By Tyler Grimes
“Mile for mile the beautiful trail in America,” boasts the Colorado Trail Foundation (CTF) of the 468-mile trail between Waterton Canyon southwest of Denver to Durango. Thousands hike the free-to-the-public trail, some day users, others straight through. “In 2015, there were 230 known CT completers, a hodgepodge of multi-year section doers and thru-travelers: hike, bike and horse,” said Bill Manning, CTF Executive Director. The CT spans five national forests through 11 ranger districts and six wilderness areas, climbing from a mile high to over 13,000 feet. “Trips range from less than an hour to more than a month,” said Manning. “Possibly the most engaged users are the thru-hikers striving to see all 486 miles in a single trip.”
The “Rocky Mountain Trail” was conceived in 1973 and completed in 1987. The trail was a collaborative effort between Colorado Mountain Club, the U.S. Forest Service (USFS), and the Colorado Mountain Trails Foundation. The Colorado Trail Foundation began the same year as the trail’s completion, with a mission to finish and maintain the trail. Ed Quillen, founder of Colorado Central Magazine, wrote about the construction of the trail in 1984 for Empire Magazine in an article titled, “Trail to Nowhere.”
If there was a cornerstone person in the trail building process it was Gudy Gaskill, “Mother of the Colorado Trail.” Gaskill, who was chair of the Colorado Mountain Club’s Huts and Trails Committee in 1974, was on the first advisory board and helped organize the trail’s planning. Her efforts led the trail from an idea, to planning, to organizing, to a cooperative agreement with the USFS, to the founding of the foundational non-profit and on to completion.
Gaskill received many accolades for her work on the trail, including the Great Outdoor Colorado service award, the Take Pride in America award from President Reagan and the One Thousand Points of Light award from President Bush in 1990. In 1988, Gaskill and a group of trail builders hiked the newly-completed trail to a dedication ceremony in Durango. Gaskill was the first board president for the Colorado Trail Foundation until she retired in 1998. The Mother of the Colorado Trail continued to serve as an advisor to the CTF board until last May, just two months before her death in July.
The CTF now has three full-time employees responsible for keeping the trail in top condition and creating new sections. Bill Manning became the first managing director in 2006 and continues as CTF’s executive director, working alongside an assistant in Golden. In the spring of 2015, the CTF replaced a volunteer vacancy by creating a new field operations manager position.
Brent Adams moved to Buena Vista last year to join the foundation. He left a career as a civil engineer in Durango. As field operations manager, Adams oversees yearly trail maintenance and new trail diversions, serves as a liaison with land managers and coordinates volunteers. The Colorado Trail relies on volunteer labor to complete projects, with over 20,000 volunteer hours each year.
Adams was a friend of the trail for years before coming on staff with the CTF. He was a regular volunteer since 2005, and in 2010, he and his wife bike-packed the entire trail over a three-week period. Adams said they were able to bike nearly the entire trail other than a few hike-a-bike sections, particularly over the Ten Mile Range.
Currently, Adams and CTF are working on the construction of a Field Operations Center (FOC) in Poncha Springs. The FOC will serve as a central point for maintenance and equipment. “The CT Foundation is creating the Field Operations Center to centralize our volunteer equipment and sustain our decades-long volunteer trail maintenance programs,” said Bill Manning. “Poncha Springs is the perfect location being within 10 miles of the center of the Colorado Trail.”
The CTF purchased a $50,000 lot in Poncha and is designing the building this fall. Construction for the 1,600 square-foot shop and 200 square-foot unheated outdoor storage will begin next spring. So long as the CTF successfully raises the remainder of the $400,000 needed, the center will be complete by next August.
The Colorado Trail Foundation’s next major expansion is the Hancock Trail, a jeep roads bypass. Adams is working with the Salida Ranger District to complete the background work before construction can begin. The new trail will turn Monarch Pass to the Cochetopa Trail from motorized to non-motorized use.
To learn more about the Colorado Trail Foundation and ways to volunteer, visit Coloradotrail.org. Contact the CTF at 303-384-3729 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tyler Grimes is inspired to bikepack the Colorado Trail.