By Roaring Fork Outdoor Volunteers
Red Hill — its trails and views — has become one the most popular spots around to enjoy a vista of Mount Sopris. Last year, the Red Hill Special Recreation Management Area, as the site is officially known, counted approximately 65,000 visitors. As use increases, so do potential challenges for soils, users and land management. That’s the general reason for construction of the new trail this year called the C-Line. But to explain why a new trail is both necessary and good in a space that’s already busy, it’s important to establish some context.
History of the Red Hill Trails Network
The Red Hill Special Recreation Management Area, managed by the federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM), was finalized in 2000 with the help of the nonprofit Red Hill Council.
The land, now owned by the town of Carbondale on the “front-side,” was purchased by Aspen Valley Land Trust in 2017 utilizing grant funds and private donations. Since the acquisition, a new parking lot and a new trailhead were constructed in 2020, creating a gateway to BLM lands.
Community outreach in 2017 identified three separate trails that were preferred to be built, providing distinct routes to reduce potential collision between hikers and bikers. These routes included: Ruthie’s Run Trail, Lower Three Gulch Trail and B-Line Trail. In 2021, the Sutey Ranch Connector Trail was constructed. Finally, this year, the C-Line Trail will be built.
What makes a trail sustainable
The Roaring Fork Valley has an abundance of outdoor recreation opportunities. Between Rifle and Independence Pass, there are nearly 600 miles of trails. The purpose of these trails is to concentrate human and domestic animal impacts, all while providing an enjoyably accessible outdoors experience and conserving natural resources.
With that in mind, there are numerous threats to a good trail. Take water: if it pools stagnantly, mud can form, potentially encouraging users to walk around (therefore widening the trail and damaging sensitive vegetation or soils). On the other hand, if water runs off in an uncontained manner, then structures that support the trail can quickly be eroded. In addition to potential harm to the landscape, other forms of unsustainable trail design include: potential harm to vegetation, potential harm to animal life and potential harm to human users.
Current challenges to sustainable trails at Red Hill are fundamentally related to growing usage. This isn’t to say that hiking and biking Mushroom Rock is bad — just the opposite — a good recreation area deserves good recreation! But, as alluded to above, trails should be designed to realistically accommodate the types and quantities of usage.
Short and sweet, the C-Line Trail will accompany the existing B-Line Trail and is meant to provide a downhill-only alternative route for mountain bikers.
How does this enhance Red Hill’s sustainability? By dividing the downhill and uphill routes, there’s a decreased chance of hiker or biker collisions, therefore reducing potential human harm. By creating a downhill-specific route and anticipating user behaviors, the trail structures (such as rock walls and wooden ramps) can be installed in the right places to protect against erosion. In sum, this short, new trail will have a big impact.
All community members are invited to join Roaring Fork Outdoor Volunteers, the town of Carbondale, Red Hill Council, Roaring Fork Mountain Bike Association and Aspen Valley Land Trust to help construct the C-Line. Visit RFOV.org to learn more and register to volunteer.