IMBA Efforts Further Progress of Grand Canyon Trail Extension
Along the north rim of the Grand Canyon, a 45-minute drive up a remote dirt road and almost 2 hours from the nearest town, intrepid mountain bikers will find a simple camping area and a slice of singletrack heaven: the 18-mile Rainbow Rim Trail. The trail is managed by the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) North Kaibab Ranger District and is the only trail on the rim of the Grand Canyon open to bikes. In late January, an 8-mile extension of the trail was approved, five years after area equestrian groups proposed the expansion and, more recently, with help from IMBA.
Following an internal environmental analysis and public comment and scoping periods, the district signed a decision memo in November 2012 to allow for construction of up to 8 miles of trail. The expansion will extend east off of the existing trail, consisting of 3 miles of new construction and 4 miles of road-to-trail conversion, turning the out-and-back trail into a lollipop.
IMBA’s partnership with the Rainbow Rim Trail accelerated in May 2012, when IMBA posted a petition on its website calling for mountain bikers to sign on in support of the trail extension. The petition garnered 710 signatures and countless emails of support to the Kaibab office.
"We wouldn't be this far without the support from IMBA," said Melissa Spandl, Recreation Operation Manager for the North Kaibab Ranger District. "We had a lot of resistance from environmental groups. With something like this, we usually only get negative feedback because the supporters don't think they need to speak up.”
The support from IMBA highlighted the popularity of the Rainbow Rim Trail, reinforcing the need for an extension to help alleviate some of the impacts on the rim. Spandl estimates that 90 percent of the trail’s users are mountain bikers traveling specifically to ride there. Day tourists with rental cars who are visiting Grand Canyon National Park don’t go there. But, she said, the views from the Rainbow Rim Trail are just as good.
The expansion is a “very big deal” in many ways. Spandl explained that the USFS almost never builds new trail anymore, since it can barely afford to maintain what trail already exists. Because of those budget crunches, her office turned to the Subaru/IMBA Trail Care Crew (TCC) for help, securing a visit in late September 2012.
“We knew that we wouldn’t have the funding for a trail crew last year and that mountain bikers would be interested,” said Spandl, explaining why she applied for a TCC visit. “I knew that IMBA sometimes gives [TCC] grants to land management agencies, so I went for it.”
Two IMBA region directors and the TCC coached Kaibab and other area land managers and rangers on management of mountain bike trails, followed by a day of scouting, flagging and building parts of the trail expansion. The work helped get the complete expansion approved in less than two months.
“The IMBA team was fantastic,” said Spandl. “I know it wasn’t a typical TCC visit, but everyone was flexible and brought a lot of experience.” Spandl has been a lifelong mountain biker, but had never worked on a trail project specifically for mountain bikes.
Despite the trail’s remote location and the USFS office’s struggle to keep area groups engaged on a regular basis, the trail is moving forward with a great deal of homegrown support. Many of the Kaibab rangers and staff of the nearby Grand Canyon National Park are mountain bikers.
“There is a younger generation coming up in the agency,” said Spandl. “We even bought a BOB Trailer to haul our equipment by bike to work sites.”
IMBA continues to support the Rainbow Rim Trail expansion and is planning a return visit this summer to lead an advanced trailbuilding session in conjunction with the Coconino National Forest.
There is still little to no money available for the trail work, which Spandl estimates will cost $500,000 for the professional crew that is be needed to machine-build some of the more technical sections. The finishing work will need to be done by volunteers, so Spandl is coordinating with the Sierra Club, youth conservation corps, outfitters from Flagstaff, AZ, and Moab, UT, and others.
Keep an eye on IMBA’s communications for opportunities to ride and help expand the Rainbow Rim Trail.