Putting sweat equity into local trails | PostIndependent.com

Putting sweat equity into local trails

John GardnerGlenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Post Independent/Kara K. Pearson

NEW CASTLE – With the beautiful and dramatic scenery of Colorado’s Western Slope, it’s an ideal place for outdoor enthusiasts to call home. Standing on the Mount Medearis Trail in New Castle, a hiker is surrounded by scenery that seems crafted of oil paints, engulfing viewers in its beauty, giving them a taste of its strength.Kevin O’Brien, a volunteer with Roaring Fork Outdoor Volunteers, knows that beauty all too well. That’s why he works so hard to protect it by building and maintaining hiking trails in the valley.”I think trails are important,” O’Brien said. “I think they are a defined way to enjoy the beauty that is the reason most of us live here anyway.”Roughly 50 neighbors, from New Castle and surrounding towns, gave up their Saturday volunteering their time, to do some maintenance on the trail. Volunteers like John Cordasco, a teacher at L.W. St John Middle School in Parachute; John Leybourne, a planning technician for the town of Silt; Scott Weagraff, a laboratory technician at Valley View Hospital in Glenwood Springs; and numerous other men and women, young and old, all coming together to accomplish one goal: maintaining the beauty of their neighborhood.”I hike a lot and use a lot of the trails in the area,” said Weagraff, a first-time trail volunteer. “I feel the need to put back in what I get out of the trails I use.”

In the early morning hours of Saturday, five men moved a rather large rock from its resting place on the hillside above the Mount Medearis Trail and nestled it into a hole fashioned to the rock’s shape. The rock was the first of three steps built to make a section of the trail more easily traveled by hikers. It weighed close to 250 pounds and looked to be crafted specifically for this purpose; it was the perfect first step.The Mount Medearis Trail project was one of three organized by Roaring Fork Outdoor Volunteers (RFOV) in the valley as part of the 15th annual National Trails Day. RFOV also undertook trail projects in Basalt and Aspen on Saturday, their most ambitious National Trails Day so far.National Trails Day was founded in 1993 by the American Hiking Society as a way to increase awareness of community trails and also to provide assistance to the hundreds of volunteer trail clubs that take on the responsibility of maintaining the trails.The RFOV organizes about 10 projects a year, O’Brien said. Most projects are done one at a time but may have to be broken into separate days. The beauty of NTD is the way it brings neighbors together to maintain the outdoors they enjoy so much.”A lot of this started because of National Trails Day,” said Michael Hutton. Hutton is a founding member of RFOV and was the technical advisor for the Mount Medearis Trail project in New Castle.It was about 11 years ago when a group of neighbors came together, taking the first step to create the RFOV, Hutton said.Since then they’ve grown to more than 400 members and numerous volunteers from the scattered villages up and down the valley.”Like any organization, this one got off a slow start, too,” O’Brien said. “I think on the first project we only had eight people.”That’s a far cry from the estimated 130 volunteers who showed up for this weekend’s three projects.”It’s grown slowly,” O’Brien said. “But over the last four years it’s really taken off.”Project by project, one step at a time.

O’Brien also was one of the founding members of RFOV and was the board chair for the first five years. The outdoors for him is more than a playground, and it’s not something he is selfish with.”Trails are an important amenity to enjoying the open space,” he said. “People are going to be on the hills anyway. If you give them a trail, it reduces the destruction and erosion to the natural ecosystem.”Nine years ago, O’Brien and Hutton both worked on the Mount Medearis Trail. They and RFOV are the reason the trail exists today.”Most of us come to Colorado to enjoy the outdoors, be it skiing, biking, hiking or whatever,” Hutton said. “We all want that opportunity to do those activities in our backyard.”That’s how the Mount Medearis Trail came to be. Nine years ago there were no trails around New Castle, Hutton said. Now, thanks to RFOV and its community volunteers, New Castle has two: Medearis and the more recently created Colorow Trail, which was finished about two or three years ago.”It’s just a way to protect the natural beauty around us,” O’Brien said.Over the years, O’Brien has seen many changes to the area. Population growth and growing numbers of visitors, from the front range and elsewhere, has drastically increased the impact to the trails. So the work being done by volunteer trail organizations is becoming more and more necessary.”As the population grows and outdoor recreation becomes more and more popular there’s more that needs to be done,” O’Brien said. “But we don’t have the government resources to support the people that want to take part.”

Community contributions and membership donations are what have kept RFOV alive over the past 11 years. And of course the volunteers that donate time are the real heartbeat of the organization. They’re the ones getting their hands dirty, sweating on the trail, to make the grounds more accessible and more enjoyable for all.”I really like it,” O’Brien said. “If I weren’t here I’d be home working in the garden or something.”Teachers, city employees, laboratory technicians, mechanics and students, those are the people of RFOV.”Quality work and really good people,” O’Brien said.The beauty of volunteering.Contact John Gardner: 384-9114jgardner@postindependent.comPost Independent, Glenwood Springs, Colorado CO

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