GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. - When the City of Grand Junction's Riverfront Trail Host program kicked off 15 years ago, it made sense from a law-enforcement standpoint to have a volunteer group patrolling the trail.
"It was in the spirit of community policing," Paula Anderson said.
Anderson, a former City employee and one of the first organizers of the program, said volunteer hosts back then were recruited to fulfill a variety of needs for trail users.
Their presence is meant to "increase the comfort of users," Anderson said, and to be a tool for crime prevention.
"A lot of people out there were using (the Riverfront Trail System)," she said, "and the population was growing."
Volunteers were out there building relationships on the trails, too, she added.
"That's as true today as it was back then."
Originally a Grand Junction Police Department program, the Riverfront Trail Host program is now run by the City's Department of Parks and Recreation. Yet, its mission is the same; to act as a preventative, feel-good community service for trail users in the valley.
Volunteer trail hosts are able to answer a variety of questions, like: "How long is the trail?" or "What's that bird called?" And they are also armed with a whistle, a cell phone and basic first-aid knowledge.
According to City of GJ Parks and Recreation program coordinator Lorie Gregor, volunteers must be able to donate at least two hours a week to trail supervision.
A yellow vest identifies a volunteer as a trail host, Gregor noted, "and anyone can see it from a great distance."
"They can help trail users in whatever fashion needed," she said --a flat-tire on a bicycle or a Band-Aid to a scraped knee. And they can call 911 or non-emergency dispatch should a problem arise.
Longtime trail host Bill Price said he's personally never seen a true emergency on the trails during his patrol, but being out there is nonetheless important.
"I have been told, particularly by women, that they appreciate someone being out there," Price said, who noted a transient problem around the river. "Having a presence there with a cell phone is a good feeling for them."
Price added that most of his contact with the public, besides "Hi, how are you doing?," are conversations about leashing dogs.
"People love to take dogs on the trail," he said, "and it is a council and city ordinance that dogs be leashed. Many people refuse to do that, and I have lots of discussions with folks about that."
Price noted that many people take the leash laws seriously, too.
"Just like anything else, there's a good and a bad," he said.
Gregor additionally said that trail hosts work with the Department of Wildlife should they see "exotic animals dumped on the trail or injured animals."
Plus, volunteers are "the eyes and ears for trail damage," she said. "It helps the City budget for trail maintenance."
Volunteers either bike or walk during their scheduled patrol times. And, according to Price, his time out on the trail is good for him as well.
"I exercise - biking and walking - and I try to stay busy no matter what," he said.
Though trail host positions are unpaid, there is a formalized interview process which includes a background check.
"You can't just sign up," Anderson said. "There's a lot of training that goes into it. It's a long-term commitment."
Anyone can apply and there's no age requirement for volunteers, Gregor added, though trail hosts must be able to work every week to patrol their designated area.
Volunteers must also attend monthly meetings March through September, and the gatherings are meant to be both educational and fun for the group.
"There are trail hosts that have been involved for decades," Gregor said. "They're very dedicated."
Currently, Gregor said the trail host program is made up of 24 regular volunteers, though she'd love to have 50 or more.
"These are like-minded people with a passion for life and the outdoors," Gregor said. "They like physical activity and it's an opportunity to come together and do something awesome for the community."
Interested folks should contact Gregor at the City of Grand Junction's Parks and Recreation Department at 970-254-3876.