The Making of a Trail Reroute

You will soon likely see some new trail being built near Romantic Ridge, where Hillside Trail swings up and over it. The KNPS and KTS put a lot of time and effort into planning this reroute, and we wanted to share some of the considerations to help park users appreciate what goes into these decisions.

First is the annual convening of the KNPS Trail Upgrades Committee (TUC) in late winter. This year’s committee consisted of four directors and one society member, representing a range of experience with trails management and trail users. We discussed which trails in the park could use some attention to make them more sustainable, and in the end, we nominated two projects as priorities for 2020: 1. two reroutes past steep, loose sections on Romantic Ridge 2. the installation of a boardwalk on Skid Road to deal with springtime mud and water issues near the junction with Southwest Passage

Trail sustainability is largely a matter of physics. How steep are trails? Does water have an opportunity to sheet off of the trail, rather than run down it and carry away dirt? Do trail grades reverse once in a while to allow water to flow off the trail bed? What substances make up the trail bed? How much terrain is above a trail to hold snow, and potentially lead to spring run-off issues?

Natural History Group members searching proposed route for rare plants/flowers.

However, we don’t want to gloss over the other important details that were part of these discussions. The KNPS would like its singletrack trail network to be usable by a range of recreational users, and to have all trails be easily useable by most people in both directions. This means that people can more easily spread out in the park, and trails are not prone to becoming one-way downhill rides for cyclists. Currently, Romantic Ridge is much more frequently ridden from the north end towards the south. Creating gentler grades up to the ridge crest from the junction with Hillside will encourage more two-way flow.

Some TUC members were reluctant to take on a significant reroute of Romantic Ridge without confidence in KNPS’s ability to comprehensively reclaim the closed section of trail. In the past, during similar reroute projects, the organics removed from the surface of the new trail bed have often been dumped on the old trail bed to encourage the regeneration of local plants. These efforts have had limited success. Many of these reroutes have been near the crests of old moraine ridges, which are typically fairly dry and lack good soil and nutrients. Something had to change.

Therefore, a trail reclamation committee was born. More about their work will be explained in a future post, but so far they’ve consulted with professionals and devised new strategies to help ensure better results when reclaiming closed sections of trails, burn scars, and old roads that are not designated trails in the park.

Fine flagging of route for trail builders.

Throughout all stages of the process, KTS General Manager Ryan McKenzie has been kept up to date and has contributed to the discussions about options and strategies. The Trail Upgrades Committee’s recommendations were explained to the KNPS board, and the board voted in favour of carrying out the two 2020 projects as well as improving reclamation strategies. Two very knowledgeable directors volunteered to be part of that process.

Ryan was given the green light to start doing a rough layout of the reroutes. Subsequently, the TUC chair walked the flag lines with Ryan, provided some input, and discussed options. There is both an art and a science to figuring out where trails should go, with many factors involved: trail grade, features to highlight along the way, features to avoid, natural obstacles, places to position turns, how trail flow will be impacted, sight lines, trying to avoid user short-cutting, and more. We also considered an extra option for dealing with the north side of Hillside Trail.

Every significant trail change has involved the Natural History Group’s perspective. In this case, six representatives walked the rough flagging lines and noted whether any important flora could be at risk due to the project. Members flagged off a flower-rich area to be avoided, and the group provided input about which side of the ridge they preferred and how to reclaim the old trail sections.

Coral Root orchids found and marked by Laura Duncan.

At last, Ryan created a final fine flag line and it was reviewed by two KNPS directors. At this point, KTS put out the call for volunteers to help with the trail work, and the reroute began.

A final important note: due to growing conditions for grass seed and shrub plugs, the trail reclamation portion of this project cannot proceed until the fall. This means that both the old and new versions of Romantic Ridge will remain open until fall. At that point, we look forward to applying our new knowledge of trail reclamation.

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