YouthCorps Workers Creating New Bike Trails at Ski Hill

Under normal circumstances, it would be fair to assume a hot day in July is a slow time activity-wise at Lake City Ski Hill.
With vintage poma lift poles slowly swaying in the hot summer breeze and a definite lack of anything remotely skiable on the Town of Lake City’s downhill ski slope, activity on the hill does, however, continue to simmer this summer with the town’s ongoing frisbee course and continual expansion and improvement to the mountain bike trail system which was initiated in 2015.
Earlier this week, four teenage members of the YouthCorps team were hard at work on an upper section of the bike route on ski hill property just below the Round Top Road.
The ambitious and hard-working group of youth workers is being overseen by bike trail founder John Paulus who on Monday barked out occasional orders and ongoing encouragement.
Noting that a rake had been left in prone position, Paulus gently chided teen worker Johnny O’Hara, “Johnny, let’s put that rake in a safe position.”
To Rhett Moore, he complimented him on successfully chopping through a particularly tenacious thicket of grass with an underly maze of connected roots. “I can’t believe how much progress you’ve made just this morning.”
The steady chop-chop-chop of repeated blows from shovels, hoedads and rakes reverberated at the upper level ski hill site on Monday as Moore and O’Hara, with Caroline Thompson and T.J. Wonnacott, cut through vegetation on a quarter-mile section of the newly emerging Rocky Loop Trail. Last week the same YouthCorps workers — with the addition of Bennett Levine — worked on another 75’-section of Rocky Loop Trail.
The Rocky Loop, together with the “Finger Loop” which is also being constructed this summer, are part of a series of looping and interconnecting bike trails which are being designed by Paulus and Recreation Director Ben Hake to provide safe and challenging mountain bike experience for all levels of riders.
According to Paulus, ski hill trails really came into existence in 2015 and steadily expanded the past two years utilizing gently sloping and occasionally steep hillside acreage acquired by Town of Lake City from the BLM for ski hill use.
Lake City Ski Hill commenced over 50 years ago on a total of 26 acres near the summit of Crooke’s Hill to the south of Lake City which were acquired from the BLM. Two additional tracts of adjoining BLM land were subsequently acquired, bring the total acreage to 47 acres.
Rather than let the town-owned land sit vacant throughout the summer, Paulus came up with a plan for mountain bike trails, which are also suitable for hikers, trail runners and the potential for winter sports use such as cross country skiing and snowshoeing. The trails are designed for skill levels ranging from beginner to intermediate and expert.
Paulus said his directive in working with the town’s recreation dept. on the new trails was to “guarantee the new trails will be accessible to people who are not used to the altitude.”
“We’ve had a surprising amount of use on the trails already,” says a smiling Paulus. An avid bicyclist, Paulus relates that on an early weekday morning recently, he arrived at the trail complex expecting to have the place to himself.
“When I got here, I found the trails already being used by a half dozen other people,” he says.
The trail system at present is close to two miles in total length, approximately 20 percent of which is rated as suitable for beginner mountain bike enthusiasts and the majority, perhaps 60 percent, rated for intermediate use. The remainder is about 20 percent advanced level, with a thin margin — maybe two percent — estimated by Paulus to be suitable for expert bicyclists.
Trail sections are easily identified, with trails on gently sloping ground adjacent to the ski hill hut
being marked with a calming, green-colored circle. Other trails higher up are also appropriately identified with signs, a blue square for intermediate and, somewhat more alarming, single and double black diamonds reflecting use by advanced and expert bicyclists.
Paulus explains that the single and double black diamonds reflect “a greater degree of difficulty to negotiate,” as well as a “pain penalty if you lose control.”
Listening to Paulus direct his YouthCorps workers on Monday, it quickly becomes apparent that these connecting “Rocky Loop” and “Finger Loop” trails are intended to be environmentally low-impact and far from your boring, paved, straight-as-an-arrow trails which are sometimes encountered.
While protruding rocks, roots and grass clumps are fair game, Paulus emphasizes that natural features such as lichen-covered rocks, rock outcroppings, trees and shrubs are an essential part of what makes this trail system unique and challenging. Rather than a wide expanse, the narrow bike trails pass between trees and brush against boulders which are a natural part of the hillside landscape.
“Drainage,” he says, is the primary requisite in cutting into the hillside to establish the dirt-surface trails. “Caroline,” he yells out, “let’s angle that section to direct water downhill, we don’t want it eroding the trail.”
“Many of the interconnecting trail systems are based on existing deer trails which previously existed on the hillside,” Paulus adds.
As a further explanation of trail-building logistics, Paulus says that for the YouthCorps workers, convenient 6’ to 8’-long sections of envisioned trail are outlined with wood stakes. His energetic workers are then assigned alternate sections “so that we don’t have tools being swung right next to each other.”
As Johnny O’Hara may attest, Paulus also enforces set safety rules on how to properly set down tools which are not being used.
“T.J., that’s a beautiful trail section,” he responds in response to an inquiry on exactly when the next rest session will occur. There’s a collective sigh and slight roll of the eyes as he further imparts, “I think we have about 20 minutes until lunch… maybe we can tackle a new section!”
The trail sections being pioneered by YouthCorps workers through the end of July are carefully plotted with a variety of red and blue-colored stakes. Some of the stakes also mark private property boundaries which are carefully being skirted. Sections of new trail, for instance, are located on the town’s ski hill property adjoining wedge-shaped sections of private property owned by Jim and Randy O’Neill, and Steve and Kamey McEwan. Further north and uphill on the ski hill tract, the town property is bordered by public BLM lands.
Paulus is credited with the inspiration for the developing ski hill bike route but is quick to credit a slew of other workers who add inspiration and brute muscle, key of which is Recreation Director Ben Hake. Paulus was delighted on Monday when Hake unexpectedly appeared on scene and made the dirt fly through a section of jungle-like grass which obscured a section of the Rocky Loop.
Paulus also credits work by Hinsdale Trails volunteers, the legendary trail building group which also provided funds for the bike route’s trail markers. He specifically notes Bob DeWalt and Mike Fleishman, and also mentions that he has enlisted members of his own family in the ongoing trail-building saga.
Paulus began riding mountain bikes with his grandson, Jared Pauley, when Jared was just six years old. Jared has become an avid biker in the interim and during a recent Lake City visit with his father from Longview, Texas, Jamey Pauley, both father and son once again pitched in on the ski hill trail construction.
With a reminder that lunch is now only 17 minutes distant, Paulus returns to his trail-directing labors.
On a serious note, he credits his young charges for quickly adapting to safety rules.
While acknowledging “they’re making very good progress on very tough sections of the trail,” Paulus has a glint in his eye, perhaps looking ahead to the very near future when he’ll be experiencing the thrill of riding the new trail sections.