The Great American Outdoors Act (GAOA) was enacted in 2020 and is the single largest investment in public lands in U.S. History. GAOA funding provides federal land management agencies with critical resources to address deferred maintenance on our public lands. Through this funding, the National Forest Foundation has partnered with the U.S. Forest Service to plan, design, and implement projects that address overdue and much-needed maintenance on the Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre, and Gunnison National Forests.  

In western Colorado, trails are everywhere, and they provide the connective tissue for recreation experience on public lands. On the Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre, and Gunnison (GMUG) National Forests, which encompasses nine counties and more than 2.9 million acres, the U.S. Forest Service manages more than 3,500 miles of trail across an elevation range from 4,980’ to 14,265’. The geographic, topographic, and biological diversity on the GMUG is astounding. The area is so vast it requires 5 Ranger Districts to manage. Approximately 2.27 million visitors recreate on the GMUG annually, based on 2014 data – and that number has most assuredly grown in recent years.

Southwest Conservation Corps crews constructing timber retaining walls on the Dallas Trail.

Trails in the Colorado Rockies are highly erodible due to severe weather, steep gradients, and a variety of recreational use. If not maintained, trails can shift from an effective way to limit impact, to a means to increase impact through soil erosion. Poorly maintained trails can also cause recreationists to get disoriented – a scary proposition in the backcountry. Although the Forest Service does an admirable job every year to try to keep up with maintenance, the massive trail system on the GMUG has suffered due to dwindling federal recreation budgets, competing priorities, and a lack of capacity. Until now.

Gunnison Trails building timber check steps.

Grand Valley Trail Crew doing trail maintenance.

In 2021, spurred by the GAOA legislation, the NFF teamed up with the Forest Service to create a 5-year plan for addressing more than 200 miles of deferred maintenance backlog on the GMUG. That plan relies heavily on stewardship partner organizations who have the local knowledge and skilled workforce that are necessary for completing trail work deep in the Rockies.

The NFF utilized funds from the GAOA, as well as matching funds from partners, to support the following outcomes in 2022:

  • Trail crews from the Southwest Conservation Corps spent 16 weeks improving the Dallas Trail and Blue Lakes Trail on the Ouray Ranger District, and the Indian Trail on the Norwood District. The crew built timber retaining walls, drainage crossings, and cleared corridors.
  • The Professional Trail Crew from Gunnison Trails spent 5 weeks on the Sun Park Trail in the West Elk Wilderness, improving 2-miles of trail. The crew built check steps and drainage features, and installed wayfinding signage where users were getting turned around.
  • The Grand Valley Trail Crew (supported by Mesa County Public Health and Western Colorado Conservation Corps) spent 13 weeks maintaining trails in the Kannah Creek Trail System on the Grand Valley District. The crews cleared trail corridor, constructed hundreds of grade-control features, and built small reroutes on more than 3 miles of trail.

Gunnison Trails has been fortunate to work on GAOA-funded projects for the past two seasons. These GAOA projects have allowed our organization to grow and strengthen our partnership with the Gunnison Ranger District, particularly with our amazing Wilderness rangers, and they've given our trail crew the opportunity to learn and develop a new skill set while making a profound impact on some of our surrounding Wilderness trails.

-Tim Kugler, Executive Director, Gunnison Trails

The 2022 field season marked the second year of the 5-year plan to improve the trails on the GMUG. The NFF, Forest Service, and stewardship partners will continue to address the highest priority non-motorized trails as identified by the Recreation and Wilderness staff across all 5 districts of the GMUG.

National Forest Foundation