The trails we all enjoy in our parks and open spaces are a mix of old legacy trails or, as is increasingly becoming common, trails that are either entirely new or re-routes of older trails. Trail building nowadays is a bit different than it was not too many years ago. Gone are the days when a trail would be built as a straight line between two points, steepness be damned. Trail building is now a more involved process. Today, many things are considered before a trail is built: steepness — which affects water run-off and trail erosion; terrain, vegetation removal; width; users; and determining whether the trail is even necessary or fits into the master plan for that tract of land.

All are factored in to the decision-making process before a shovel is turned or a chainsaw is fired up. And then comes determining the cost of building a viable and sustainable trail, which can run from tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars per mile, depending on whether the trail is built by hand or with machinery, using volunteer labor or a trail-building company. As is often the case, there is more to building a trail than the average hiker, cyclist or runner is typically aware of. Well-built trails last for years and need minimal maintenance and repairs. Prime examples of those are the Mt. Muscoco trail in North Cheyenne Cañon Park, or the Dixon Trail in Cheyenne Mountain State Park. Building a good trail can be a long, detailed process, costing lots of money, time and effort both from land managers, and often volunteers.

So, when a park ranger discovers that some fool has decided to illegally build their own trail in a park or open space, with no coordination, or even worse, any measure of skill or understanding of good trail-building methods, they might get a little cranky. Instead of tending to the many other things on their long list of, well, things to do, they now have to devote much time, energy and usually taxpayer money to remove the unauthorized trail. 

Rogue trail building is not an isolated occurrence. According to the Colorado Springs Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services Department, 60 miles of unauthorized trails were mapped by rangers in Red Rock Canyon Open Space. That is  double the miles of legal, authorized trails in the popular hiking and cycling destination. Similar problems have been found in El Paso County Parks and the Pike National Forest. 

The problem isn't just that the trails are built without permission or authorization, but also that they are often poorly  built, resulting in damage to the natural environment that our land managers are charged with protecting, and the land managers have had enough. In a joint statement from Colorado Springs, El Paso County and the U.S. Forest Service, the agencies remind people that illegally built trails are destructive to the highly erosive soils in the Pikes Peak region, and that "[i]f you engage in illegal trail building, you can be fined. Please join us as we all work together to conserve, protect, and maintain the beauty of the Pikes Peak Region.” You can read the entire statement below, but even more importantly, if you're building your own illegal trails, well, knock it off. Work with our land managers to build new trails. And if you're out on the trails and see what looks like an illegal trail coming to be, tell the authorities.

Be Good. Do Good Things. Leave No Trace.

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