It was May when Trails for All started hearing that the Cottonwood Creek Trail needed to be a high priority for clearing. Several of our intrepid local volunteers scouted the little-used drainage in between tempestuous spring storms. The snow took its time retreating, but a hardy crew of three finally made it almost to 11,000 feet -- cutting through deadfall and daylighting other growth -- clearing the way for people and mules.
The reason for the high priority was a special fish-stocking mission that required the coordination of several agencies and organizations, including Colorado Parks and Wildlife and the U.S. Forest Service. July 1, Trails for All volunteers were also on hand for the “big event,” the re-homing of rare native Greenback trout rescued in 2016 from the Hayden Creek Fire.
The Sangre de Cristos offer something for everyone. From easy to challenging, the trails are ready (thanks to the trail maintenance volunteers) to accommodate horses, motorcycles, ATVs, road bikes, mountain bikes, snowmobiles and hikers. You can exhaust yourself scaling a 14er. Or… you can climb a gentle grade and just sit.
A certified Native Plant Master, she honed her skills volunteering at Denver’s Botanical Garden and tropical atrium. She has also served as a field naturalist guide at Chatfield Arboretum in Littleton, owned and operated by DBG. In addition, Christina has led field guide groups during Crested Butte’s annual Wildflower Festival. Locally, she has shared her expertise with both the Custer Country Weed Advisory Board and the San Isabel Land Trust.
New landowners, who may not be familiar with our native plants, will find her a willing and valuable resource. Walking the owners’ newly acquired property, she can advise them on what plants need to be protected. If you point to a plant, she can name it: Astragalus, Calendula, Comfrey, Dandelion, Hyssop, Lavender, Motherwort or Nettle? Beyond identification, Macleod can tell you the medicinal properties of each. Typically, we think of burdock, nettles, and dandelions as weeds, but each has curative properties.
Locally, Christina offers several plant and flower hikes throughout the summer. You can check her schedule at www.christinamacleod.com, or you can question her by email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Christina stresses that her plant walks are walks, not hikes. She stays close to the Rainbow Trail, and her rambles are “assessible to all.” Non-hikers, including summer guests coming from a lower elevation, will enjoy their day. “I do interpretative teaching on the trail. I focus on family morphology and the interrelationship between plants in specific environments. We spend a lot of time on our hands and knees. At the end of the hike, I want those with me to say, ‘This is of value to me: I want to protect it.’”
“At the beginning of the hike, those in my company may be solely focused on plant identification which calls for using their left brain, but on their return, I hope that they are using their right brain.” Christina mentions “Forest Bathing,” a term coined in 1982 by the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries. Forest bathing is a person’s quiet immersion in nature. Research in Japan and South Korea has generated a significant body of scientific literature that supports the health benefits of soaking up forest sights, smells, and sounds.
The health benefits of quiet immersion in a natural setting include lower stress levels, a better working memory, and feeling more alive. Statistics analyzed in 2001 by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency revealed that the average American spent 87% of his time inside and 6% of his time in a vehicle. If those statistics were valid in 2001, they can only be worse in 2019!
Christina has many skills and does many things, but everything that she does leads to mental, physical, spiritual unity. Attending to the natural world pulls the disparate parts together. Chuckling, she shared one final story. “Typically, in the past, I held my plant walks on Saturdays because many people go to church on Sunday. But one weekend, I offered a walk on Sunday. At the end of the walk, I apologized to the churchgoers, and one woman said, 'This was church!'"
Just like people, time spent on trails comes in all of shapes and sizes: We have muscle-cramping, heart-thudding trails that challenge us to summit, but we also have trails that lead us to a quiet glade and spiritual renewal. All of them need care and stewardship. And Christina Macleod's knowledge and affection for native plants extends that invitation, “I want the public to take ownership of the planet," she says. "If you love what you see, you want to take care of it.”
**Submitted by Doris Dembosky, volunteer writer for Trails for All
Volunteers make Trails for All go, and we often mean that literally. Take Chris Eichman for example. He retired to the valley a few years ago, after a career split between forestry and civil service with the U.S. government. One thing he has never lost is a passion for the out-of-doors, and with retirement he has space and time to pursue doing what he loves best: hiking, backpacking, fishing, skiing. From the beginning he has been a part of Trails For All, leading trail maintenance crews, getting training from the Forest Service, and attending Trails board meetings and clinics. Recently, he completed training for certification in using a cross-cut saw! He loves the out-of-doors and has a heart for solitude and wonder, elevation and distance.
