COLORADO SPRINGS — For many Coloradans, when faced with the “Safer at Home” restrictions, many felt safer outdoors. Park rangers in the City of Colorado Springs reported seeing more people hiking and recreating than in recent years.
The increase in visitors is welcome to the organizations that take care of the trails, like the Rocky Mountain Field Institute (RMFI), but there will be more work for them to do.
“Shortcuts are not the better. They can be dangerous,” RMFI Field Instructor Leslie Andros said. “We want to decrease our impact on the surrounding environment.”
“Man, we are seeing a significant, significant growth in the number of users visiting our public parks and open spaces,” RMFI Executive Director Jennifer Peterson said. “More people outside is great but, we’re noticing a trend of a lot of first time users going out into the outdoors who may not know the best practices.”
Trails have grown wider, eroded by groups trying to keep socially distanced from others, and trail braids, rouge trails and social trails that were once faint have grown in to trafficked routes that threaten the landscape as well as increase the rate of erosion.
Andros and her field partner Lauren have been working in the far west side of Red Rock Open Space, just above the Sand Canyon Trail.
They’re a series of trails intersect, including single-track bike trails and hiker-only routes. After a contractor came in to clear things out, the two have used hand tools to build embankments, pull out rocks, and build embankments on the meandering path that will replace the previous series of steep trails that were quickly eroding and creating gullies in the hillside.
“It’s trying to manage the land in a sustainable way because if you don’t do that you’re just going to have to come back to the same spot every year,” said Andros. “This way, we hope we can have these trails for at least 50-100 years.”
A few hundred yards to the north, another pair of RMFI’s field crew is building a set of steps for hikers, with a rock–bed ramp for bikers right next to it.
It’s been the work of RMFI’s field crew that’s kept the organization able to keep up with the growing work of the pandemic.
Typically, Peterson shoots for mid-March to bring out volunteers dozens strong across the region to rebuild and manage trails.
Last year, mid-March wasn’t ideal for gatherings of strangers so RMFI had to delay volunteer events until June and had less volunteers in the summer overall.
“We’re truly trying to build a community of stewards and every community volunteer opportunity that we provide is slowly helping us to achieve that goal.” Peterson said.
Last summer a total of 200 volunteers could help the organization and so far this year, there have been 100, leading Peterson to hope for a strong start to a year where a plethora of people come out to take care of the spaces they’ve recently fallen in love with.
The organization has grown in its 40 years, with several full-time and dozens of seasonal paid employees.
“In our 40 years we’ve really grown into a big organization sort of at the forefront of really important initiatives and efforts all focused on conservation and stewardship in Southern Colorado.” Peterson said.
With its 40th year, RMFI hopes the community takes part in its celebration with its “40 Years of Discovery” challenge.
People can go to rmfi.org/40 to sign up and get a bandana in the mail. Then RMFI wants people to take a picture with the bandana at the list of the locations they’ve been to, both that are popular and hidden gems, to enter into a raffle for gear, provided by Mountain Chalet.