It’s vacation, grab a shovel |

It’s vacation, grab a shovel

Janet Urquhart
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Try this for your next summer vacation: Dig up rocks in the sweltering heat and battle biting insects. Oh, and pay for the privilege.

It’s not the typical Aspen vacation, but a group of Sierra Club members seem to be enjoying it.

They’ve been camped at Maroon Lake all week, within hiking distance of their daily toil on the trails around and above the lake.

A dozen club members from across the country signed up for a week of labor in the Maroon Bells area, one of a multitude of service projects that let Sierra Club members get involved in a very hands-on way in the great outdoors.

On Thursday, the group was halfway to Crater Lake, building a new section of trail that will allow the U.S. Forest Service to close off a steep, rocky stretch of the heavily used Maroon-Snowmass Trail that has suffered erosion damage. Hikers will be diverted onto the new section, allowing the old one to be revegetated.

Volunteer efforts organized by groups like the Sierra Club are critical to the upkeep of the vast White River National Forest that surrounds Aspen, said Dan Matthews, wilderness and trails manager for both the Aspen and Sopris Ranger districts.

“The Forest Service can do a lot of basic maintenance,” he said. “Our funds don’t allow us to do these types of larger projects. They probably would not get done.”

Matthews and several other Forest Service staffers directed the crew’s efforts. Linda Gerdenich, director of community relations for the city of Aspen, took care of the group’s needs as crew leader – a role she has played for a week in each of the last eight summers.

“I do it to get people to come to the wilderness and to see how important it is to protect it,” she said.

The volunteers on her crew already shared a love of the outdoors, and most said they enjoy the opportunity to see new places and meet other club members.

For the Maroon Bells project, they paid $425 to cover food and many paid for airfare, as well. Crew members bring their own camping gear.

Sierra Club projects always include a crew leader and a cook who’s in charge of feeding the group back at camp. Crew members rotate in lending a hand in the camp kitchen for every meal.

But kitchen detail is likely a cushy assignment, compared to work on the trail.

Glenn Friendt of Lincoln, Neb., paid his first visit to Colorado for this week’s project, after working on trail restoration and erosion control in the Los Alamos area two years ago. The work to repair damage by the New Mexico fire was a lot easier than this week’s labors, he said.

The crew began work last Sunday. Two days later, Friendt was feeling the effects of hard work and altitude.

“I gotta tell you, it hit me on Tuesday,” he said.

But Friendt, an executive with a software company who used up a week of his vacation time on the project, was expressing no regrets.

“It’s a good feeling,” he said. “Yesterday, almost every hiker who walked by said, `Thank you.’ “

Christine Kimball of Fairfax, Va., has taken the summer off. After finishing up the Maroon Bells project, she is heading for Alaska for a service project with another organization.

“I felt this would be a good summer to give back,” she explained. “I do a lot of hiking and backpacking in my neck of the woods.

“I’d never been to this part of the country before. It’s beautiful.”

Tom Leary of Wilbraham, Mass., has long gazed at a poster depicting the Maroon Bells on his refrigerator. Then, he saw an advertisement for the Maroon Bells project in the club’s magazine.

“I decided it was time to find out what it was really like,” he said.

The Bells lived up to his expectations, but the weather has been a little hotter than what Leary anticipated.

“At least we’re in the shade today,” he said, clearing a path through the aspens with a Pulaski, the shovel/pick instrument used to fight wildfires.

Jorge Carballeira of Overland Park, Kan., is on his sixth club project in Colorado, but admitted yesterday the altitude on this work detail is “a little rough.”

On Wednesday, the crew’s day off, Carballeira and two companions headed into town for a shower, burger and beer. “It was wonderful,” he panted during a break yesterday.

Others, like Rebecca Mirsky of Boise, Idaho, hadn’t had enough of the wilderness. They hiked up toward West Maroon Pass on their day off.

“The wildflowers are just so amazing,” said Mirsky, a crew leader in training who’s paying her first visit to Colorado.

The group finishes its work today and will break camp tomorrow.

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