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Cross-country trail needs federal boost

Matt Zalaznick

Volunteers who helped build the 3,100-mile cross-country Continental Divide Trail say they tired of being put on the “back burner” by federal agencies managing construction.

U.S. Forest Service officials say they’re eager to cooperate, but a cash crunch has hampered their ability to bring on volunteers in major recreation projects like the Continental Divide Trail.

Paula Ward, an executive director of the Continental Divide Trail Alliance, says the U.S. Forest Service could give volunteer groups a much bigger role in plowing of the 3,100 mile trail that runs through Colorado on its way from Canada to the Mexican border.



“We can’t expand if the door’s only cracked open,” says Ward. “We want the door wide open. We can filter a ton of people through the door. We can make a much bigger difference.”

The problem is the Forest Service is lacking managers to supervise the volunteers who want to help plow the trail, says Francisco Valenzuela, a recreation planner based in the Rocky Mountain Regional office of Forest Service in Lakewood.



“Just imagine a lot of people with chain saws running around,” he says. “We want volunteers to have a good experience – a good-faith experience – and secondly, we want to make sure the efforts are geared toward accomplishing quality trail construction.”

The Continental Divide Trail Alliance is mobilizing a “wide spectrum” of citizens, volunteers, land managers and supporters to wrestle with problems that will determine the fate of scenic trail, Ward says.

The group is sponsoring TrailFest 2003, October 11 and 12 at the Golden Hotel in Golden. Its the organization’s fifth national conference.



“What we want to discuss is how the public, how the community, can be more engaged in getting this thing done,” Ward says. “It’s going to take a solid commitment from the Forest Service, who is charged with getting the trail done.

“It’s going to take commitment, people, money and resources to make it happen,” she says.

Valenzuela says his agency appreciates the “outstanding” efforts of the volunteers working on the trial.

“It’d be great if we could get more people involved,” Valenzuela says. “We’re in total agreement with the Continental Divide Trail Alliance that we need to increase volunteerism.”

The Forest Service does plan use more volunteers, he says.

“We are struggling with our capabilities to supervise and manage volunteers,” he said. “You need trained volunteers and you need supervision. We are so understaffed, it’s difficult to provide that level of support at this time. However, it’s our vision to greatly increase the amount of volunteers on the National Forest.”

The agency is working on a solution, he says. The Forest Service is working a groups called Volunteers for Outdoor Colorado to develop volunteer leadership training program. That organization and the Forest Service should be able to produce a group of volunteers qualified to supervise other volunteers, he says.

“They’re actually going to be able to supervise,” he says. “The Forest Service is not growing and the only way use volunteers is to create a new cadre of volunteer leaders.”

Ward says trail construction has been overshadowed by the national effort to reduce the risk of forest fires. Ward says the trails are not receiving the attention they deserve.

“Our goal is to complete a non-motorized Continental Divide trail by 2008,” Ward says. “It will take widespread public involvement and increased commitment from the federal land management agencies to make this happen.”

When completed, the Continental Divide Trail – or “King of Trails” – will stretch 3,100 miles between Canada and Mexico along the backbone of America through some of the most wild and picturesque landscapes in North America, members of the Trail Alliance say.

“This spectacular trail, designated in 1978 by Congress, will ultimately be a premier non-motorized, primitive and challenging experience and will traverse some of the most spectacular scenery in the world,” says Royal Robbins, a Continental Divide Trail Alliance board member.

The trail includes dozens of unique ecosystems, three national parks and thousands of historical, cultural and scenic landmarks, Ward says.

“These are assets and resources for the American people,” Ward says, “and they keep getting put on the back burner.”

Matt Zalaznick can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 606, or via e-mail at mzalaznick@vaildaily.com.


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