25 Years of Roaring Fork Outdoor Volunteers

Volunteer Daniel Benavent builds a water bar on the Scout Trail outside of Glenwood Springs on May 30. Physical distancing is required for the volunteer crews and Benavent wore a mask.
RFOV/courtesy photo

Plenty of projects

No matter where you live in the region, Roaring Fork Outdoor Volunteers has a volunteer project for you. Here is the lineup of public projects the organization is hosting this year, its 25th anniversary. To volunteer, go to

• June 16: Sky Mountain Park. Trail work will be undertaken each Tuesday in June from 4 to 8 p.m. in the popular park between Aspen and Snowmass.

• June 18: Wulfsohn Park Trails. Trail work will be undertaken each Thursday in June from 4 to 8 p.m. on the network in Glenwood Springs.

• July 7: Prince Creek Trails. RFOV will team with the Roaring Fork Mountain Bike Association and Ragged Mountain Sports for maintenance to this popular trail network outside of Carbondale every Thursday in July and Aug. 4 from 4 to 8 p.m.

• July 25: Basalt State Wildlife Area restoration. The second season of a multi-year project will restore the land affected by the Lake Christine Fire in July 2018. This project will be held from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.

• July 31-Aug. 2: Four Pass Loop trail work and restoration. This weekend project will require backpacking in. The crew will hike into the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness on Friday evening and exit at noon Sunday.

• Aug. 8: Linkins Lake and Lost Man Trail. Volunteers will place stepping stones in sensitive meadows and build steps on the Linkins Lake Trail near the summit of Independence Pass. The crew also will work on the first one-half mile of the trail from Upper Lost Man. 8:30 a.m. to 4:40 p.m.

•Aug. 14-16: Thomas Lakes Trail. Another backpacking project. Volunteers will perform maintenance on 2 miles of the Thomas Lakes Trail.

•Aug. 22: Sutey Ranch Trail. Volunteers will build a new singletrack, multi-use trail to Mushroom Rock from County Road 112 near Carbondale. 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.

•Sept 26: Hanging Lake. This heavily traveled route in Glenwood Canyon will be targeted for a variety of work on National Public Lands Day. 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.

•Oct 3: Light Hill reroute. Volunteers will create a new hiking trail and rehab an old social trail on Light Hill behind Basalt High School. 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.

When 19 people completed trail maintenance in hot weather on a dusty, west-facing slope above Glenwood Springs on May 30, they parted ways with simple goodbyes and without handshakes and hugs.

Normally, the crew organized by Roaring Fork Outdoor Volunteers would reflect on the hard day of work with lots of laughs and plentiful food and grog. That’s no longer possible in the age of the coronavirus pandemic.

“I think our biggest shock is our volunteers love pizza and beer at the end of our day and we weren’t able to provide that,” said Rebecca Schild, associate director. “I (brought) ice cream sandwiches instead. So we weren’t able to convene to celebrate at the end of the day like we’ve been known to in the past.”

No pizza, no beer, no problem. The venerable nonprofit organization has proven resilient over 25 years. RFOV will celebrate its silver anniversary this summer with a variety of projects from Independence Pass to Silt while adapting to the public health threat.

“Last year our largest project was on June 15 with the Lake Christine Fire restoration project,” said RFOV executive director Ron Rash. “We had 300 volunteers. We obviously won’t have any projects this year with 300 volunteers.”

As it stands now, they will cap the number of volunteers at their public work gatherings at 32. That will be under regular review and subject to an increase or decrease, as appropriate.

On a 2004 project, volunteers fit together flagstone in a sensitive area at Rifle Falls.
RFOV/courtesy photo

The volunteers will be divided into smaller groups at the work sites and physical distancing will be maintained.

“We had 19 volunteers and four staff at a project (May 30). That is a lot of people to be putting in one place,” said Jacob Baker, RFOV’s communications and outreach director. “Luckily, however, you can’t swing a pickax within 6 feet of someone so we have some natural social distancing built in.”

RFOV is an immensely social undertaking. Its core mission is assisting public land management agencies with trail work and restoration that would otherwise be hard to get to with shrinking budgets. However, since it was founded in 1994 by guiding force David Hamilton, who retired as executive director last year, for Michael Hutton and others, it has appealed to people as a way to celebrate the fabulous hiking, biking and equestrian trail system of the Roaring Fork and Lower Colorado River Valleys. People who love the trails want to give back by helping maintain or create new trails — and share the experience with like-minded people.

