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SHERIDAN — Prioritizing trail maintenance is one of the most challenging aspects of managing a trail crew, Bighorn National Forest Trails Coordinator Sara Evans Kirol said.
She knows members of the public have their favorite trails or trails they think should be maintained more often or more thoroughly.
The Bighorn National Forest used to hire five- to eight-person crews for each of its six districts. With the downturned economy, it now hires one three- to four-person crew for the entire forest.
Evans Kirol keeps a meticulous schedule of trail maintenance for each of the three ranger districts, using input from hikers, rangers and other Forest Service staff to monitor trail conditions.
Trails are grouped by watershed and called pods. Pods are rated high, moderate or low and trails within each pod are rated from one to four, with Class Trail 1 and 2 trails requiring less maintenance than Class Trail 3 and 4 trails.
Pods are rated on trail classes within the pod, amount of trail use, safety on each trail and trail resources such as design and location.
Trail Class 3 and 4 trails in high-rated pods are maintained every two years. Trail Class 3 and 4 trails in moderate and low pods are maintained every five years. And all Trail Class 1 and 2 trails in all pods are maintained every nine years.
According to a seven-year average from 2006 to 2012, a three-person crew can accomplish 2.7 miles per day. They work 51 days per summer, after accounting for training time, so it takes two seasons to maintain the 223.5 miles of high priority trails. There are 375.3 miles of moderate and low priority trails and 162.7 miles of Class 1 and 2 trails.
Trail maintenance crews focus on high-rated pods but work on moderate and low pods in the vicinity in order to keep the forest trails maintained on schedule. Evans Kirol assigns 200 miles to each crew each summer, with a final target of 190 miles.