails 2000 are an important economic driver for our community,” said McGrath, owner of Columbine Environment based in Durango. She added, “I was excited to be involved in this project since I knew Joe and the Philpott family would love the trail.”

The analysis also included a cultural resource survey to assess any artifacts that may exist on the trail. The cultural study, of which no artifacts were identified, was donated by ERO Resources, an environmental consulting firm based in Denver with a satellite office in Durango. “Trails 2000 does so much for our community, and as a trail user who owns a company in town, I was happy to find a way to give back by donating the analysis,” said Sean Larmore, principle investigator of ERO Resources in Durango.

In general, the process of how a trail becomes a trail can take anywhere from two to five years to complete. It requires involvement from various land managers and stakeholders, many of whom are long-time partners of Trails 2000, and involves idea development and research, to proposal and review, and finally to approval and building. (The Trails 2000 infographic, How a Trails Becomes a Trail, helps to illustrate this in-depth process.)

“The process [of how a trail becomes a trail] is complex; it requires vision, strategy and a certain level of tenacity,” said Trails 2000 board member, Christina Rinderle. “You need an organization like Trails 2000 out in front, gathering feedback, and keeping in touch with the community so you can devise a plan and see it through to completion.”

Trails 2000 will start building the trails, October 30 through November 2 (9 am to 5pm each day), and seeks volunteers to help out at trailwork. Details can be found at Trails 2000 Online Calendar and RSVP on Facebook. Volunteers are invited to come for as long or little as they can, and no experience is necessary as Trails 2000 crews will be on site with all tools, instruction and safety, and water and snacks for volunteers. The Philpott family plans to install the commemorative sign for the Smokejumper’s Trail in November.

“We feel grateful and honored to be part of helping expand the Trails 2000 trail system. We feel like it’s a way to give back to our community, by helping create something lasting, as well as to remember and honor Joseph,” said Margo Philpott.

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