St. Charles County, which borders St. Louis, has one of the fastest growing populations in the state. Ask anyone who grew up in the county and they will tell you that its once “country-like” atmosphere has become more “city-like.”
More people bring more demand for additional outdoor recreation opportunities. The 8,106-acre Weldon Spring Conservation Area in St. Charles County has served as a popular destination for hikers, hunters and birdwatchers since it was purchased in 1978. Thanks to the population boom, the area is now attracting more non-traditional users.
For example, the local mountain biking community has taken a liking to the Lost Valley Trail on Weldon Springs. The trail has always been open to bicycles, but in the past only a small group of local mountain bikers rode on it.
The trail was an 8-mile loop that mainly followed gravel service roads and old logging roads, many of which were built in the early 1900s. Over time, several sections of the trail had become heavily eroded, which made them difficult to hike, much less ride a bike on.
In 2003, a local mountain biking organization called the Gateway Off-Road Cyclists (GORC) contacted the Missouri Department of Conservation and volunteered support to help improve the Lost Valley Trail. The group proposed building some new sections of trail around the more heavily eroded sections.
Initially, area managers had some concern about allowing a volunteer group of off-road cyclists to build new trails that would be used by the public both for hiking and biking. Would the trails be suitable for all types of area users? Could they build new trails through the area’s rough terrain that would stand up to heavy use? Could they enlist enough volunteers willing to put in the time to build new trails?
After inspecting some of the group’s prior projects and learning more about the trail-building expertise its members could offer, the Department decided GORC could be a valuable asset for the Lost Valley Trail. The group even adopted the Lost Valley Trail though the Department’s Adopt-A-Trail Program.
GORC was founded in 1997 by John Donjoian, a local engineer and an avid mountain biker. GORC started as a small, grass-roots group of friends hoping to improve some of their favorite biking trails. In the last few years, GORC has expanded into a well-respected group of trail designers and builders.
The club’s 200 members have donated more than 10,000 hours of volunteer labor to design and build more than 20 miles of new trails and maintain and improve more than 50 miles of existing trails for federal, state, local and private agencies. Their work has helped to expand mountain biking opportunities in the greater St. Louis area.
GORC is affiliated with the International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA), a nonprofit educational association whose mission is to create, enhance and preserve trail opportunities for mountain bikers worldwide. IMBA encourages low-impact riding, volunteer trail-work participation, cooperation among different trail user groups, grass-roots advocacy, and innovative trail management solutions.
Several of the GORC members have attended professional training programs taught by IMBA to learn more about multi-use trail design and building techniques. GORC members also offer a one-day trail-building class to teach land managers new trail-building techniques.
Building a New Trail
Repairs on the Lost Valley Trail involved routing three new trails around heavily damaged sections. The new trails had to be designed to dry out quickly so muddy spots would not develop from the heavy amount of foot traffic and bike use. One of the new trails even involved building a small footbridge to cross a wet-weather drainage.
The project took place in two phases. The first phase was a section of trail just over a mile long that was built in early 2004. The second phase consisted of two new trails totaling almost a mile in length that were finished in Spring 2005.
Designing and building the new trails started with survey work to determine the best routes. The routes needed to be scenic, yet require minimum future maintenance.
Most of the trail building took place during eight workdays. An average of 25 volunteers showed up each of those days to work on the trail. By the time the project was completed, the volunteers had worked more than 1,000 hours.
Because the terrain at Weldon Spring CA is often too steep and rocky for motorized equipment, the volunteers built the new trails entirely with hand tools. First, they cut the trail corridors, using handsaws and loppers to remove small saplings and tree branches. Next, they “grubbed” out the new trail, bench-cutting it into the hillsides, using Pulaskis, McLeods, and pick-axes to move dirt. Their goal was to create a trail surface, or “tread,” with enough slope to let water drain off while still providing a stable walking and riding surface. After they smoothed its surface, the trail was ready for use.
The trail improvements have made the Lost Valley Trail a popular destination for both mountain bikers and hikers. The trail now offers a 9-mile loop through the hilly, oak/hickory forest of the Weldon Spring CA. Sections of the trail still use existing service roads on the area, but the new sections wind through mature forests on semi-technical, single-track trails. You can ride or hike past a small waterfall along a creek or near a turn-of-the-century homestead and cemetery. Special features built into the new trail, like the stonework on both sides of one of the creek crossings, help to protect the trail from erosion and keep sediment from entering the creek.
Because Weldon Spring Conservation Area is open until 10 p.m., the Lost Valley Trail offers the unique challenge of night riding to experienced bikers. The late hours also allow a hiking or biking opportunity to those whose workdays end at sunset.
The trail also provides hunters, birdwatchers and a variety of other area users easier access to the Weldon Spring CA.
If you plan to visit the Weldon Spring CA to enjoy the Lost Valley Trail, remember that the area is open during most hunting seasons. You can check at the Department’s St. Louis Regional Office for more details on current hunting seasons.
For more information about trail riding at Weldon Spring Conservation Area, call (636) 441-4554, or visit the MDC site and type the area’s name into the search field. For information about the Gateway Off-Road Cyclists go to www.gorctrails.com. Their Web site has information about club meetings and activities, and it provides numerous links to other biking sites.
Adopt a Trail
Help manage your favorite trail on one of Missouri’s conservation areas by participating in the Conservation Department’s Adopt-A-Trail program. This volunteer program provides opportunities for hikers, bicyclists and equestrians to assist Conservation Area staff by monitoring, maintaining and enhancing trails and trailhead facilities. For more information about trails on conservation areas and the Adopt-A-Trail program, visit online.
Riding on Conservation Areas
Mountain bikers share trails and conservation areas with other people enjoying the outdoors. Riders will minimize conflicts with other users by adhering to the following rules and guidelines:
- Ride only on open, designated trails.
- Groups of more than 10 riders have to obtain a special-use permit from the area manager.
- Be polite and ready to yield the right of way.
- Always alert others to your presence.
- Never scare or chase wildlife.
- Guard against erosion by not riding when the trail is muddy.
- Equip your bike and yourself with safety equipment.
- Carry a cell phone and tell others where you will be riding.
- Where bicycling is allowed during hunting season, avoid riding during the prime hunting periods of early morning and late afternoon. When on the trail during hunting season, wear bright colors, preferably hunter orange, for maximum visibility.
- Leave no litter.