Finding the way on the Bigby Trail

Last year's Missionary Ridge Fire sparked new interest in reducing wildfire fuels around the Forest Lakes subdivision near Bayfield. Currently, work is under way to thin 40 acres of heavily forested land that runs through the subdivision, thus reducing the risk of wildfire and creating a healthier forest in the process. According to Scott Wagner, of the San Juan National Forest, there are a lot of presettlement trees (he's reluctant to use the word "old growth") within the subdivision that are at risk because the area was never logged.

Forest Lakes homeowners will undoubtedly see the benefits of the logging in the form of reduced wildfire risk; the forest will be healthier; and presettlement trees will be preserved for a longer and stronger future. But there is still a story to be told of a dog, a family and a meandering trail that once was shared only by the birds and the occasional deer.

This particular stretch of land, where my family and I would go each day to escape civilization, became affectionately known to us as "The Bigby Trail."

The trail was named for our former neighbor's oversized Dalmatian, Bigby. When Bigby passed our house on his daily walk with his master, he would beckon our dog, Shasta, with one large bark. When Shasta heard Bibgy's call, she would bolt out the dog door (sometimes even from a sound sleep), gracefully leap our utterly useless fence and disappear for some frolicking and fun. Shasta loved this daily excursion with her best friend and deeply missed Bigby when he moved to Dolores.

Several months after Bigby moved, Shasta and I set out for our afternoon walk, taking a different path than normal. At the end of our road, Shasta ventured onto BLM land on what appeared to be a deer trail that I had not noticed before. I could see that it wound through ponderosa pines and gamble oak, and I realized this was where she had gone walking with Bigby.

I followed Shasta as she pursued some potent but unseen scent, eagerly sniffing each tree that Bigby had probably marked months earlier. She pranced merrily, with her tail held high, and I trailed behind, trying to remember specific landmarks in case I got lost and to help me remember the trail if I wanted to walk it again. Shasta led the way, past a spooky dead pine whose branches had withered downward, resembling the scrawny arms of a wise old wizard urging us forward.

Onward we ventured, past a tree trunk that had been burned by lightning and looked as if it could be a carved totem pole, protecting us with its ancient magic as we passed. We continued on, noticing a large, forked pine and then discovered a magnificent view of the Pine River Valley ridge and a comfortable log on which to sit and enjoy it.

At this point, we looped around to begin the journey home. We walked through decayed, fallen trees, softened over time, that formed what appeared to be a gateway, perhaps to a slower and gentler time. As we neared the end of the trail, we passed a row of sizeable uprooted stumps, whose long-forgotten tangled roots, hardened over time, lay as reminders of the forest that stood here before we did.

Since discovering this trail, it has become one of my family's favorites. When we walked it for the first time after the Missionary Ridge Fire, we were overwhelmed by the tremendous sense of relief that it was still there. We inhaled the sweet, rich, fragrant offering of sap, pine needles and earth and reveled in the sound of the freshly fallen pinecones crunching beneath our feet. We sat at our view spot looking dizzily, but with unending gratitude, at the untouched ridges that stretched before us, the sound of birdsong in our ears. We knew all too well what could have been for us, for our home and for the beautiful Bigby Trail.

When workers began the thinning efforts, it was difficult to watch them cut down tree after tree and carve roads into the delicate landscape, oblivious to all vegetation in their path. Our trail disappeared beneath the littered carcasses of trees that once stood as our guardians, watching over us as we journeyed through their land. I could no longer recognize the path I thought I could follow with my eyes closed. I knew it was there beneath the fallen trees and rutted roads; Shasta knew it was there too. She led the way, nose to ground, as I tried to keep up. We climbed over the maze of fallen pines as they bled fresh sap from their severed limbs and trunks. And though I caught a glimpse of the trail here and there, I looked around stunned, sometimes no longer even recognizing my own back yard. Some of the landmarks remained, but without the trees that formerly surrounded them, they no longer looked the same.

I know the carved roads will eventually disappear beneath a few seasons' blessings of bark, pinecones and needles. I imagine the road might become singletrack once again, meandering through oak and pine out to our favorite spot. I know that, in time, the area will probably be more beautiful, with more sun shining through the forest canopy to nourish the vegetation and wildflowers that will undoubtedly flourish. My husband even has taken advantage of the new space to create what he claims is Bayfield's first and foremost mountain disc golf course.

With all that in mind, I cannot forget that my son has become a young man; my husband and I have become closer; and my pup has grown and mellowed as we've walked along The Bigby Trail. I feel fortunate that something is being done to reduce the potential fire hazard, but I do miss the pristine and untouched quality this area once possessed, and most of all, I miss the trail and the trees that stood as our guardians and became our friends.

-Tamara Belgard



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