Oct. 04--The Pawnee Buttes Trail has gone to the birds -- or at least an old trailhead has.
Sixteen volunteers met in late August in the Pawnee National Grassland near Grover to construct an 80-foot fence to block off a road that disrupts natural raptor nesting grounds.
The U.S. Forest Service built a new trailhead further east on the same road as the old entrance. The new trailhead has covered picnic areas, benches, a parking lot, informative signs and a restroom, making it a better stopping point for hikers, hunters and more. Volunteers hope the fence they constructed will prevent visitors from using the old road and lead them to the new trailhead. The trailhead also should discourage unauthorized motor vehicle use, a problem on the other road. The new trail also is less disruptive to the eagles and hawks that nest in the buttes.
"If you look at this compared to what we had up there, this a huge improvement," said Lenora Arevalos, supervisory forest service technician.
The project is the result of a partnership between Noble Energy and national lands restoration group, Tread Lightly!.
"That's really what our partnership is focused on, ... cultivating stewardship, and outdoor recreation is just one way that we engage and incorporate that stewardship," said Dianne Olson, Tread Lightly!'s assistant director.
Robert Veldman, senior environmental coordinator for Noble Energy, said the company was looking for ways to get involved in the preservation of wildlife in northeastern Colorado. The two groups contacted the U.S. Forest Service to see what was needed on the grasslands, and the agency pitched three projects it didn't have the resources to finish.
The first, completed in June, focused on fixing up the Main Draw Off-Highway Vehicle Area by building a new fence and a new information kiosk. Friday's trail project was the second. The third, which will wrap up by the end of September, will construct restrooms and shade structures at the Baker Draw recreational shooting area.
"These projects were already ready. The Forest Service needed someone to do it, we had the funds to do something, corporate-social responsible work, and it was just a great fit," Veldman said. "We're users on this land, and we wanted to be able to do something we weren't required to do."
Standing at the new trailhead, Veldman pointed out at the cattle grazing lazily in the shadow of the bluffs. He said the cattle were likely from Timmerman Ranch, one of Noble's big clients. The Tread Lightly! partnership is for them, for the other area ranchers and for residents who enjoy the Pawnee National Grassland, he said. It's also a tribute to the U.S. Forest Service, with which Noble works closely on oil and gas projects.
"We wanted to do something with the people we work with every day, but it's not oil- and gas-related for a change," he said.
Though the involved organizations and volunteers hope the fence solves the problem of unauthorized vehicles in this wildlife area, Olson said it's bigger than this specific road on this particular land. Outdoor recreationists should come prepared with maps and stay off roads that aren't meant for motorized vehicles to preserve other habitats, as well.
The now-blocked road, which has already been leveled off to eliminate ditches, will be seeded later this fall when the temperature drops. Tread Lightly!, Noble Energy and U.S. Forest Service officials hope the land returns to as natural a state as possible.
The volunteers, who spent about three hours building the fence, were able to accomplish something the U.S. Forest Service wouldn't have had the resources to do in several months, Olson said.
Meghan Keating, a volunteer with the U.S. Forest Service, said she was excited to see concerted efforts to preserve the Pawnee's wildlife. As a wildlife biology major at Colorado State University, she said she feels good that she can directly help northern Colorado's raptors.
"It's hands-on, and you're kind of seeing some change happen right in front of you," she said.
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