In one of its early projects, RFOV workers undertake a project at Ashcroft in 1998. RFOV was founded in 1994.
RFOV/courtesy photo

Jamin Heady-Smith moved to Glenwood Springs from Omaha in 2006 and didn’t know a soul in his new town. Within a month of arriving, he volunteered for an RFOV project.

“I did that because I felt it would be a good way to meet people and get to know the area,” Heady-Smith said.

He liked the experience so much that he worked on eight projects that year. He’s volunteered every year since 2006 with the exception of 2016, when he was hiking the Appalachian Trail.

Heady-Smith said the work fulfills his “sense of duty to help maintain what we’ve got.” He received training as a crew leader in 2007, so he’s been helping harness the labor for all of these years. He also served several years on RFOV’s board of directors. He’s worked on nearly 80 projects overall, about 60 as a crew leader.

He guided a crew May 30 on the Scout Trail under the new coronavirus precautions.

Workers on a Roaring Fork Outdoor Volunteers project bring trash down the Scout Trail on May 30.
RFOV/courtesy photo

“It was just a heightened sense of awareness about personal space and safety protocols,” he said.

This summer, RFOV will likely skip some of the work it regularly tackles. Building rock stairs on a steep section of trail, for example, requires laborers to work in close proximity for an extended time. But Heady-Smith said “there is lots and lots of work” that is needed when workers are beyond 6 feet of one another.

Schild concurred and said the Scout Trail work was a blueprint for the summer.

Volunteer Daniel Benavent builds a water bar on the Scout Trail outside of Glenwood Springs on May 30. Physical distancing is required for the volunteer crews and Benavent wore a mask.
RFOV/courtesy photo

“It’s a change from what people are used to and from the feel of a project,” she said. “People were very respectful of the new guidelines.

“I took everyone’s temperature and everybody joked around that this is the new normal,” she continued. “There hasn’t been any pushback but certainly during the trail work is going to take some continued thought and reflection about how we’re setting volunteers up so they can maintain that social distancing.”

Baker noted that the large public projects are RFOV’s most visible work but not its only work. The organization also organizes business and social groups for custom projects. Those will be easy to continue with the group size limits.

Some projects were scrubbed in April and the first part of May. The work on the Scout Trail was one of the first big public undertakings. That had symbolic significance: it was the first trail the organization worked on 25 years ago.

The Warren brothers volunteered to work on the Scout Trail on May 30. Becasue they are a family, they weren’t required to social distance.
RFOV/courtesy photo

There are projects planned this summer throughout the region (see sidebar). RFOV’s leadership doesn’t anticipate having a problem enlisting enough help.

Baker noted there is a lot of pent-up interest among people for getting outside and exploring the trail network this spring because of the earlier stay-at-home orders. So, there’s an opportunity to tap into local residents who haven’t volunteered for trail work before. On the other hand, there also is wariness on the part of some people to mingle, particularly with strangers.

“There’s more interest than ever before in some sense but, on the other hand, people are more reticent than ever before,” Baker said. “Most of our work can be done by maintaining social distancing. We’re taking as many precautions as we possibly can.”

And the limit on the number of volunteers for individual projects won’t exclude anyone who wants to help.

“We’re not going to be turning anybody down,” Baker said. “We always want to provide opportunities for volunteers.”

On a 2014 project, workers define the trail above treeline on Mount Sopris. RFOV undertakes annual projects from Independence Pass to Rifle.
RFOV/courtesy photo

For example, RFOV recently compiled 1,600 wildflower seed packets for kids throughout the region. It enlisted some of its volunteers who aren’t able to help with physical labor on the trails anymore. There’s still something for everyone to do.

Just as there is no sign that RFOV will run out of volunteers, it also appears people remain in a giving mood despite the economic hardship. Many business partners made financial and in-kind pledges prior to mid-March, when the coronavirus crisis struck. Virtually all the partners are sticking to their donations and member donations are also strong, according to Schild.

“My sense is we haven’t seen a drop in member individual donations compared to this time last year,” she said.

Rash said RFOV hasn’t reduced its staff or scope and has no plans to do so at this point. He sees RFOV as being as vital as ever. The U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management and Pitkin County Open Space and Trails are grateful for the help they receive maintaining trails and lands.

“So there’s a real need for our organization as far as the public lands,” Rash said. “At the same time, I’m looking at it too that our mission is bringing the community together and that’s the volunteers.

“That’s one of the aspects I find so appealing, that we are not an advocacy organization. We’re an organization that reaches out to everyone.”