From skiing and mountain biking to rock climbing and hiking, Centennial State residents have no shortage of outdoor adventures to explore. The flip side? Each person who enjoys our outdoor spaces is slowly contributing to its environmental degradation. The impacts of a single person might not be obvious in a day, but over time, human traffic—combined with poor trail design—can lead to trail erosion and the deterioration of the surrounding landscape.
“Even if you’re not being a litterbug or vandalizing things, you’re still having an impact when you’re out hiking and biking,” says Kellie Flowers, marketing communications manager for Volunteers for Outdoor Colorado (VOC).
VOC is one of a number of organizations aiming to mitigate erosion across Colorado’s expansive trail network. Most of these organizations partner with local ranger districts to plan projects the previous fall or winter, but this year’s deeper than usual snowpack—along with an influx of spring avalanches—forced a change of plans. Some high-altitude projects were delayed because trails were buried by snow, while others shifted to clearing avalanche debris.
Now, as we enter the tail end of summer, these groups are looking for volunteers to help support their efforts to restore Colorado trails. Here’s how you can get involved.
Celebrating its 35th anniversary this year, VOC organizes projects across the state at various difficulty levels, so children as young as 8 years old can get involved. Most projects involve trail work, but in recent years, VOC has started organizing ecological restoration projects, where volunteers may plant native species or clear invasive weeds, as well as forest health projects, where volunteers remove dead trees to mitigate wildfire risk. VOC organizes about 60 public volunteer projects and 40 private projects with corporate and youth groups each year. No prior training or experience required.
How to get involved: Registration for VOC’s September and October projects opens on August 1. “We’re always willing to help people find a project that meets their comfort level,” Flowers says. “There really is a place for everybody.” Find more information, sign up, or donate online.
Spanning 3,100 miles from Mexico to Canada, the Continental Divide Trail reaches its highest point of 14,270 feet at Grays Peak. The coalition, run by a three-person team based in Golden, coordinates volunteer agreements with ranger districts throughout the state, organizes trail maintenance projects, and runs a trail adoption program. Trail adopters are responsible for a portion of the trail, which they must report on at least twice a year. CDTC provides trainings to adopters and, according to Gabe Etengoff, CDTC’s field programs coordinator, the coalition’s work helps handle maintenance projects that have become backlogged due to a lack of resources in the Forest Service.
How to get involved: This summer’s volunteer projects are filled, but the CDTC is looking for trail adopters for remote parts of the trail in the north and south of the state. “Those segments that need to be adopted are the ones that are six miles or maybe 16 miles into the wilderness,” Etengoff says. “It takes a pretty tenacious person to do that.” CDTC also accepts donations and has a membership program that grants discounts with the organization’s corporate sponsors.
The Colorado Trail Foundation is the organization that maintains the 486–mile Colorado Trail through the Rockies, from Denver to Durango. CTF starts recruiting volunteers for its summer trail crews in mid-February. The crews of up to 25 people camp, eat, and do trail work together along a portion of the Colorado Trail, fixing trail damage, building water diversion structures, replacing fallen or rotten bridges, and cutting back vegetation that is encroaching on the trail.
How to get involved: This summer’s trail crews are set, but CTF is always looking for potential trail adopters to add to their waiting list for when current adopters resign. The two-person staff also hosts mailing parties in their building in Golden, and donations can be made online.
More than 333,000 people hiked fourteeners in the Centennial State in 2017 alone, according to Hannah Clark, volunteer coordinator for the Colorado Fourteeners Initiative. “A trail is never done, so you can find work on a fourteener trail no matter what,” Clark says. The Colorado Fourteeners Initiative was formed in 1994 to “preserve the natural integrity of Colorado’s 54 14,000-foot peaks.” CFI does this by educating hikers and rerouting and maintaining trails. “Most of the fourteener trails were just user-created, so people saw the peak….and went straight for it,” Clark says. “We come back in and design trails that are more sustainable.” To date, CFI has built 31 sustainable routes on Colorado peaks and is in the process of building routes on Mt. Elbert and Mt. Columbia.
How to get involved: Add your name to the waiting list of your ideal project (CFI uses the waiting list to fill last-minute cancellations) or make a donation. CFI’s Peak Stewards program can always use more volunteers to educate hikers at trailheads. Learn more online and reach out to Clark directly at firstname.lastname@example.org to get involved.