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Hearty helpers wanted

Matt Zalaznick

Before taking such a trek, however, somebody –a lot of people, in fact –have to plow a 3,100-mile trail though five states, 25 national forests, 13 wildernesses, three national parks and one national monument.

That’s the scope of the Continental Divide Trail bridging from the United State’s northern border with Canada to it’s southern border with Mexico will continue building this summer.

Approximately 70 percent of the trail is finished, and volunteers hope to cut another 190 miles this summer, says Kimberly Horn, director of volunteer programs for the Trail Alliance.

“It’s very different from other national scenic trails. It’s very remote, rustic and rugged,” Horn says. “We want to keep it pretty primitive and rugged – and our goal is to keep it as close to the divide as possible, which means amazing views.”

The Continental Divide National Scenic Trail was designated by Congress in 1978. The Trail Alliance was formed in 1995 to spearhead volunteer efforts that assist government agencies in building and maintaining the trail.

The intensity of the volunteer projects varies from backpacking trips into the wilderness, car-camping excursions and one-day jobs, Horn says.

“We have week-long projects that go up to 14 miles into the backcountry and one-day projects for people who want to get out for the day,” Horn says.

As the trails name indicates – obviously – it runs the length of Colorado. It comes closest to the Vail Valley when it snakes through Camp Hale and the Holy Cross Wilderness before heading toward Mt. Elbert.

Two agencies –the Continental Divide Trail Alliance and the Colorado Trail Foundation –are now seeking volunteers to build, re-route and maintain stretches of trail this summer.

“Once you spend a week doing trail maintenance, you do feel ownership of the trail – that’s why we have good return on volunteers,” says Suzanne Reed, a volunteer coordinator with the Trail Foundation. “Many people come back every year – you sort of get addicted to it.”

Volunteers, however, don’t just dig. Work on the Colorado stretch of the Continental Divide Trail also will be on a camping trip. One day of the five-day trip is a “free day,” Reed says, where volunteers get to hike or rest.

“It’s a great experience to get out there for the whole week,” she says. “You don’t have to be experienced in trail work; you just have to be in pretty good physical shape.”

Trail Alliance project locations near the Vail Valley include:

– Clear Creek Bridge, Arapaho/Roosevelt National Forest, May 31.

– North Inlet, Rocky Mountain National Park, June 17-20.

– Fall River, Arapaho/Roosevelt National Forest, June 21-22.

– Tonahutu, Rocky Mountain National Park, June 24-27.

– Berthoud Pass East, June 28-29.

– Mt. Massive Wilderness, San Isabel National Forest, July 12-19.

– Holy Cross Wilderness, July 19-26.

– Berthoud Pass West/Jones Pass, Aug. 16-17.

– Loch Lomond, Arapaho/Roosevelt National Forest, Aug. 23-24.

Trail Foundation projects nearby include:

– Re-routing trail around Twin Lakes dam, early May.

– Maintenance on Mt. Elbert Trail, June 14-21.

– Re-routing a trail near Turquoise Lake, in the San Isabel National Forest, July 12-18.

– Maintenance on the trail at Camp Hale, date to be determined.

Homeland Security regulations require the trail to be moved away from Twin Lakes Dam. Maintenance of trails includes filling in trenches that develop on either side of heavily used trails, Reed says.

“If you don’t know a person to go with, come out and join a trail crew,” Reed says. “At end of the week you’ll have a whole new set of friends.”

Traversing the entire trail is estimated to take six months of planning and six months of hiking, Horn says.

“Several people do it every year, even though the trail’s not completed,” she says.

As the trail nears completions, the volunteers efforts are expanding, Horn says.

“We rely on several things: partner organizations, volunteers and a youth corps that goes out and works on the trail,” Horn says.

“It’s an amazing thing the volunteer project,” she adds. “It’s a great way to get people out, educate them about what doing on the trail and meet people who are like-minded. This is definitely becoming a well-known thing.”

To volunteer with the Continental Divide Trail Alliance:

Web site: http://www.cdtrail.org

Call: 1-888-909-CDTA (ext. 2382)

To volunteer with the Colorado Trail Foundation:

E-Mail: ctf@coloradotrail.org

Call: 1-303-384-3729

To see schedule of projects: http://www.coloradotrail.org

Cost: $50/week provides food, tools and training

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


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