Updog Mountain Bike Trail: A Tragic Tale
What's Updog?by Jackie Baker
It's like mom always said: ask first.
The Updog trail began several years ago in Utah's Little Cottonwood Canyon as a way to link Snowbird Resort with the upper end of the Little Cottonwood trail, which terminates just a few miles west of the Bird.
Top-secret trail building operation
A group of Salt Lake cyclists took stealth missions to clear scrub off a former mining trail turned wildlife path. After nearly four years of work, the trail, including a section of gut-wrenching boulders, short, steep climbs, and several stunts over otherwise unridable sections, was complete.
One of the rider-built stunts on Updog. Photo by Carl P. Cavallaro
At first, no more than ten people knew about the trail. But soon word got out. Techy trail riders began to shuttle it, but use was still small. Even though the unauthorized trail was technically on Forest Service land, since it was built onto a preexisting trail, the Forest Service let it go. But as more people attempted to ride the challenging Updog, less experienced bikers started walking around sections they couldn't ride. This created multiple trails. In Spring 2004 people began cutting their own trails through the thin forest, and the Forest Service quickly swooped in and shut it down
Photo by Carl P. Cavallaro
Signs were posted stating the consequences for anyone who attempted to use the trail. There is little space in the canyon for wildlife, so the impacts of the new trail couldn't be ignored. The creation of even more trails adds to erosion and detracts from habitat.
Everyone can learn from what happened on Updog
The Forest Service reserves the right to close trails due to fire danger, erosion, or negative impact on wildlife. If you begin building a new trail off of an existing trail without permission, you could quickly see the whole thing closed to prevent further damage.
Whether you're traveling by bike, on foot, on horseback, with llamas, donkeys, or dogs, in the high country, in the plains, or in the tropics, if you see a potential site for a new trail, and are unsure if the site is located on public or private land, contact your local Ranger District. Not only will you learn whether or not you'll be trespassing, but you'll also find out any reason why there are currently no trail in the area; is it because of wildlife habitat, erosion issues, or a watershed?
Use the Forest Service trail building system-it works
General trail maintenance is necessary, especially in the spring when deadfall and debris tend to obstruct pathways. But Ken Coleman, an information assistant with the Wasatch-Cache Ranger District warns, "Budgets tend to be limited for trail maintenance, but we don't want people out there with tools or chainsaws. The Ranger Districts can set up workdays, and works with local groups to improve trails."
In addition to your local USDA Forest Service Ranger District, there are several groups that work nationally and internationally to promote sound trail building, maintenance, and travel. These groups include: the American Hiking Society, IMBA, and Leave No Trace.
There are easy ways to keep existing trails healthy
Early in the season you're more likely to come across trail challenges like tumbled boulders, avalanche debris, or downed or broken trees. If you can scramble safely over the obstructions, and remain on the original trail, go for it.
"One of the biggest problems in the early season," said Coleman, "is people going around mud or deadfall. It creates multiple trails, which destroys habitat at the sides of trails and creates more opportunity for erosion." When the obstructions are moved, the multiple trails that have been created will take a long time to heal, especially if people confuse the alternate routes with the original trail and continue to use them.
Avoid the muddy mess
As for muddy trails in general, stay off of them for a few days after a storm. If you encounter an extremely muddy section, use existing rocks or logs to pass over it, as opposed to traveling off of the trail. Coleman suggests this rule of thumb to prevent sticky situations, "If the mud feels squishy under your boot, or if the mud comes up over the welt of your boot, the trail needs more time to dry." Look for trails at lower elevations, with less shade, or built on more durable surfaces instead.
At a certain point, you've just gotta put your foot down.
No matter how you're looking to improve your local trail system, be sure to contact the appropriate authorities before you begin work. This will guarantee that your work is legal, and will keep fellow trail users and the environment remain safe. Be diligent about treating your trails well and you'll be able to enjoy them season after season.