Volunteers work to improve Colorado Trail
Ryan Summerlin August 25, 2014
EAGLE COUNTY — Volunteer projects are an inspiring way to share your passion for something and connect you with others. Volunteering has been shown to be good for your mind and body and bring fun and fulfillment to your life, plus communities with lots of volunteers are found to be more stable and better places to live.
A volunteer organization that inspires me is the Colorado Trail Foundation. This organization improves and maintains the Colorado Trail, which is a 567-mile trail between Denver and Durango. The trail is utilized by hikers, bikers and horseback riders, with multiple entry and exit points. Apart from the great beauty and splendid isolation of the trail, I particularly appreciate how it draws people from around the world to hike it, thus increasing the number of people who understand the importance of stewardship of the wild mountainous areas of the world. The Colorado Trail Foundation also carries out supported treks, allowing even people who don’t usually hike such distances to experience the wonder and beauty of the trail.
Over the past several years, I have volunteered a few weekends to help maintain a small section of the trail near Camp Hale. I have always wanted to join for longer and take part in a week-long crew, and it was not until this year that I was able to do this with the Vail Resorts’ Epic Volunteer program.
This program is part of Vail Resorts’ corporate stewardship division and is in its third season now. Interested employees submit a detailed application regarding their chosen volunteer project and are chosen by a committee that decides how their projects align with Vail Resorts’ core values. These employees are then paid for a week’s work while volunteering with their organization. This year, I was one of 25 employees who were able to participate in projects ranging from improving water filters in Haiti, to Sea Turtle conservation in Borneo, to trail and re-vegetation maintenance in various areas, to working with at-risk and terminally ill kids, and more. These projects align with the company’s core values by serving others and doing good for the environment.
IMPROVING THE COLORADO TRAIL
During my week of volunteer work, the intention was to improve a section of above-treeline trail in the vicinity of the Alpine Tunnel, near St. Elmo. Much of the trail is exposed to extensive water erosion and furrowing, so we focused on improving water drainage. It was eye-opening to see how much thought and work goes into improving a trail so that it is long-lasting for all types of users.
We saw hikers and bikers on our section every day we were working and everybody who stopped by was highly appreciative of our efforts. I felt a real sense of accomplishment, and I can understand why several of my peers from this week come back year after year, with many working on multiple crews each summer. They were a highly inspiring group of people; all are passionate about the trail and have hiked at least some of the trail. Personally, I through-hiked the trail back in 2007 and had a wonderful experience.
On our first day of trail crew, we hiked a few miles in to set up camp just below treeline. We had three resident moose hanging out in the willows just below camp and frequently saw deer and elk out on the ridges. Every morning after breakfast, we set off to the work site with shovels, pickaxes and other tools. We widened the trail where necessary and built steps and dips to slow and direct water flow. These features improve the trail experience for users and enable more people to access these areas.
In a week, we improved a 1.7-mile section of trail, built 80 rolling dips, 30 check steps and performed over 2000 feet of widening and berm removal.
The most important thing I learned from my experience was how easy it is to work in a team that is motivated and enthusiastic. There was never a grumble; we all realized how lucky we were to be able to get outside and work among such beautiful surroundings. Having gratitude for the opportunities I have inspires me to live fully in each moment. Volunteer work is a great way to connect with your passion and share it within the greater community. I recommend it to anyone.