Summer 2012 on the Trails
While visitors from all over the nation -- and world -- are enjoying Yellowstone’s spectacular summer season, trail crews will be hard at work making sure the most popular hiking trails remain safe, enjoyable, and accessible to visitors. In 2006, the Yellowstone Park Foundation established a ten-year, $2-million Yellowstone Trails Fund, which is making possible the rehabilitation of seven trails this season. Perhaps your favorite trail is among them.
National Park Service trail crews, in cooperation with the Montana Conservation Corps, and with assistance from the Yellowstone Youth Conservation Corps, have completed more than 20 Trails Fund projects to date.
Chris Glenn, Yellowstone’s Trails Maintenance Supervisor, explains that there is a common theme to many of this year’s projects.
“Yellowstone has had a couple of years of improved snowfall and moisture levels, which is good news,” said Glenn, “but we’ve seen some fast-moving snowmelt, leading to trail damage and erosion. We’ll be doing lots of restoration work to keep the trails drier and safer, and to protect fragile areas.”
The Specimen Creek Trail is in the far northwestern corner of the park, along U.S. 191 north of West Yellowstone, MT. Project work in 2012 will involve the relocation of a section of trail that has been damaged by recurring overflows of Specimen Creek. The trail is popular for hiking as well as cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. Mostly flat through a mature pine forest, it crosses several bridges over streams leading to an open meadow frequented by elk and moose. “The hike culminates with a short climb to the juncture with the Sky Rim Trail, which follows the crest of the Gallatin Range, providing dramatic 360-degree views of the surrounding peaks and valleys for a hundred miles,” said Glenn.
The Buffalo Plateau Trail is located in the north-central Tower area of the park and is characterized by a steep climb and a series of switchbacks. Trail crews will focus on erosion control and drainage diversion, and improving switchbacks, while protecting fragile wetlands.
“Hikers who finish the eight-mile ascent are rewarded with high alpine views and a spectacular wildflower display,” said Glenn
The Blacktail Trail Suspension Bridge, located on the Blacktail Deer Creek trail between Mammoth and Tower Falls, was built in 1935. It provides access across the Yellowstone River for people and horses to reach numerous other hiking trails, a ranger facility, and popular backcountry campsites. In 2010 and 2011, the suspension bridge was rebuilt with the help of professional bridge engineers. This year will provide the finishing touches including a retaining wall, a bridge and cable inspection, and revegetation of the surrounding area.
The Heart River and Basin Creek Trails are part of a trail complex located in the south-central portion of the park, just south of Heart Lake, in the shadow of Mt. Sheridan. The area features alpine, meadow and wetland terrain as well as beaver dams.
“The beavers have been busy doing what beavers do, and now there are several trail segments flooded, which we’ll assess for alternative routing,” said Glenn. “We’ll continue constructing short reroutes while a longer-term solution is developed to keep the trail open without disturbing the beavers’ handiwork.”
The Biscuit Basin Cutoff Trail ties together Biscuit Basin -- a small thermal area -- and Old Faithful. The “turnpike,” a flat, log-framed, hard-packed earthen surface used to traverse wet areas, has outlived its useful life and is in need of reconstruction. This summer’s work will focus on re-establishing a quarter-mile segment that crosses a consistently wet meadow adjacent to the Firehole River.
"The trail provides access to several beautiful features such as the famous Morning Glory Pool,” explained Glenn. “It also crosses a meadow covered with Elephant Head flowers, which create a stunning sea of purple in early summer. It serves as a section of the designated Continental Divide Trail (CDT) and is thus an important access link through Wyoming, Montana and other Rocky Mountain states along the CDT route.”
The Yellowstone River Trail extends for 18 miles from the Tower Junction area of Yellowstone to Gardiner, Montana. Following the Yellowstone River, it offers access to excellent fishing, camping, and wildlife-viewing, and links to backcountry trails. Due to its low elevation, in a desert-like landscape dotted with sagebrush, the trail is accessible year-round. As such, the trail suffers from high visitor impact, and requires regular upkeep. This project will address safety issues and improve hiking access through the Black Canyon area. Crews will reconstruct compromised stone retaining walls, remove fallen boulders impeding a cliff-side trail corridor, and reconstruct several deteriorated stock bridges.
The Bechler Trail Network is in the remote southwest corner of Yellowstone. It is in the Bechler area, called Yellowstone’s “Cascade Corner” for its many waterfalls. Since this trail network is not connected to the Grand Loop Road system, it is mainly enjoyed by backcountry hikers, horseback riders and campers. Trail crews will target erosion and boggy mires this summer, moving small trail segments from wet ground to drier ground.
“Most visitors never see this area adjacent to the west side of the Tetons, which has terrain and vegetation that are quite different than the rest of the park,” said Glenn. "There are lush forests, large ferns, and waving seas of tall grass.”
For the most part, these trails will remain open all season long while work is taking place. Closures are usually limited to a few minutes, such as if a boulder is being moved, and are scheduled to take place on weekdays.
“But before embarking on a hike on any trail,” emphasized Glenn, “visitors should always stop in a nearby ranger station or visitor center to check trail conditions or possible closures due to wildlife activity or safety issues.”
“We don’t want to hinder access to these magnificent trails, and enjoy seeing people out enjoying them. So with a couple minor exceptions, visitors can hike while we’re working on the trails.”
Be sure to say hello if you encounter the hardworking trail crews this summer. Happy hiking!