Extra RMFI workday in social-trail effort at GoG

       An extra workday has been scheduled by the Rocky Mountain Field Institute (RMFI) in the project it began this spring to close off social trails in the heavily used, central grassy area of the Garden of the Gods (just west of the Gateway Rock formations).

Sydney Leichliter (left) and Merrill Schmidt, work/study students with the Rocky Mountain Field Institute (RMFI). were among the "Garden greeters" during RMFI workdays to close off social trails in the heavily used central area of the Garden of the Gods this spring. Greeters manned a table and made project information available to inquisitive passersby. Also serving as greeters for the workdays were volunteers with the Friends of Garden of the Gods.
Courtesy of Rocky Mountain Field Institute

       The federally funded National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC), which has nine outdoor-trained youths (age 18 to 24) working with RMFI for part of the summer, will organize the added workday, Saturday, June 11, from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Up to 50 volunteers are welcome. Reservations are necessary at 471-7736 or e-mail rmfi@rmfi.org.
       According to Becky Reed, RMFI executive director, the type of work led by NCCC will be much the same as the non-profit RMFI's previous six workdays at the Garden since early May. After the “social trails” [user-made paths forking off official trails] are identified, they are tilled and recontoured with hand tools near the fork to reduce drainage problems. The tilled area is then seeded with native grasses and topped by an erosion-control mat to stabilize the soil and help the seeds to grow. In places where social trails have been especially cut in, crews place old branches (sometimes called “slash”) “to make them look closed,” Reed said.
       The final steps in the the central Garden project involve city crews coming by later and putting up signs saying the area is being revegetated and installing split-rail fencing to punctuate the message that hikers in the central area should stay on the paved trails only.
       According to Kurt Schroeder, City Parks director, the seeds, matting, fencing and signage costs are being covered by part of an annual donation from the Garden of the Gods Trading Post, a gift shop/restaurant at the south end of the park off Beckers Lane. The Trading Post donates $16,000 or more per year for Garden maintenance, Schroeder said.
       Supported by grants and donations, RMFI has been working with City Parks for nearly 10 years to repair erosion problems throughout the Garden.
       “Most of the central Garden is in good shape, but it's been crisscrossed by user-made trails,” Reed said. “The park is so small, just 1,400 acres, but it gets almost 2 million people a year. Its visitor density is 100 times that of Rocky Mountain National Park.”
       Nevertheless, the seeded areas around the closed-off trails “will come back great if people respect the closure,” she said.
       The project is ambitious enough that even with a big volunteer turnout June 11, more central-area social trail work is anticipated in the fall, when RMFI will come back with more Garden workdays, and even into the spring of 2012. “It's a multi-year project,” Reed said.
       Because of the prominent nature of the RMFI effort this year, the organization sets up a table with the volunteer Friends of Garden of the Gods (FOGG) and has people serving as public “greeters” in the central Garden area during workdays. “That's worked out great,” said Liz Nichol, another RMFI staff person. “When people stop by, we get to explain about the problem with social trails.”
       The education process is not always a certainty, however. Nichol related a story she'd heard from one greeter who, after pointing out the problems caused by a nearby social trail to a seemingly attentive hiker, watched that hiker turn and walk away… right down that social trail.

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