MOAB, UT – Ward Williams paused for a moment and pointed out a series of thick tree branches that appeared more organized than others strewn around the campground. He called over to his friend Mike Tarvin who was unspooling a Warn tow strap.
"Look at those ones," Williams said. "They have notches in them, and they are put together like a little hut that someone is using to sleep inside. We'll leave those alone and get other ones."
So they did, taking care not to disturb someone's possible campsite, while pulling out other long branches and lining them up. Not for fun, but to help block off numerous extra access points to a campground in Hey Joe Canyon. The duo gathered the biggest ones they could find and lashed them together with that tow strap, then hooked it up to Williams' beefed-up Toyota Hilux so they could drag the bulky wood into position.
Hard work on a hot Utah April day. Important work.
Overhead, the scenery was nothing short of awe-inspiring as red canyon cliffs rose up all around, hundreds and hundreds of feet, to seemingly touch the solid blue sky. Nature in the raw. And if you stared hard enough, you almost had to wonder if it was even real, or just some kind of extremely well-done piece of artwork.
However, all that scenery. The canyon. Those cliffs and beautiful sky. These were entirely the reasons why Williams and Tarvin, as well as a dozen more volunteers, were out on a recent Tuesday afternoon. Miles away from being miles away from anywhere.
For the trail that cuts through Hey Joe Canyon stands on the brink of closure thanks to improper off-road trail riding, as well as the encroaching tamarisk - an invasive plant that destroys land and harms wildlife, not to mention can overtake sections of trail and damage vehicles.
Williams, from Falcon, CO, and Tarvin, from Phoenix, AZ, along with all those other volunteers last Tuesday were participating in a Restoration for Recreation trail maintenance event at Hey Joe Canyon. Tread Lightly! organized the cleanup, now in its fourth year, and the project was mapped out by the Federal Bureau of Land Management.
"What we are trying to do here is this campground is used by boaters, motorcyclists, Jeepers, ATV-ers, and others," said BLM representative Josh Sherrock. "We're gonna try and close it up a bit. It is really convoluted as far as where the entrance is – its kind of all over the place. We are going to try, as naturally as we can, to reign in some of these other entry places and make it so there is only one or two entries."
"We're also going to send a group down the road with tools to trim back tamarisk to maintain trail access, and have another group build a fence here to try and prevent people from driving off trail."
Hey Joe Canyon is an area about 40 miles northwest of Moab, and only accessed after leaving pavement and traveling about 10 miles of slightly-rocky dirt road. A normal trail ride through Hey Joe begins at the rim of Spring Canyon, which is a spectacular 600-foot deep opening that provides a great view of the area. Mining companies used to move their equipment into the area from Spring Canyon and, at the eastern end, a wrecked Willys sits splattered on the canyon floor from when someone pushed it over the edge. A one-vehicle-wide trail winds down Spring Canyon to the floor, where it opens up and runs along the Green River for several miles. It is not a difficult driving trail. Not like an obstacle-filled Pritchett Canyon or Metal Masher. But it is enjoyable and provides one camera-inducing moment after another.
Yet the trail's relative ease also seems to cause its problems, as less-experienced riders - those who avoid the tougher trails and are not prone to follow rules - seem to treat the area like their own personal etch a sketch. Leaving tracks and damaged trees throughout the landscape. It also means the trail does not get as much use throughout the year as others, closer to town and with more challenging obstacles, tend to draw the crowds. Without that constant use and those to help regularly trim back tamarisk, Hey Joe Canyon perennially sits on the edge of closure.
Volunteers fanned out last Tuesday determined to do their share to help stop that from happening. Williams and Tarvin patrolled the campground area gathering those tree branches to block excess access points, while several others - including Quadratec's Rob Jarrell and Eric Ammerman - eased down the trail with tools to slice away tamarisk and open up access. The final group remained to dig fence post holes and install a long wire fence along the campground trail line. Along the way, numerous 'No Vehicles' signs were hammered into the ground to hopefully reinforce the message to those less-experienced riders.
"It’s important that we find the time to give back and lend a hand to the BLM and Tread Lightly to help preserve our access to the trails we love," Jarrell said. "It’s only through responsible use of our public spaces that we can assure our trails remain open now, and for future generations to enjoy."
"We couldn’t do anything we need to do without the support of volunteers," said BLM Moab-area Recreation Planner Todd Murdock. "We are so shorthanded here, that even with a normal amount of people we’d be shorthanded. But then nothing is normal here and we have a million people and a million users because there is always something to see."
"I can’t build a fence by myself, Josh and I can’t build a fence together, so it's great to have volunteers to get out and work on these important projects."
Their hard work ended later in the afternoon, as the sun dipped in the sky and the gentle breeze began to pick up its pace. A lot got done. But much more remained. For those who have dedicated their career to the land, that's just the way it is.
"I was pleased overall at what we were able to accomplish today," said Evan Robins, Education and Stewardship Program Manager for Tread Lightly! "You always wish you could get more done, but I think we were able to open up the trail a bit and make it more accessible, which is definitely crucial on this trail so people can keep enjoying this area."
Restoration for Recreation cleanup events, such as this one, are partially funded through the sale of Tread Lightly! floor liners as Quadratec donates $5 to Tread Lightly! for every set of liners sold.
Quadratec also encourages those who have scheduled trail cleanup or maintenance days to apply for a Quadratec Cares: Restoration for Recreation Stewardship Award. These awards, maintained by Tread Lightly!, are designed to help individuals and groups organize clean-ups, trail maintenance work days and other small stewardship projects. The average grant is under $500, and funds can be used for everything from feeding volunteers to purchasing equipment, trash bags, and tools.
For those with larger environmental projects or events, Quadratec has developed a 'Quadratec Cares: Energize the Environment' grant program, which awards two $3,500 environmental grants per year – one each in the spring and fall – to an individual or group currently pursuing a program or initiative designed to benefit our environment. Interested individuals or groups can check here for more information.