Trucks, Jeeps, SUVs and UTVs gathered at a parking lot along Mill Canyon Road on the morning of Mar. 1, bringing 14 volunteers to spend a few hours on trail maintenance on the Monitor & Merrimac 4×4 route. The participants were all off-road enthusiasts, and many work in the industry. They said they were motivated to donate their time and labor by their love and respect for the area’s natural beauty and a desire to keep access to the trails open.
“This is one of my favorite trails,” Nick Oldham, general manager of local guide and rental company High Point Hummer, said. “It has a little of everything that you find in Moab: dinosaur tracks for the kids, an arch, towers.” The trail begins near the Mill Canyon Dinosaur Trackway and passes by the huge buttes that give the route its name; on the way, travelers can catch views of the Determination Towers and at least one sandstone arch.
Mark Pope, a member of the local 4×4 group Red Rock 4Wheelers who participated in the volunteer day, added that the trail itself has the range of Moab’s variety, while remaining moderate for 4×4 drivers. It has rocky, ledgy sections, steep hills, sandy sections, and slickrock. Oldham, who has worked for High Point Hummer for 15 years, has guided the trail many times—as many as 2,000, he said—and he’s still not tired of it.
The volunteers were assembled for a “rake & ride” organized by the Grand County Motorized Trails Advisory Committee with support from the Bureau of Land Management. Several High Point Hummer guides attended the trail maintenance event as a paid work day. Another two participants were trail guides from Bronco Off-Roadeo Moab, a program through which purchasers of Bronco vehicles can learn about off-road driving and their vehicle’s capabilities on guided adventure trips. Three volunteers were tourists from the midwest. After years of enjoying vacations in Moab, they’d decided to spend one of their vacation days giving back to the area. Oldham said it was one of the better turnouts for a rake & ride that he’s seen.
MTC Chair Clif Koontz and BLM Park Ranger John Clevenger gathered the group ahead of the ride to explain the day’s objectives—mainly to delineate the route where it had been widened or braided, using rocks and dead tree branches—and volunteers consolidated vehicles and started up the trail.
Several sections are already delineated by permanent fencing, which Oldham said was largely the work of Ride with Respect, a local trail advocacy nonprofit of which Koontz is the executive director. Oldham said the constructed fences are a last resort—trail users enjoy a sense of remoteness in the desert around Moab, and that sense can be diminished by signs and fences.
The first stop was just a few minutes up the trail above a series of switchbacks. Participants jumped out and got to work right away raking out tire tracks from an unwanted pull-out. It was one of the first warm, sunny days of spring, and jackets came off as people heaved rocks to block off access to the impacted area. Clevenger installed brown carbonite BLM signs labeling the area closed.
The group stopped at six or seven locations within the first few miles of the approximately 10-mile loop, sometimes having to scavenge large rocks or dead tree branches from several hundred yards away to define the edges of the road and clearly block off unwanted tracks.
At one intersection, drivers had spun loops around a clump of vegetation at the meeting of two trails, digging a circular groove several feet deep into the sand. “That’s disappointing,” Oldham said as he surveyed the damage. Volunteers shoveled the high banks back down into the bottom of the rut and planted cedar posts, which volunteers from High Point Hummer had brought from elsewhere that morning, into the ground to close the loop.
After stopping at a scenic high point for lunch, volunteers carried on into the early afternoon, addressing problem spots for the first few miles of the route. Some returned to the trailhead the way they’d come, and others enjoyed the rest of the loop. Koontz said that even though there wasn’t time to work on the whole trail, it’s helpful to put a lot of noticeable effort into the first few miles especially, making it apparent that the trail is cared for. That can nudge people toward being more careful and observant of where they should and shouldn’t go. If the first few miles set the tone, he said, “maybe people will carry that attitude with them the rest of the trail.”
Learn more about MTC rake & ride events on the group’s Facebook page.