From Darkness To Light

21 Jan 2019

Improved game trail targeted for closure with newly approved Sky Raider Trail

Posted by Adam Howell

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An improved game trail is the target of closure following the approval of the new Sky Raider Trail that will connect the Powerline Trail to Raider Ridge at the top of Rocky Road.

Image of the upper third of the slope from the existing game trail.

Named the Sky Raider Trail, this new connector trail will replace an improved game trail that City officials and residents have labeled as a social trail.

City officials labeled this fall-line trail as a social trail because they believed it was created by people.

Labeling the trail as “social” also provided the City with a controlling narrative that helped them to demonize its unsanctioned existence and promote its closure.

Satellite imagery suggests people improved existing game trail

The City’s narrative on the existing trail has a minutia of truth behind it.

Over the years, for instance, some brush on the game trail was removed by people.  Google Earth imagery suggests that between August, 2006 and August, 2011, someone removed brush along the game trail that leads up to the saddle on Raider Ridge.

Satellite image from August, 2011.

Satellite image from 1993.

In all likelihood, however, the trail alignment originated as a game trail and wildlife is still the dominant user group there because of how steep it is.

Wildlife also probably visit the existing alignment because of how rarely people use it during the winter.

With less oak brush and tree canopy along the existing trail, it also provides a degree of edge habitat.

Edge habitat on the current trail is the boundary between thick oak brush, pine and juniper fuel types and the opening created by the existing trail corridor.

The existing trail is in the bottom of a drainage coming off of the saddle on top of the ridge.

Blaming people solely for existence of the trail and then demonizing it for lacking sustainability is a tactic similar to ones previously used by City officials to justify closing other social trails.

“Social trails have a pretty big impact on habitat fragmentation, and a lot of times those are built without any regard whatsoever to sensitive areas identified by biologists,” said Durango’s Natural Resources Manager Amy Schwarzbach.

Sky Raider Trail construction contingent upon game trail closure

Approval and construction of the Sky Raider Trail is contingent upon the closure of the existing social trail, said Schwarzbach.

When the City or Trails 2000 closes a trail, they take brush, rocks, logs and duff from surrounding areas, and throw it across the trail.

Repeatedly, we see examples of trails that the City of Durango closed against the desires of its residents. What happened to those trails?

At least three trails that people cherished have been opened back up by rogue actors.

For example, when the City sends in a crew of paid staff to close trails, they spend around $148 to $443 dollars per day in labor costs, according to City officials.

Demonizing the appearance of existing game trail

The existing trail that connects Powerline Trail to a saddle on Raider Ridge was demonized by several people at meetings about the new Sky Raider Trail.

“We are going to require the closing of the social trails that are currently scarring the hillside from north to south along the ridge line,” said Schwarzbach.

Leslie Goldstein, who lives on Jenkins Ranch Road, said that she supports the Sky Raider Trail proposal for several reasons.

An improved game trail can be seen connecting to a saddle at the top of Raider Ridge.

“The social trails, which I just found out is a nice way of saying bush whacking, is danger, quite frankly. We see people coming up and down all the time. It scares me that one of those people running up and down, will be my son and his friends, at some point. I would much rather there be a trail that he can take, and that we can all take safely,” said Goldstein.

Caroline Kulesza, who also lives on Jenkins Ranch Road, said that she supports the Sky Raider Trail proposal.

“I have longed to go to the top of the ridge. I do not walk that trail, because it is a social trail. It looks dangerous. I’ve been up there, I ride along the powerline. I don’t want to walk that trail, but I very much want to go to the top of the ridge. And I don’t want to take the time to walk all the way down and up Skyline, and around or around in Horse Gulch.

Historic game trail has supporters

It might have been a game trail to begin with, but somebody went in there with a handsaw and eventually removed some brush, said Rob Milofsky.

The preexisting game trail.

Either way, the existing trail is one that he and his wife have used to train for more arduous mountaineering adventures.

“Shoot, there was a summer we did it four days a week for training to climb Kilimanjaro,” said Rob.

Rob’s wife, Amy Milofsky, is a supporter of the existing trail.

“We use the social trails,” said Amy. “I actually kind of like the social trails.”

“If they close them down, I feel like more are going to be made,” said Amy.

“Build the newer trail wherever it is, but just keep the social trails, just leave them alone,” said Amy Milofsky. “The majority of users, I think, would use the improved trail. Because it’s easier, it’s more conducive to what they want to do. A few people will still use the social trails. And the deer would use them.”

Before and after the Sky Raider Trail is built, the number of people using the the social trail should be studied, said Rob.

“Build the new trail,” said Rob. “Monitor use of the existing trail, and see if the use went down by 90% or something.”

Alternative alignments

Sky Raider Trail went through one previous iteration before being approved.

What changed the most was that that the bottom of the trail was moved away from the Molas Drive pedestrian path, apparently as a way to discourage people from using Molas Drive as a trailhead for accessing Sky Raider Trail.

As a way of to help reduce the gradient, the trail was also lengthened from .7 miles to .9 miles, said Schwarzbach.

Average grade of the new alignment: 9.6%, said Schwarzbach.

A change that was made to reduce the impact of the Sky Raider Trail is that trail construction will now be done by hand, instead of being machine built.

Image courtesy of Rob Milofsky.

Rob and his wife Amy, who live on Molas Drive, wonder if there’s another place where the trail could come off of the hill that would provide a better use of the topography.

It could connect to the access road for the water tanks after it descends down off of the saddle at the top of Raider Ridge.

A convenience of routing the trail to the northeast is that a natural bench in the topography could be used to scrub the speed of cyclists and water coming down off of the hill.

Connecting the trail to the access road would also be in an area that’s further away from houses, said Amy Milofsky.

Image courtesy of Rob Milofsky.

In response to this alternative, the Natural Lands Board mostly ignored this suggestion.

My comments in support of studying a possible connection to the access road by the above-ground water tank were also ignored.

The idea of connecting the trail to the water tank access road was also maligned by the City of Durango’s Utilities Director Levi Loyd, said Schwarzbach, for creating a security threat to the tanks from potential vandalism.

A potential for erosion on the steep access roads to the water tanks was another concern, said Parks and Recreation Director Cathy Metz.

Sky Raider Trail approved without further compromise

Either way, the Natural Lands Board agreed with the second iteration of the Sky Raider Trail, and chose not to explore any further options.

Image courtesy of city of Durango.

Before any more alignment options could be explored, board member Mark Smith made a motion to approve the trail proposal as is.

The board approved the modified proposal at their meeting on January 14, 2018, long before weather conditions would be favorable for trail construction to begin.

Even with the final Board-approved alignment, the Milofskys will use the Sky Raider Trail, said Rob.

I was the only member to vote against the Sky Raider Trail proposal because I don’t think that the existing game trail should be obliterated and obstructed by slash and debris.

Adam Howell is a writer who is on the city of Durango’s Natural Lands Preservation Advisory Board. He can be reached by clicking on this link to the contact page.

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2 Responses to “Improved game trail targeted for closure with newly approved Sky Raider Trail”

  1. For every uphill/”multi use” trail build, there should be a directional downhill trail built.



  2. I don’t think that the City Boards and staff would take kindly to ultimatums and quotas on trail equality.
    However, it would make sense for the rerouted version of “Down and Out” to have some progressive features. Sky Raider Trail will connect right next to it. The terrain is right for it.


    Adam Howell

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