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Ute Trail will have a life of its own

We were gathered around the campfire at the edge of the Flat Tops Wilderness. That first morning Northern Ute Indian elder Clifford Duncan offered a traditional prayer to bless our endeavor.

It was a good way to start the last year of a 20-year project that had exceeded every expectation imaginable and then some.

The Ute Trail project, in cooperation with the Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service, had been awarded special funding. It had also won prestigious awards such as the Stephen H. Hart preservation award and the BLM National Volunteer award among many.



Service clubs such as Rotary International had helped over the years, and national corporate sponsors like Wal-Mart pitched in when needed.

It had included partners such as Alpine Bank, the three Ute Indian tribes, the National Park Service, Colorado Mountain College and the Roaring Fork Outdoor Volunteers.



In years past, volunteers from across the nation had helped through the Forest Service’s Passport in Time program. But this year only the core team was present.

One of those team members is Dr. Jim Goss, professor emeritus from Texas Tech University. His ancestors include the Piutes, the “water Utes.” Maybe that’s why it rained on us the whole trip, every day almost all day.

Over the years Jim has become the Coyote of the project, the trickster. But he has also imparted to us great words of wisdom.

My favorite words from Jim are, “Life is a ceremony, and we all have a part in it. Be part of the dance. As long as the dance goes on, we will be OK.”

Was the dance about to end? Not really. The land that has inspired us all these years is still here. The Flat Tops wilderness endures and will inspire future generations.

The main goal this year had been to find the reported location of the sacred paint, the red ochre used in ceremonies. That had been accomplished.

So, on the last day I asked a favor from the team. Go find a special place or take a long hike. Come back at the end of the day with your thoughts about what we do next.

After all, this place inspired Arthur Carhart with the very idea of wilderness preservation. Henceforth Trappers Lake has been known as “the cradle of wilderness.”

My mind went back to the first public meeting we had on the Ute Trial. When asked if we should form a group like the Oregon Trail Association, the response was unanimous. Leave the trail alone. Don’t encumber it.

And when the three Ute tribes camped out with Forest Service officials for three days along the trail in 1994 the same feeling was expressed. The trail has taken care of itself all these years. Leave it alone.

The team answer to my question echoed the same sentiment. Leave the Ute Trial alone. Let it have a life of its own.

This is one dance that will go on long after the music has stopped.

Writing from 25 years of experience in federal land management agencies, Bill Kight, of Glenwood Springs, shares his stories with readers every other week.


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