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June 2024

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Courtesy Photo: Justin Brandenburg is all smiles after spearheading efforts to clear his favorite trail of debris from December’s catastrophic windstorm.

Thanks to Brandenburg, Middle Fork Trail is Open

The clearing of Middle Fork Trail was largely a one-person effort by Red River’s Justin Brandenburg. On July 13, 18 days after he started clearing the Middle Fork Lake Trail, Justin Brandenburg posted Facebook photos of himself at the lake along with the note, “All the effort was worth the ride this morning!”
Brandenburg said he attended a June 23 meeting of the Red River Off-Road Coalition during which “Everybody was worried about getting Goose Lake open and Greenie Peak. I asked about Middle Fork, but no one wanted to do it. I was like, well I’ll volunteer my time to do Middle Fork.”


Brandenburg has lived in Red River all his life, and his family settled in the valley in 1895. He’s the 5th generation of Brandenburgs to live in Red River. Brandenburg Park, in the center of Red River, is named for his family.


Brandenburg said his motivation for clearing the Middle Fork Lake Trail was simple: “It’s my favorite place to ride my bike!”


Beginning June 25, Justin said, “I worked 14 days on it. Eight days alone, and then another six days Shane Sanchez from Red River Stables helped me. Brian Stokes, a wildland firefighter, helped a couple of days, and some Upper Red River Valley residents came up and were swampers a couple of days.” For the uninitiated, “sawyers” — in this case, Justin — cut downed trees across the trail using a chainsaw. “Swampers” assist by removing limbs, logs and other debris.


“I had no idea how much damage was up there. All the landmarks I knew are gone. My first attempt to hike up to the waterfall took 2-1/2 hours. A half-hour hike took 2-1/2 hours!”


Scan through the 58 photos Brandenburg posted on Facebook soon after finishing his project and one can begin to comprehend what he means. With the post Brandenburg noted he (and others) cleared about 700 trees from the trail, adding, “[It] was as much fun as work.”


Brandenburg was fortunate that local US Forest Service officials gave him permission to drive his all-terrain vehicle up the trail, which was formerly a 4×4 road.


“Jerry Hogrefe and Deke Willis (both involved with the Wheeler Peak Fire District in the Upper Valley) gave me the gate combination. They wanted it to be wide enough for side-by-side rescues.”


Brandenburg noted his UTV also came in handy for removing heawvy debris like root balls, which were blocking the trail. “I have a winch on my side-by-side.”


According to Justin, Greg Miller (with the US Forest Service) said crews will start on the East Fork Trail soon. “I told Greg that I’d start on the Lost Lake Trail this week.”


“People have offered me money and I said, ‘I’m not doing it for money, I’m doing it strictly for the enjoyment of the outdoors. We want our tourists to come and have an enjoyable experience because they love what we love, right?”

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