Collaboration with other user groups was another important theme that Chris heard. The more communication and cooperation between various user groups, the more community will develop and everyone benefits. There was a special emphasis at this workshop on the connection between hikers and horsemen/horsewomen.
Most trails groups are challenged by the need to raise funds. Grant-writing received a fair amount of attention. Creating membership was also suggested, with a modest annual fee and a number of benefits that might be associated with membership. And corporate sponsorship is becoming a reality in many parts of the country, with a company or institution sponsoring a trails group in return for displaying that organization’s logo on its website, shirts, or publications.
Perhaps most important of all, the care and celebration of volunteers was given a high value at this workshop. Those who taught on this theme insisted that thanking people for what they have done is vital. Having distinctive shirts, vests, and/or patches lend official authorization and help create a sense of team loyalty, especially in the realm of trails maintenance. Photos posted from events on Facebook and our website are always helpful in making what we do real to those outside the organization. And there is no way to overestimate the goodness of social events to celebrate work completed, to experience the bonds that are formed when we work together, and to share the sense of accomplishment.
If you’re reading this and you aren’t plugged into the life and work of Trails For All, you’re missing out on time with some amazing people, like Chris Eichman. Come join us this summer. We have a lot of work to do, and we do it better together!
Post contributed by Paul Parsons, TfA President
Often the journey towards what we love is filled with surprises. That certainly has been true for Tom and Taurin Dimler.
Many of you know Tom, the owner and face of “All the Range,” the outdoor gear store on Main Street in Westcliffe. He is an accomplished mountain climber and dry-wall craftsman, who began yearning to own and operate an outdoor store several years ago. The surprise was how the business called “Take A Hike” changed hands and became his own “All the Range” so easily.
Taurin may not be as well known to some of you, although she’s had a foot here in the valley for a long time. Taurin’s family bought a hunter’s cabin in Bull Domingo in 1993 as a summer home, which they remodeled over the years. When her father and mother retired, they resettled to the Wet Mountain Valley year-round until their deaths in 2015. Taurin has a lifetime of memories lived in this valley, and she treasured the possibility of living in the family home full-time. The surprise was how quickly it happened.
Enter Trails For All. About the time the Dimlers moved here full time, having lost 3 parents in one calendar year, and looking for the stability and rootedness they were now missing, Trails For All was forming. Tom joined the fledgling group as it organized, and he has been a vital part of the process of TFA’s development as a non-profit.
At the same time Taurin, an experienced teacher, started working part-time at the Custer County School. Previously she had seen countless students in the Denver and Jefferson County school system who had no experience in the out-of-doors. She wondered if there would ever be a need for outdoor education for children in the Wet Mountain Valley. The surprise was an open door to apply for a grant that would involve both Tom and Taurin’s passions together.
They call it S.E.E.K.: Sangre de Cristo Environmental Education for Kids. In their planning, they envision reaching out to students in the late elementary grades and expanding to older grades in the summers to come. There hopefully will be 5 gatherings, one per week, all of them in the month of June, and all of them at All the Range. They hope to use the first and third sessions for teaching the 10 Essentials (what one should take to be prepared in the out-of-doors), Leave No Trace (how to treat nature), and Courtesy (how to interact with others on trails). The second, fourth and fifth sessions would then be spent on outings, where the students can practice what they’ve been learning, and use some of the items they will receive from S.E.E.K., like a backpack, sunscreen, whistle, compass, water bottle, and more.
The top limit for this year’s pilot project will be 10-15 students. They are asking that the kids who sign up make a commitment to attend all 5 sessions, if possible. The dream is that this may lay the foundation for the creation of an Outdoor Club at the Custer County School.
I asked them what they may need in order to make this program happen. A handful of volunteers will be needed to serve as caring adults in both inside teachings as well as the outdoor outings. Transportation to and from outings will be a key need.
Here’s how you can get more information, sign up a student, and/or volunteer your time:
Your surprise just might be getting to know this great couple, or some fantastic students, or learning something you’ve not been exposed to, or simply experiencing how fun it is to serve.
(Contributed by Paul Parsons)
A third question of interest to Trails for All members would be “What urged you to volunteer with Trails for All?”
Listening to John talk of his youth in rural England, it is clear where the seeds were sown.
