This machine makes trails ...

  Parked in the back lot of the Forest Service office in Delta, Colo., is a skinny little bulldozer that looks almost like a toy.


Designed to build trails, the Swepco 450 is tricky to maneuver since 8,000 pounds of steel balance on tracks only 48 inches wide. The back is equipped with a three-clawed ripper to obliterate old trails; the front has a blade that can push away most stumps and rocks.


But the machine sat idle last year because the Forest Service didn't have enough money to pay an employee to operate it. That spurred Earl Monroe, a member of an ATV club that donated the bulldozer to the agency in 1995, to offer his time.


"It's sort of a giving back," says Monroe, a retired teacher. "I had appreciated the forest all my life."


Monroe, 64, got hooked on ATVs after coming down with two foot diseases that made it difficult for him to walk. He usually feels like he's standing on hot marbles, but when he sits on his ATV, he feels fine.


Monroe's first task as a Forest Service volunteer was to work on a trail the Western Slope ATV Assocation had adopted. With help from another bulldozer, which was paid for through a state grant, Monroe built 9.7 miles of new trail and dragged logs and rocks to block damaged sections of the old trail.


Monroe says trails can be built by ATVs themselves, but the informal route is often the most damaging for the environment. "If we make the easiest route where it's also protective to the environment, then people will go there," he says. "I consider myself a conservationist, not an environmentalist."


Monroe clocked a total of 386 hours on the project. It wasn't fun, he says: "I don't know what that word means. I just do what needs to be done. It would just sit here and go to waste otherwise, and if our club didn't maintain the trails, we might lose them."





* Elizabeth Manning