On the Job: Ranger: Trail system success hinges on users
January 3, 2014
It's not always a peaceful interaction when a trail user is asked to pick up dog poop or leash their animal. No matter how cordial the approach, sometimes the obscenities and insults are inevitable.
Aspen parks and open space ranger Brian Long understands that. He said that for the most part, Aspen is pretty good about looking after its animals. But sometimes he has to step in, and he said it takes a certain personality to walk away unscathed.
"I try to encourage people to be cool to each other, which is what most of our laws and rules do," said Long, 37, who joined the department in 2007.
On Friday, he encountered a different kind of frustration: The engine on his brand-new John Deere Gator, which he uses to groom nordic ski trails, was overheating. After shoveling some snow onto the engine and a few intermittent stops, he was able to get it back to the Parks Department barn, situated next to the 15th hole of the city golf course. The Gator has 170 miles on it, and he said once they get the problem solved, it will be a versatile machine for him and his four crew members.
Most of the grooming for the 90-kilometer nordic trail system is done using three snowcats, which are a little bit smaller than the ones used by Aspen Skiing Co. on the mountains. The crew also has four snowmobiles, used for the harder terrain, like the Terminator, a four-mile trail at the base of Burnt Mountain. Long spent an hour and a half grooming that area Friday morning.
Later in the day, Long directed two Irish wolfhounds, a Pomeranian, a Yorkshire terrier and a handful of mutts off one of the ski-only tracks. He said the success of the nordic trail system, which is 75 percent ski-only, wouldn't be possible without the diligence of Aspen dog owners. He estimates that 90 percent of the weight they remove from waste buckets is "properly disposed of" dog poop, and each week, there's about 200 pounds of it.
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Out of the trails' 90 kilometers, Long said about 55 kilometers are heavily used. Grooming the entire system would take about 21/2 days, so after a big storm, they focus on the most popular tracks first.
"We knock out Snowmass Golf Club, Aspen Golf Club first and then Aspen High School, then Owl Creek Trail, Northstar, and Rio Grande Trail kind of pulls up the tail end," said Long, who moved to Aspen in 1996 from the Kansas City area, where he is from.
Because grooming thins out the tracks, they try to avoid it during long stretches between snowstorms. He said users increase the lifespan of tracks by researching and following the guidelines, as far as which areas allow dogs, walking and fat-tire bikes. This year, the trail system, which was started in the mid-1980s, saw its first fat-tire bike races held at the Marolt Open Space during Winterskol.
In a good year, the nordic season runs from Thanksgiving to late March. After that, Long gets back on his bike, which he said he rides about 1,800 miles a season as a ranger. That equates to more than 10,000 miles since 2007.
Before 2012, Long was the city's only parks and open space ranger. That year, the city hired Simon Longacre, who will beign grooming nordic trails this month. When Longacre's position was created, Long said there were plenty of applicants. Standing in the Parks Department office with a smile, he said, "But you've got to have the right personality."