Born in Devon England, “wet, muddy, and overcast,” Anderson was no stranger to a lifestyle that included horses and cows.
In his youth he was both a cathedral chorister and beginning with Pony Club (where at 10-years of age he met his wife, Annabel) Anderson moved on to horses – dressage, Cross-country, jumping and fox hunting.
Not that his boyhood was all that jolly: recounting his youth, Anderson spoke driving a sledge loaded with cow hay through snow that was trapped between the hedges.
Following graduation from high school, Anderson and three classmates took a Gap Year in northern India where they volunteered in a leprosy colony sponsored by the international charity, Lepra. (Should you want to get up-close-and-personal with Lepra, read Rebecca Root’s post.)
Anderson is alight with passion recalling his multiple visits to India/Nepal. “The variety of languages - maybe as many as five in a village the size of Westcliffe - the number of religions… the smells… the food… the social structure…” ( Anderson takes a breath to savor his memories) “It is a society that has not been destroyed.”
Following his university studies, Anderson and Annabel, both joined Reuters and eventually made their way to the United States where they lived along the Hudson River before moving to Oregon, California, and Idaho.
Always an athlete, Anderson (who was a keen on ocean kayaking, running, swimming and shooting) discovered the world of donkeys at Rent-a-Donkey in Fairplay.
From there it was just a short jump to finding his own donkey at the Longhopes Donkey Shelter in Bennett, CO.
With their long ears and their braying call, a donkey is no match for an Arabian horse in a beauty contest, but on the plus side, donkeys are loyal, one-person animals.
And as they say, “The rest is history.” The donkeys have led Anderson to The Triple Crown of burro/donkey racing in Fairplay, Leadville, and Buena Vista.
In addition to Colorado’s triple Crown, Anderson fondly recalls his exploration of the Grand Canyon’s northern plateau which called for riding 50 miles a day for five days.
A well-known hike by locals is traversing the Comanche/Venable loop with its death-defying Phantom Terrace. It is scary for hikers on foot, but Anderson visibly chills telling of his donkey, widened with panniers, on the narrow shelf his donkey’s left leg off the overhang.
As someone who spends a lot of time in the Sangres, Anderson is enthusiastic about Trails for All, the grassroots non-profit currently under the leadership of Paul Parsons.
“It’s a good thing to do. Paul is very open and inclusive. It is exciting to be part of something from the ground up - removing deadfall, maintaining trails, and following best practices.”
“And it’s good to get people out. The trick will be to build the program and keep the volunteers energized year after year.”
John Anderson – a mover and a shaker, and just one member of TfA who is passionate about the outdoors and supporting the USDA forest service.
~ Contributed by Doris Dembosky
You would be hard-pressed to find anyone who is more of a friend to trails in our region than Jeff Outhier. Jeff is the U.S.Forest Service representative for our area, and he brings a breath-taking, wide-ranging knowledge of everything from how to use a crosscut saw to the management of wildfires to the invasive weeds that threaten the forest environment. Even more importantly, Jeff lives much of his daily life out on the more than 200 trails in our two mountain ranges. I saw down with him recently to ask him about his work as it pertains to trails.
One of the most impressive things is Jeff’s heart. He doesn’t simply know a lot of information in his mind - he loves this place deeply. He experiences the area in which we live as unique, filled with a whole range of ecological zones, so close to the megapolis of the Front Range, and yet so untouched compared with almost all the outdoor environments near those cities. And this in turn fuels his passion for the wide range of responsibilities of his work (“We get to do a little bit of everything”) without getting pigeon-holed into one single niche of outdoor work.
Listen to just a few of his duties: fire-mitigation, trail rebuilding, educating the public, giving permits for the gathering of firewood and Christmas trees, overseeing the grazing of cattle on Federal land, and engaging volunteers like those of us in Trails For All in the ongoing work of trail clearing. The wonderful thing about it is that he gets to do so much of it on and with his mules, which may be the greatest passion of his life!
In light of all of that he loves, I asked Jeff what one thing would he change if he could about his work. Without hesitation, he named the centralization of the U.S.Forest Service.
It used to be that the Forest Service delegated a good deal of authority and responsibility to local districts, trusting their people to apply national mandates creatively to locally unique situations. This depended upon the Forest Service people out on the front lines to be generalists, who operated with a wide range of skills and expertise. Today, however, the U.S.F.S. is moving towards more and more centralization and specialization, which favors far more a “one size fits all” set of solutions. As Jeff puts it, they’re losing their “connection to the ground.” The institutional memory of the Forest Service, which makes it one of (if not) the most unique organizations in the world, is being lost in the pursuit of efficiency and sameness.
