‘Loved to death’ – Red Rock Friends struggle with user errors

       In the past decade, volunteer trail workers have spent thousands of hours at the Garden of the Gods, repairing erosion problems caused by exploring hikers creating “social trails.”

One of the most prevalent problems at Red Rock Canyon Open Space is social trails. Here, two hikers can be seen following the authorized and maintained Contemplative Trail, while forking off to the right is an unsigned, unofficial trail, probably started by exploring types and walked in over time by other hikers.
Westside Pioneer photo

       Red Rock Canyon Open Space, which the city opened to the public in fall 2004, is beginning to suffer the same fate, according to the Friends of Red Rock Canyon (FORC). On top of that, there are new problems: vandalism and deliberate (not “social”) creation of unauthorized trails, according to Bob Johnson, president of the volunteer group, which works with City Parks to care for the 790-acre property.
       Writing in the group's quarterly newsletter, the Red Rock Rag, Johnson says “Our open space is being 'loved to death,' not by overuse of existing trails but rather by individuals creating new social trails (paths off the original trail). Often times the social trails are created by curious citizens that do not realize the damage that they are doing to the land.”
       Of late, another problem has begun surfacing, Johnson adds in the recently published Winter 2012 issue. “On a more sobering note, there seems to be an increase in vandalism and renegade trail creation in the Open Space. I trust everyone that receives this newsletter is of the same opinion that we share within the Board of Directors - a few malefactors are ruining the open space for their own pleasures. There can never be enough park rangers to catch perpetrators in the act of spray-painting rock hogbacks, creating bike jumps everywhere, chipping out fossils, dropping or tossing filled doggie bags, and the list continues.”
       Asked about these issues, Scott Abbott, the city's regional parks, trails and open space supervisor, said he sees a two-fold situation - problems that are caused out of love for the open space (such as the jumps) and those that are caused out of destructiveness (such as chipping fossils). But either way, it takes work to repair the damage. One way the public can help - short of joining Friends workdays - is to be scouts on the trails, taking note of activity that seems out of the ordinary. Any help the public can provide in reporting such problems is “actively encouraged,” Abbott said.
       In such cases, “people can always call or e-mail,” he said. His phone is 385-6542, and his e-mail is sabbott@springsgov.com.
       Recently, for example, Abbott said, “we did have some pretty bad graffiti that was brought to our attention by a user, and we got on it quickly.”
       An additional problem that rangers might not always see is transient campers, who tend to look for hidden locations. “We literally can't get to all the nooks and crannies” (where they might go), he said.

Red Rock Canyon Open Space has an official "free-ride area," built by cyclists, but evidently that's not enough for those who created this unauthorized downhill run elsewhere in the park.
Courtesy of Robert Johnson

       Johnson also pointed out in his newsletter comments that official trails in open spaces such as Red Rock are there because their routes have met the scrutiny of location and maintainability. They “are not just cut out of the mountains without any thought,” Johnson writes. “A master plan, which must take the habitat, animals, terrain and other things into consideration, is developed by professionals and vetted through public hearings before any changes to the land are made. The master plan is the road map for the lands. RRC had all of its trails designed and approved by experts and the public.”
       When crews build a trail along a designated route, extra work is required to widen it to at least 2 feet, to set the tread angle to allow proper runoff, and to create retaining walls, steps or water bars to ensure safety and longevity.
       And yet a common problem for Friends groups is to find new trails being simply “walked in” by users. Often these social trails peter out, potentially leaving unsuspecting users annoyed or disoriented. Uncared for, such trails typically include unsafe spots or aggravate existing drainage problems.
       On the deliberate side of the problem, one or more people are suspected of routinely removing brush that the city or volunteers place to cover up some social trails and even of defacing park signs by using them to mark in their own trails.
       All citizens are welcome to participate in this year's master plan process aimed at combining Red Rock with Section 16 and White Acres (two neighboring parcels, recently purchased through the Trails, Open Space and Parks sales tax). Dates for upcoming meetings will be announced in the Westside Pioneer.

Westside Pioneer article