Vail Valley: 14’ers group seeks a few good stewards
An organization that has taken Colorado’s highest peaks under its wing is looking for a few good stewards from the Vail Valley.
The Colorado Fourteeners Initiative (CFI) wants volunteers who will spend time on the trails of the 54 mountains higher than 14,000 feet and share tips with other hikers on how they can lessen their footprint on the fragile terrain.
CFI is best known for its trail work. It typically works in areas where several social trails, also known as braided trails, formed over the years or where an unsustainable trail developed and is now eroded. It designates one trail and rehabilitates other land to prevent further damage to high-elevation flora.
But building trails isn’t enough, said CFI Executive Director Lloyd Athearn.
“We’d be constantly fighting an uphill battle, no pun intended, if all we were doing is building trails and maintaining the trails,” he said.
An estimated 500,000 people attempt to climb or hike at least one 14er every summer, CFI estimates. With that number of people heading up the big peaks, environmental damage is inevitable, especially to fragile plants, if hikers don’t take care.
Volunteers in the Peak Steward Program provide information about that care and monitor conditions. The volunteers aren’t “peak police,” said Brian Wallace, CFI’s education and outreach coordinator; he handles training for CFI. The volunteers don’t call anyone out for their actions. “It’s very non-confrontational,” he said.
The volunteers are trained in environmental education techniques, including “Authority of the Resource.” In other words, Wallace said, they build awareness among hikers of their actions on the unique environment of the 14ers. They take the opportunity to talk to people when appropriate, either along the trails of the 14ers or at trail heads. Hiking to the summit of the big peaks is a benefit of the job, not a requirement.
Volunteers are also trained in alpine ecology, mountain safety, Leave No Trace principles and U.S. Forest Service regulations.
A training day will be held for the Peak Steward Program on Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Glenwood Springs Community Center. Wallace will also hold a half-day field training later this spring with volunteers, somewhere in the Elk Mountains.
“We’re trying to get the locals involved,” he said. “People are amazed when I tell them they can hike and volunteer at the same time.”
Volunteers in the program are asked to spend at least four days on 14er trails during the summer. Helpers from the Roaring Fork Valley don’t necessarily have to do their time on one of the six 14ers in the Elk Mountains around Aspen: Castle, Pyramid, North Maroon, Maroon, Snowmass and Capitol.
To register for Saturday’s training, call Brian Wallace at 303-278-7650, or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can also register online at the CFI website at http://www.14ers.org, then look for the link for Peak Steward Trainings.