Offsetting the tough toll on Mother Nature in 2020
Roaring Fork Outdoor Volunteers will fix trails help heal wildfire burn scar
In normal times, Roaring Fork Outdoor Volunteers has plenty of opportunities for trail maintenance and ecosystem restoration projects from Independence Pass to Rifle Gap.
These are anything but normal times. Two events have made the demand soar for RFOV’s expertise in harnessing volunteers to undertake projects on public lands.
First, wear and tear on hiking and biking trails was magnified last year as record numbers of people escaped COVID confinement by venturing into the great outdoors.
Second, the Grizzly Creek Fire swept across about 33,000 acres in Glenwood Canyon in August, creating the need for restoration on some of the charred lands.
RFOV is responding to the extra demands as well as tackling its usual list of projects this year. The nonprofit organization has a variety of projects scheduled from April through October.
“We are preparing for 77 project sites across our four county service areas, with about 10 percent of projects open to all and about 90 percent organized for civic, business, youth and faith groups,” said Jacob Baker, communications and engagement.
Public land managers in the region estimate that usage on the most popular trails increased between 40 percent and 60 percent in 2020 compared to 2019. Some projects will provide much-needed maintenance to some of the hardest hit routes. For example, RFOV is teaming with Wilderness Workshop and Independence Pass Foundation on a weekend project to repair braided and broadened trail sections on the Lost Man Loop on Independence Pass. Volunteers will backpack in with crew leaders to undertake the work.
American Lake in the Castle Creek Valley will also be targeted for trail maintenance in a single-day project in June.
Another heavily used trail network is at Sky Mountain Park, owned and managed by Pitkin County Open Space and Trails. RFOV crews will trim vegetation and improve drainage on trails there in October.
On the wildfire front, RFOV is part of the Glenwood Canyon Restoration Alliance, a group dedicated to aiding in the rehabilitation of the burn scar. June 5 will be the first of several workdays within the Grizzly Creek Fire area in 2021. The scope of work will be determined in May.
“Opportunities will be created to engage community members as much as possible,” RFOV said in news release about its 2021 projects. “RFOV anticipates that our commitment to the Grizzly Creek Trail — and across the Grizzly Creek Burn Area — will be sustained across multiple years of on-the-ground work.”
RFOV will also host several types of the projects its become known for since it was founded in 1995. It will hold regular workdays on Tuesdays in May to build a new trail on Sutey Ranch outside of Carbondale. The new multi-use trail will connect County Road 112 with Red Hill Mesa.
Another weekend project that stands out is the Marble Stewardship Extravaganza, a variety of projects in the town of Marble and in the surrounding national forest on the weekend of July 24-25.
RFOV will also revisit the Lake Christine Fire burn scar above Basalt this year. Volunteers will have a chance to combine an educational hike with a community project. They will remove invasive weeds that have taken root in the post-fire landscape. Hundreds of volunteer turned out to help heal the burn scar in summer 2019, a year after a wildfire scorched slopes on and around Basalt Mountain.
RFOV’s full list of projects will be released and registration opened on its website to members April 1 through 15. Registration will be opened to the public-at-large on April 16.
In addition to work projects, there are gatherings called Trail Mixers and special training opportunities on the calendar. On June 12, RFOV will work with Colorado Fourteeners Initiative to train volunteers to serve on high peaks and trailheads to greet trail users, provide basic information and gather use statistics, among several duties.
RFOV hosted more projects than usual in 2020, in part because it couldn’t hold big community events because of pandemic capacity restrictions and also because of increasing interest.
“We’re expecting an increase of about 20 percent in volunteer hours,” Baker said.
Part of the anticipated increase is due to a general interest among people in helping restore the burn scar, he said. In addition, people were not only inspired to get outside during the tough year of 2020, they were inspired to preserve and maintain special places, according to Baker.
The organization expects that desire to carry over to 2021.
“People do want to connect with their neighbors and their friends,” he said.
And that spirit is what led to RFOV’s theme for 2021: “Renewing landscape and community through collective action.”
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Warm and dry conditions to start the winter have kept all but the higher elevation slopes free of snow. That is expected to change by the end of the week and the avalanche hazard could start to climb, according to Colorado Avalanche Information Center.