A passion for the path less traveled
Glenwood Springs Correspondent
Vail, CO Colorado
BASALT, Colorado ” David Hamilton doesn’t get fed up with work very often. But as the executive officer for Roaring Fork Outdoor Volunteers, if he wants to get away from work for the weekend and get back to nature as he so much enjoys, he finds himself having to leave the one place he loves so much ” the Roaring Fork Valley.
“I find that I like to go out of the area because I know this area so well,” Hamilton admitted. “If I go to the trouble of putting a trip together, it’s like, well let’s go some place different.”
It’s understandable. If your career was heading an all volunteer organization that maintains, designs, and builds hiking trails in the Roaring Fork Valley, anyone could understand why he would want to get away. But it doesn’t really seem to bother him.
“I don’t do as many pleasure hikes as I used to,” he said. “But I’m out in the field working a lot of the time.”
During a single week in the summer it’s not uncommon for Hamilton to find himself hiking four days a week for work. It’s just part of the job and he knows how lucky he is to be doing what he loves.
“In some ways I think I’m a more boring fellow because what I used to do for fun, I now do for work,” Hamilton said. “But I’ve found ” over time ” that it’s not really changed that much. I’m just really lucky to be able to that.”
And there are much worse ways to make a living.
Hamilton’s journey to the valley was by coincidence when he moved to the valley in 1994 from Vail. He was, at that time, a salesmen for an ice cream distributor. During that first year Hamilton volunteered on a couple of trial projects with a statewide group called Volunteers Outdoor Colorado, who he’d worked with on several projects before, and met up with some local volunteers living in the Roaring Fork Valley who thought it would be nice to have a local group that focuses on local trails.
“I had a discussion with Dan Matthews who was with the forest service at the time and he mentioned that the VOC does a couple of projects every couple of years,” Hamilton said. “He asked if I’d thought there was a way for us to start something smaller than that on a more regional level.”
Hamilton gave it his consideration, but it was another stroke of luck that propelled his dream into reality. After leaving his job with the ice cream distributor and applying for three different jobs which he didn’t get, he found himself with some time on his hands to dedicate to more trail projects.
“We said, ‘let’s see if we can schedule a couple of projects and if anybody comes and how it works,” Hamilton said. “If it works, we’ll make it work and start our own nonprofit.”
Big dreams, a plan and some spare time was the perfect storm for Hamilton.
For the first year, RFOV were supported in part by the VOC to help with the nonprofit status. Hamilton and a few others scheduled four projects, three of which were successful and only had to cancel one. The first project they worked on was the Scout Trail in Glenwood Springs in the summer of ’95.
“I think we had six people show up for that,” Hamilton said with a smile.
But the very next project was Hunter Creek near Aspen, which nearly 60 people showed up to pitch in. According to Hamilton, other locals had attempted similar group projects in the past with little success. So, the fact that so many showed up for this project was pretty good in his opinion. It didn’t take long for Hamilton to think that he’d found his career path.
“That was a pretty good start for us, you know,” he said. “Others have tried to organize projects but couldn’t get more than 15 or 20 people, so 60 was pretty impressive to us.”
Over the past 13 years, RFOV has grown in the amount of projects they do each year, from three to about a dozen. They also see anywhere from 35 to 80 volunteers on each project. Hamilton’s position changed from part-time to a full-time in 2000 and they’ve recently hired another part-time person to help Hamilton in their two-room office in Basalt. Also in that time, RFOVs have done more than 120 flagship projects on over 100 miles of trails, Hamilton estimated, ranging from Aspen to Rifle. And this year’s final project in the fall will complete the circle as the RFOV do tamarisk removal near the town of Silt. That project means the group has done work in connection with each of the municipalities from Aspen to Rifle, Garfield County, the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management.
“It’s really hard to go out for a hike or ride in this valley and not benefit from the work of the RFOV,” he said.
It’s a dream that’s grown in terms of what they accomplish, while still remaining a true volunteer-based operation. And Hamilton still enjoys the work very much.
“My job, even though there are a lot of hours involved, it’s great people doing great things,” Hamilton said. “There isn’t too many negative things associated with it. People often tell me that I’m pretty lucky to be doing what I’m doing, and I agree with them.”
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