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Trail Notes: A community’s love for wilderness

Locations: Columns, Opinion Published

By Calen Vickers
Roaring Fork Outdoor Volunteers

With increased funding opportunities brought about by the Great American Outdoors Act of 2020, many nonprofit organizations have been able to grow and expand their reach. 

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For the first time, Roaring Fork Outdoor Volunteers (RFOV) was able to hire a professional team of three trail workers. In partnership with the U.S. Forest Service Aspen-Sopris Ranger District, this team repaired and maintained many troubled trail systems within the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness area .

Shaw Hughes, Tyler Arsenault and I spent eight days at-a-time living and working in one of the most spectacular landscapes in the world. While staring up at cloud shrouded mountains every day is truly impactful, what resonated with me the most was the sense of community we felt among those peaks.

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Everybody knows, and often bemoans, how popular the Bells are these days. The Four Pass Loop, in particular, attracts thousands of visitors every year — plus visitation skyrocketing during the pandemic — impacting the quality of wilderness in the region. However, something powerful happens out there to even the most novice explorer: they fall in love.

This might sound silly to some people, but those of us who call this corner of the world home know the truth of it. It is the reason we are all here. Love for the natural world is what binds us to this place and to each other. It is the foundation of our community. You can find the strongest evidence of this out on the trail.

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For a trail worker, such as myself, it is easy arithmetic to anticipate what sort of condition the trails will be in. 

One would think, the Maroon Bells, being the second-most photographed mountains in the world, that the paths around them would be the second-most deteriorated trail systems in the world. This is simply not the case! These trails are clearly well loved and cared for. Many professional teams, such as mine, roam these hills on the lookout for problems to solve. 

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However, there are not many of us considering the size of this Wilderness. It has taken many more hands than ours to do this work. The true credit goes to the community.

RFOV alone sends hundreds of volunteers each year into the backcountry with the skills to care for the trails — and there are many organizations like it. It was astounding how many folks I spoke with this summer who have dedicated much of their precious time to care for these trails. I am continually impressed by the enthusiastic support the people of this community show for their open spaces.

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And, it’s not just the locals who pitch in. I worked alongside several volunteers who found time to swing a pulaski with us in the middle of their vacation. It seemed as though every other group of backpackers we spoke with had volunteer experience. The rest — even if at first they assumed we were out there mining or gardening — showed a keen interest in not just what we were doing, but how they could be a part of it. Many of them may never give their time here in Colorado, but they will take that curiosity and enthusiasm home with them.

The RFOV crew had an amazing time this summer. On top of the memories of our many struggles and successes, I have two major takeaways. First, this community is passionate about giving back to the public lands which we all love. Second, that the love we share for our home is infectious. True, the mountains do most of the work all on their own, but it is all of us who provide a positive example of stewardship and the framework for others to join in this labor of love.

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It is clear to me, whether we intend it or not, that the actions of our community have a ripple effect across the world. I am proud to be a pebble in the pond alongside the rest of you, and I hope to see you on the trail.

Upcoming RFOV projects include fire mitigation on Sunday, Oct. 2 at Wulfsohn in Glenwood Springs — childcare for children ages 4-8 will be available. Then on Sunday, Oct. 9 at Basalt’s expanding Ponderosa Trail, we will enhance new sections to make an accessible riparian trail for all ages and abilities.  Volunteers are invited to register online at 

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Tags: #Calen Vickers #Roaring Fork Outdoor Volunteers #Trail Notes
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