Alden Rebuild

The temperature was in the low twenties and it was breezy as 15 workers gathered recently for an early morning briefing near the mouth of the newly rebuilt¬†Alden Gulch Trail. Crew members with the Ketchum Ranger District and the Idaho Conservation Corps¬†formed a circle and discussed the day’s work, then they headed up; hiking five miles to the top of the gulch.

At work on the newly rebuilt Alden Gulch Trail.

The walk up helped take the chill off, but the crew’s water containers started freezing as they climbed higher. Camping in the Rockies has consequences. No one was complaining though. Previous assignments had been hot and sweaty, so cool weather was a welcome change.

Once in position they went to work with the hand tools that they had packed along. The trail is almost finished, but the crews still have raking and other manual labor to perform in order to get it completely done. The trail is scheduled for a spring 2019 opening.

The Alden trail was heavily damaged in the 2013 Beaver Creek Fire. The storms, debris flows, and avalanches that followed the fire contributed to the trail’s demise.

Blackstead doing early design work; searching out a sustainable corridor.

Its rebirth began several years ago with the Ketchum Ranger District beginning to suss out a new alignment through the burned drainage. The trail had previously gone directly up the steep gulch. It was an unsustainable grade and it was little used. Besides being too steep to keep in good condition it ran through a number of wet areas.

The new alignment is still steep in many places, but the grades are not excessive, and the steepest parts don’t go on and on. Perhaps most importantly, the new route takes care to avoid the wet areas that the earlier route crossed. People will be able to climb up the trail to the Osberg Ridgeline Trail, or use the trail as a descent off of the ridge; facilitating a couple of new loop options.

Trailside fall color along the recently rebuilt Alden Gulch Trail.

The trail is through an area that burned very hot, so the views from the trail are through a matchstick forest. The open character of the place provides stunning vistas, especially as you get higher along the route. The fall color of the trail-side undergrowth is outstanding and the spring is sure to bring a riot of green punctuated by bright wildflowers. During construction this spring the builders were amazed by the number of hummingbirds that were present.

Hailey based, Red Elephant Trails, was the contractor hired by the KRD for the trail’s reconstruction. Red Elephant utilized two mini-excavators as their main tools; refining the alignment and moving tons of earth and rock in the shaping of the trail’s tread, turns, and features. Hats off to Red Elephant’s Brian Vaughn and Jess Simon for the long hours they put in on those machines. They also spent many days doing handwork on the trail, including some awesome masonry in areas that were in need of rock armoring.

Jess Simon with Red Elephant Trails at work on one of the machines used to rebuild the Alden Gulch Tr.

Partners to the KRD on the project were many, which is important to efforts like this. A large grant from the Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation was the key to funding the rebuilding of the trail. Without a lot of support from the community that grant could not have been secured.

The Wood River Bicycle Coalition was a very big contributor to the construction of the new Alden Gulch Trail. The group is a local non-profit that supports all things bicycle in the valley. They are also a chapter of the International Mountain Bike Association. As part of their parent organization’s 2017 “Dig-In” campaign the WRBC raised over $15,000 for the Alden project. Rebecca’s Private Idaho also made a large contribution of funds toward the rebuilding of the trail.

The National Forest Foundation was another big contributor to the rebuilding effort. Even with the sizable Idaho Parks and Rec Grant, and other contributions, there was not enough money to build the entire five-mile trail. So, the NFF stepped up and provided an additional grant for the construction of the last 1.3 miles.

ICC Trail Crew kicking up dust.

The Idaho Mountain Dirt Riders Association was a supporter of the project. They are a local group of motorcyclists who do a ton of volunteer work cutting out trees that come down across our area trails. The Alden Gulch Trail is a non-motorized trail that will be closed to motorcycles, but many of our dirt biking friends, with the IMDRA, also ride mountain bikes, and many other members appreciate what a huge asset the trail will be to non-motorized trail users. Such is life in our beautiful valley. We get along.

Other supporters and partners on Alden include the Sawtooth Back Country Horsemen, Blaine County Recreation District, 5B Restoration Coalition, Idaho Trails Association, and the Sun Valley Company Trail Crew.

(I’m forgetting many who helped, so please chime in if you can help me get closer to representing all organizations who kicked in. Leave a comment, or get in touch with me, Chris Leman 208720-7713or I’ll add them to this blog through an edit. Thanks:-)

Members of the WRBC meet with the KRD’s Justin Blackstead and Brian Vaughn of Red Elephant Trails during construction in mid August, 2018.

The entire Ketchum Ranger District deserves a big round of applause on this re-build. It took a lot of planning, grant writing, contracting, oversight, acquisition, building, record keeping, and coordination to pull it off.

According to the district’s lead on the project, Justin Blackstead, the project seemed daunting at first, but through a lot of pulling together, it all went well. “Three years ago I hiked up the trail for the first time and I was anxious about how we would pull this one off. Today I’m blown away by what we’ve built. Everyone’s contribution has led to it going smoothly,” said Blackstead.

Rock armoring of creek ford and trail.

Some have asked Blackstead why the trail remains closed. The trail is too soft at this time and it needs a winter under a blanket of snow (a heavy blanket, hopefully). “When it melts out in the springtime we’ll do some final compacting and shaping work, then people can have at it”, he said. He went on to point out that opening the trail this fall would invite the development of braking bumps, and the trail would likely get pocked-up from horse hoofs and other traffic, so some forbearance is in order.