Friday, July 19

The Crestone Eagle is a nonprofit monthly newspaper serving Crestone and the San Luis Valley

Land, Water & People: Roads in the Rio Grande Forest

By Kelly Defaye.

I know, this column typically discusses current matters in the mountains surrounding the San Luis Valley, but humor me for a moment while we go a little farther afield and a little further back in time.

I want to tell you about Patti. In 1998, Patti began volunteering with the San Juan National Forest and their nonprofit partner, the San Juan Mountains Association. She drove the forest roads, looking at them from a visitor’s perspective to see how appealing they were, checking aspects like cleanliness, hazards such as brush obscuring visibility, road and sign damage, and so on. And then Patti started forming a plan.

Patti wanted to improve the state of the roads she drove, but there were a lot of questions to consider. She started thinking about how people could safely be on the roads to clean up trash, clear brush, and note the road and sign damage. How many miles could someone realistically cover? Which roads should be covered? And above all, how to keep everyone as safe as possible? Because, of course, that is the highest concern.

As she found the answers to her questions, Patti started talking to the community of forest users. She visited with a lot of people — a whole lot of people including ranch families, jeep and off-highway vehicle (OHV) clubs, hiking groups, fire departments, and the list went on and on.

After doing a complete survey of both the Dolores and Columbine Ranger Districts, the idea for an Adopt-A-Road program was approved in 2000. Then it was time to really get to work. Patti started signing up volunteers. They chose the road they wanted to adopt, signed the required paperwork, and got to work. 

A volunteer group, which could be a family, a business, a church or school group, etc., signs up for a five-mile stretch of a highly traveled, 2-wheel-drive Forest Service roadway. They agree to go out a minimum of twice a year to clean up trash, clear brush, and check for any damage like broken or missing signs or blocked culverts. While the minimum is twice a year, Patti tells me some people go out more frequently simply because they want to be out there. After a year, San Juan Mountains Association puts a sign on the road, identifying the group and thanking them for adopting that section of road.

Safety training is required, and there are some safety regulations that need to be followed as well. Patti has been running the program for more than 20 years, and she’s seen the consequences that can happen when those safety measures are ignored. She told me that once someone ignored the safety regulation to never lean out of an OHV to pick up trash. The woman pulled upslope and leaned out to get something and the OHV tipped over on her, causing serious injury. After 20 years, Patti has ironed out all the kinks in the program, which now includes over 300 volunteers in the San Juan National Forest.

So, let’s bring it back to the here and the now. We’re looking at implementing this program here on the Rio Grande National Forest and need your help. We’re going to start determining which roads fit the profile for use and safety, and we’re going to start signing up volunteers. 

Does this sound like a way for you or a group you know, whoever they may be, to connect with our wild lands? Is there a stretch of the 250 or the 41G that is near and dear to your heart? Or maybe you spend a lot of time at Rio Grande Reservoir or Beaver Creek, and so watching over the 520 or 360 would be more to your liking? Or maybe you’re in charge of a high school club that needs a service project, and the Rock Creek Road would work better for you? Call me at the Divide Ranger Station, 719-657-3321, and let’s chat.

Kelly is the San Juan Mountains Association’s visitor information coordinator for the Rio Grande National Forest. Having grown up in the San Luis Valley, she has always considered the surrounding mountains her happy place.

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