Local volunteer trail-builder Tyson Swasey works to complete a new section of the Jimmy Keen Trail while Melissa Beaury rolls up with her bicycle. [Courtesy photo]

Thanks to efforts by the U.S. Forest Service (USFS), and numerous volunteers, there will be more opportunities for non-motorized recreation in the La Sal Mountains this summer.

As part of the Moab Non-Motorized Trail Project (MNMTP), the USFS has begun construction on the first of 24 new trail sections to be completed over the next few years.

“The new trails being built will provide for the increased recreation use that is occurring on the mountain and will provide for a wider range of recreational opportunities,” USFS recreation, trails, and wilderness manager Brian Murdock said.

The first trail section to be completed will be a segment of the new Jimmy Keen Trail (JKT) trail located on the northwestern end of the La Sal Mountains. When finished, the JKT will form a 10-mile connecting loop with the Upper Porcupine Single-track (UPS) trail. Seven miles of new trail will be constructed, and three miles of existing road will be utilized.

Volunteers at a “trail weekend camp-out” sponsored by Rim Tours, and members of the Moab Mountain Bike Association worked with the USFS for two days on the trail in May. A USFS trail crew, and members of the Canyon Country Youth Corp, worked eight more days to create 3.5 miles of new trail. Murdock hopes to have the first section of JKT open by the end of June, with the rest of the trail to be completed this fall.

Local volunteer trail-builder, biker, and bike shop worker Tyson Swasey, is pleased with the progress.

“It’s super exciting,” he said. “Mountain biking is such a huge part of our economy. It’s great to see the Forest Service working in a positive direction.”

Swasey also said that the JKT trail will be a great intermediate trail, which is something that the La Sal Mountains have been lacking. It will also be a great trail to ride during the early and late seasons when snow up high closes off other trails.

The MNMTP came about as the result of a need for more recreational opportunities in the La Sal Mountains, and to minimize conflict between different user groups.

“The current trail system didn’t come about with recreation in mind,” Murdock said.

Instead, the trails developed over time in response to traditional uses such as sheep and cattle grazing, and mining. As a result, many of the trails are steep, rugged, and difficult to navigate, especially for mountain bikes.

The MNMTP has been in the works for over four years. The USFS solicited public comment and conducted public meetings as well as an environmental assessment (EA). The process took into account recreational needs and conflicts, as well as resource protection and wildlife concerns.

In September 2013, the USFS issued a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) which gave the go-ahead for the construction of nearly 30 miles of trail on 24 new trail sections. Many of the sections will serve as connectors to existing trails like the 1.5-mile Geyser Pass to Burro Pass trailhead segment that is slated for construction this summer.

“This will enhance the Whole Enchilada trail by making it possible to ride on single track all the way from the Geyser Pass trailhead,” Murdock said.

Because of budgetary constraints, the USFS often uses volunteers to help construct trails. Matt Hebberd, co-owner of Rim Tours, sponsors “trail weekends” where his company provides all the meals for volunteers who camp out and build trail for the weekend. They work under the supervision of the USFS, and use Forest Service hand tools to construct trails.

“On the JKT trail weekend, we had 24 people camping out,” Hebberd said.

The next trail weekend will be at La Sal Pass on July 12-13, with one more planned for sometime in September. Hebberd hopes to help the USFS make a lot of progress on trails this summer, and he encourages people to come out for the volunteer trail weekends and camp-outs.

“The more volunteers we get, the more trails we get,” he said.

Murdock agrees, and he would like to encourage people to come up to the mountains, and help build trails as well as enjoy them.

“Most people don’t think of high alpine mountains and cool pine forests when they think of Moab, but we have just that within a 30 minute drive from town.”

“Mountain biking is such a huge part of our economy. It’s great to see the Forest Service working in a positive direction.”

La Sals will soon have 30 miles of new non-motorized routes

Trail volunteers

For more information on trails and recreation in the La Sal Mountains, or to participate in the upcoming volunteer trail weekend on July 12-13, contact Brian Murdock at the USFS, 435-259-7155.