Jeff oversees a small Forest Service office, with basically two seasonal employees and volunteers like Trails For All. This has come about because of decades of underfunding by the Federal government. As a result some of what the Wilderness Act of 1964 defines and mandates as Federal law cannot be enforced; there simply isn’t enough time, people, or resources to do it all. That’s one reason why volunteers and groups like Trails For All matter so very much - we extend the reach and efforts of the Forest Service at little or no cost to the agency. This summer, Jeff is hoping to deploy TFA in the clearing, daylighting, and maintaining of many of the most traveled lake trails: Comanche, Venable, Horn Lakes, Lake of the Clouds, Swift, N.Taylor, S.Colony, Horn Peak, Dry Creek, Macey, and Goodwin. He also is highly supportive of anything we can do to educate people in best practices in the out-of-doors, through our clinics and special events.
I asked him if there was one thing he wanted from the public, with regards to the use of trails in our area. The answer was on the tip of his tongue: “Realize your impact on others.” Every time we go out, we’re going to impact the environment of our forests and trails, for better or worse. Every decision we make, every step we take, we're changing our environment. Be aware and make good choices.
As we finished the interview I wondered out loud what he does with “free time,” if there ever is any! And he said simply, “You’ll find me out in the forest with my mules.” Enough said.
We have a treasure in this “old school” Forest Service ranger. We are incredibly fortunate. If you’d like to join us in ways in which we can extend his work, please sign up to be a part of trail maintenance in 2019.
Great communications doesn’t depend on one person. Clearly defined tasks with small time commitments can keep the Trails for All story in front of the community every week. These roles can be filled separately by individuals, or combined for someone willing to take on more.
Event Central Intelligence (1 person): Gather and track all event details: description, date, time, contact/registration, other details of all events (Qualities: Behind the scenes, detail-oriented, willingness to keep this section of online communication plan up-to-date)
Time Commitment: 30 minutes/event (Total depends on # of events)
Story Collectors (2-3 people): Collect 1 story/month or quarter from list generated by group (Qualities: good listener, curious, enjoy writing, able to schedule an interview and meet a generous deadline — training and template available)
Time Commitment: 2-3 hours/story (maximum: one story every other month)
FaceBook Moderators (2-3 people): Post 1x /week with a picture and content generated by group, also check feed/respond 1x/day, 3-4 days/week (Qualities: Enjoy and understand FB platform, committed to a courteous & optimistic social media tone, eager to respond with accurate info, reliable with a low time commitment, willingness to keep online communication plan updated)
Time Commitment: 30 minutes/week (or more if FB sucks you in :-)
Trail Tip Researchers (1-2 people): Find and collect
vital data, safety tips and pertinent links to inform public about trails safety, smarts, etiquette, etc. (Qualities: Enjoy research and education, ability to verify information for accuracy, willingness to upload to online communication plan)
Time Commitment: 1 hour/month
Photographers (1-100) people: Amateurs and pros who already have quality digital photos of Wet Mountain Valley trails and trail activities -- or willing to capture TfA in action, politely ask for permission to use photos, and provide files for use (Qualities: Enjoy photographing and/or snapping candids of scenery and people that capture the feeling of the moment, ability to upload electronic files to online communication plan in a timely fashion)
Time Commitment: 1 hour/event
Managing Editor and Web Master (1): Responsible for editing Google doc Comm database, compiling monthly eNewsletter, posting information on the Website and maintaining accuracy of online information. Coordinates with volunteers and website designer for expansion of the site’s functions. (Qualities: Behind-the-scenes, strong writing background, comfort with technology, online design and writing for the web, detail-oriented, committed to staying in communication with entire team)
Time Commitment: 4-5 hours/month
Stories about trail people, details about ways you can get involved, tips for outdoor safety and up-to-date trail summaries coming soon.
Find out more about the people behind the trails -- from Forest Rangers, to Trail Maintainers, from Search and Rescue volunteers to trail users who can't get enough of the Wet Mountain Valley. Real people are at the heart of the trails you love.
At the invitation of the Wet Mountain Tribune, volunteers with Trails for All will be writing and compiling trail guides for all users in the Sangres and the Wets. Look for new guides in the newspaper each week, then they will be archived here.