New Sandia Crest ‘Challenge Trail’ in the works

[anvplayer video=”5148482″ station=”998122″]

Carving a brand-new hiking trail out of the ground – takes a lot of work.

“It is a very labor-intensive process,” said Jenny Blackmore. “No matter how often you do this work, you continue to feel it the next day.”

Blackmore is a project leader for volunteer group Friends of the Sandia Mountains. Her crew was out Thursday morning digging a new section of the “Challenge Trail” near the Sandia Crest road.

Blackmore’s group works with the U.S. Forest Service to construct new hiking trails across the Cibola National Forest. The group also helps maintain preexisting trails by removing dead trees and trimming vegetation.

Groups of volunteers venture out once a week – Thursdays usually – to work on projects, and the majority of work is done with hand tools.

“We have contemplated bringing in a grip hoist at some point to pull out roots or rocks, but have never actually done it yet,” Blackmore said.

Volunteers and Forest Service workers have been working on the new trail section for nearly a year. The forest trails and program manager for the Cibola National Forest, Kerry Wood, estimates the nearly 4-mile section could be ready for recreationists next summer.

“Once this trail is done, you can actually get on it at the bottom of the mountain and go all the way to the top on one, one single trail,” Wood said.

The U.S. Forest Service manages nearly 800 miles of trails across New Mexico. Wood says some trails appeared over time by animal movements, but many were deliberately designed.

“There’s a number of design elements that make a trail sustainable,” Wood said. He explained trail planners look at several factors when designing new pathways – including slope, undulation, potential hazards in the area, and nearby wilderness protection areas. He says planners also work to identify areas hikers want to see.

“We definitely want to take trails to the places people want to go, because if we don’t they’ll most likely create it themselves,” Wood said.

Wood says poorly-designed trails can cause collisions between different types of years. Many trails in the Cibola National Forest are available to use by hikers, bikers, and horseback riders. He says many trails in the foothills see those issues.

“If trails are designed and constructed correctly, we’re really able to find that balance,” he said.

Wood says the best-designed trails, should feel not they don’t have a design.

If you’re interested in volunteering with Friends of the Sandia Mountains, click here.