Wow! What a Summer on Trails

WOW! This was the first word out of Jeff Outhier’s mouth about the trail maintenance he has seen up in the Sangres this summer. Jeff, our local U.S.Forest Service Representative, uttered his amazement after spending a day on horseback checking the condition of the lake trails. That evening he dropped into our monthly Trails For All meeting to give us feedback about what Trails For All volunteers have accomplished over the last 3 months.

Here’s one of the wonderful people who has made this possible.

Chuck Ziehr (“Z with an ‘ear’” he often says) is a treasure. Chuck and Judy have been coming to the Wet Mountain Valley for years from their home base in Oklahoma. They have spent so many of their vacations discovering the wonders abounding in the American West. And this particular valley was literally a natural draw for him, as he had spent some of his childhood in a log cabin built in the 1870’s in northwest Arkansas. Life in those hills near White Rock Mountain was a dream for a boy, because, “If we did anything there, it was out-of-doors.” And he has carried that outdoor lifestyle into the mountains here, spending countless hours soloing, especially between Rainbow Lake and Mosca Pass.

Joining Trails For All in its infancy (2017) was also a natural draw for him. Chuck has a doctorate in geography from Indiana University, and for 36 years he taught physical geography, economic/cultural geography, and more recently the Geographic Information System (GIS): a system designed to capture, store, manipulate, analyze, manage, and present all types of geographical data. He is steeped in awareness and appreciation for “place,” landscape, and how the geography of an area shapes history and is shaped by history. As he told me, “Everything happens somewhere. . . for reasons. . . with consequences. . . so geography matters.” To Trails For All, Chuck brings all of this wealth and the curiosity it nurtures in him. Like I said, what a treasure.

Chuck Ziehr on Music Pass

This summer Chuck joined Chris Eichman, Herb Kober, Sue Pelletier, and Ken Butler as crew leaders for trails maintenance. Jeff Outhier asked Trails For All to take responsibility for 11 different trails, clearing them of downed trees and daylighting them ( that is, creating the horizontal and vertical space around a trail to make it more usable, especially for horses). He also encouraged us to reroute water off of trails where erosion is causing damage. These dedicated trail crew leaders formed a great team. In May and June they made countless scouting trips up the lake trails, reporting back about snow level, avalanche damage, erosion, need for daylighting, and the location of downed trees. Often, they would make trail repairs and remove downed trees while scouting. And together they formed priority lists and chose which days they could each one lead trips, which trails they would service, and at what elevation their work would begin. As the snow receded the recruiting of volunteers began in earnest, and trail crews began to go on a regular basis. Here’s a short summary of what they accomplished:

  • 21 different volunteers cleared trails this summer. 2 more helped carry fish for Colorado Parks and Wildlife in early July, for restocking one creek.

  • 420 volunteer hours were invested in the health of the trails in the Sangres.

  • 12 different trails were serviced.

  • Trails For All volunteers cleared and improved 50 miles of trails.

  • There were at least 4 work days each month, and sometimes more.

I asked Chuck what he loves about trail maintenance. The words came easily and without hesitation. First of all, he said, “I love to be out on a trail.” His passion for being outside, reveling in the geography, reading the stories that these trails tell - all of this is so evident in him. Second, he expressed how rewarding it is to know you’re contributing to the well-being of the National Forest, especially since the U.S. Forest Service is so underfunded to do the work they’ve been given to do, and how much they depend on groups like Trails For All to make trails safer and more enjoyable.

And the third reason he loves the work is “the people.” These are people who love the mountains like he does. He calls them, “The best. They do this hard work, not for recognition. For love.” Every crew worked hard, Chuck said, leaving the trailheads at 8 AM and arriving back around 2-3 PM, with probably no more than a 20 minute lunch. It’s something awesome to be part of.

In closing, I asked him what he would like to leave with you readers. He said emphatically, “WE MUST HAVE MORE VOLUNTEERS!” The system we’re developing requires more people in order to do the job well and more thoroughly. We’re just now completing the trail work for 2019, but in 2020 we long to have more of you sign up and at least go out one time. We will soon be in danger of burning out our dedicated leaders and volunteers without more of you stepping up and investing back into the mountains we all so love.

I promise you this: if you join up with one of our work crews, and when along the way you meet Chuck Ziehr (that’s Z with an “ear”), you’ll discover that he’s a treasure. I believe you will join us in saying, “WOW!

Submitted by Paul Parsons

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