Trail "Bulldozing" in the San Gabriel Mountains

In Summer, 1998, the Forest Service hired contractors to improve three trails: Condor Peak, Sam Merrill Trail to Echo Mountain, and the Stone Canyon Trail to Mt. Lukens. The contractor used a mini-bulldozer which generated a bit of controversy.

A $28,000 trail-improvement contract was given to Hulett Construction by the U.S. Forest Service to "improve" the Sam Merrill Trail from the top of Lake to Echo Mountain. Work was supposed to finish by the end of June, 1998, but on 13 August 1998 I found that workers had made it only to mile 1.10 out of 2.95. The workers told me that they had spent about 15 days on the job so far, and expected to be at Echo Mountain in 2-3 weeks. I'll be amazed if they get there that quickly. Roy Randall reports below that they are now nearly finished.

The equipment being used on the trail is: a Honda HP400 (cart?); a Kuboth KH007 scooper; an Ingersoll Rand 100 mini-bulldozer; and a Kubota KX41 combination scooper and dozer.

Roy Randall found that on 15 August 1998 that the bulldozer on the Condor Peak Trail was still well below Fox Peak. The bulldozer and stacked supplies make it difficult to get by in spots, requiring somewhat tricky maneuvers off the trail in places.

Tom Gilfoy has verified that the upper end of the Stone Canyon Trail up the north side of Mt. Lukens has been similarly ripped up, and has written a letter to the Forest Service complaining about it. Jon Sherman has put online Tom's letters, the Forest Service response, and an article from the Southern Sierran about it in Trails or Roads?.

These "improvements" has made a number of people hopping mad, including those who prefer their trails to look more like narrow footpaths, and all the volunteers who have lovingly maintained these trails for many years, who have watched their work be ripped out by the bulldozer. It is unfortunate that the Forest Service didn't consult with these people, or at least inform them, before issuing the contracts. See the articles in the Pasadena Star-News "Volunteer Says Trail Is Being Widened Into A Road" 5/13/98, A1, A6; and "Hikers Hopping Mad At Forest Service Over Trail" 5/16?/98, ?; and Trails or Roads? by Jon Sherman for further information.

Roy Randall has recently hiked all three of these trails:

I think that "bulldozer" is not the right word for the machine inquestion. When I first read your page I had a mental picture of a massive Caterpillar cutting away huge chunks of the hills and building a road. When I saw the reality on Condor Peak I had to laugh. To me, "bulldozer" "bulldozing", etc. sounds like inflamatory rhetoric.

Jon Sherman's complaint on the top of the Stone Canyon Trail is a valid concern. The swath cut in the brush is much too wide, and the trail surface is (was?) poorly groomed. Fortunately, the chaparral is already growing back. In fact, they didn't root the stuff out of the new trailbed and some of it is already sprouting mid trail. (as of Aug. 14)

The Sam Merrill Trail is still unfinished. It looks like all of the widening and construction of retaining walls is finished, but some of the retaining walls have not been filled in and groomed. The open letter posted by the FS at the trailhead says that they would be done by end of July. Oh well. It's Gummint work. It also says that the trail has been "widened" to its original spec of 36". It also says that the retaining walls are fixed into the bedrock of the hillside in a way that could only be done using hydraulic equipment. I must say, these walls are well built and will be around for awhile. They don't look bad either. (as of Sep. 23)

My assessment of Condor Peak is much the same (as of Aug. 15). The tractor does good work. The real factor seems to be whether the crews take the time and effort to finish the job cleanly. At the end of the day, it's still manual labor that makes it work.

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Copyright © 1998-2000 by Tom Chester.
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Updated 22 February 2000.