A lean, but not mean, trail machine | PostIndependent.com

A lean, but not mean, trail machine

Amy Hadden Marsh
Special to the Post Independent
Post Independent
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
submitted photo

The Roaring Fork Valley and surrounding areas are abundant with trails for hiking, mountain biking and motorized vehicles. Some lead into the outback. Others are just outside town.

Ever wonder who carved those trails or who keeps them user-ready? Odds are, the Roaring Fork Outdoor Volunteers (RFOV) has had a hand – and more than a shovel or two – in it.

Since 1995, RFOV has created more than 27 miles of new, soft-surface trails and restored almost 250 miles of old trails in the Roaring Fork, Crystal, Fryingpan and Colorado River valleys. Volunteers have planted thousands of trees and acres of wetlands, too.

“Our mission,” said David Hamilton, RFOV director, “is to get people to take stewardship of public lands in a hands-on way.”

Community involvement in public lands trail maintenance has been around for a long time. RFOV’s model is based on that of the Appalachian Trail, whose upkeep changed hands about 30 years ago from federal agencies to volunteers from Maine to Georgia.

The model spread like wildfire across the country. In 1984, Volunteers for Outdoor Colorado (VOC) set up shop in Denver and started projects around the state.

Hamilton met up with VOC in 1987 and eventually became a member of the VOC board.

“I had an eye for trail design,” he said. “I loved it.”

He brought his skills to Aspen in 1994. By the following year, he had four trail projects lined up throughout the Roaring Fork Valley, including boardwalk repair along Aspen’s Hunter Creek Trail.

The projects were so successful that Hamilton took a leap of faith. He quit his day job as a Häagen-Dazs distributor and founded Roaring Fork Outdoor Volunteers, under the auspices of the Denver group.

RFOV has helped more than 30 local groups, including the Waldorf School, Jaywalker Lodge and the Glenwood Springs High School Honor Society, create projects and adopt trails. RFOV also worked with the Roaring Fork Mountain Bike Association on the Hidden Gems proposal, and designed the Colorow Trail near New Castle in partnership with federal land managers.

“Motorized groups, environmentalists and mountain bikers have all worked with us,” said Hamilton. “If they want to take care of the places they love, we’re there to help make it happen.”

Here’s how it works. Let’s say you have a favorite public lands trail, or that you need an outdoor project for your classroom or business. RFOV tailors the project to fit those needs and provides tools, crew leaders and a safety plan to get the job done right.

RFOV also cuts through red tape. Hamilton has forged relationships with just about every public land manager from Rifle to Aspen.

“There’s nothing greater for agencies than having citizens work with them, side-by-side,” he said.

Hikers and runners might be familiar with RFOV’s Glenwood Springs handiwork. Volunteers rebuilt eroded and rutted-out sections of the popular Scout Trail that climbs Lookout Mountain on the east side of town and the Jeannie Golay Trail on Red Mountain to the west. Five miles of the new Wulfsohn Trail above Glenwood Meadows are also complete, thanks to RFOV.

Two summers ago, RFOV tried something new. Weekends used to be the best time for trail work, but Hamilton said Saturdays are now saturated with activities throughout the valley. So he added weekday evening projects. It was a great way for people to get outside after work. Hamilton hopes to continue the program.

“We’ve attracted a lot of new volunteers this way,” he explained.

In fact, RFOV now has more than 400 individual and family members, 40 volunteer crew leaders, and a core group of 65 volunteers. More than 13,000 people have pitched in on projects over the past 16 years.

Hamilton works full time for RFOV along with three part-time staff. He’s getting ready to hire a youth program coordinator in February.

“Kids need their own program,” he said. “Most of them are volunteered for by adults.”

Youngsters lack investment in projects and often lose interest due to short attention spans or because it’s too hot or the shovel’s too heavy.

Hamilton hopes that kid-sized projects will help youngsters connect land stewardship with fun and a sense of accomplishment. He’s contacted organizations such as ACES and YouthZone to help shape the program, which bookends a day of trail work with motivational games and follow-up.

“Our goal is not as directed towards building a great trail as it is toward building great character,” he said.

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