Roaring Fork Outdoor Volunteers: On the right path for 20 years |

Roaring Fork Outdoor Volunteers: On the right path for 20 years

A crew from Roaring Fork Outdoor Volunteers works in the Crater Lake area on a project.
Roaring Fork Outdoor Volunteers/courtesy photo |


Roaring Fork Outdoor Volunteers recently released its 2015 projects list. Volunteers can enlist at

The projects are:

*Crystal River Riparian Trail, phase II, Carbondale, Saturday, May 2.

*Wulfsohn Trail System maintenance, Glenwood Springs, Thursday evenings on May 7 and 14.

*Crooked Creek Wetlands, Fryingpan Valley, Friday night through Sunday, June 26-28.

*Lollipop Trail extension, Aspen, Tuesday evenings from June 9 to 30.

*Hunter Creek Valley weed pull, Aspen, Saturday, July 11.

*East Elk Creek Trail, New Castle, Saturday and Sunday, July 25 and 26.

*Cathedral Lake/Electric Pass Trails, southwest of Aspen, Friday night through Sunday, Aug. 28-30.

*Hanging Lake/Spouting Rock Trails, Glenwood Springs, Saturday, Sept. 12.

*Jolley Trail extension, New Castle, Saturday, Sept. 12.

David Hamilton and some other outdoor lovers wanted to determine one summer long ago if Roaring Fork Valley residents cared enough about the trail systems on public lands that they would volunteer to maintain them.

The answer was a resounding “yes,” and 20 years later, volunteers are enlisting in ever-increasing numbers.

Roaring Fork Outdoor Volunteers will mark its 20th anniversary Thursday at its annual Season Kick-Off Party. The meeting is designed so supporters can socialize with like-minded people and learn more about the 2015 projects. The gathering will be at the Third Street Center in Carbondale from 6 to 8 p.m. Food from White House Pizza and drinks will be served.

Hamilton has been the organization’s executive director for all 20 years. He oversaw the growth from a one-person operation with a budget of less than $50,000 to three full-time workers, one part-time, a seasonal and a cash and in-kind annual budget of $350,000.

But more important, he said, is the organization has helped connect people from Aspen to the Lower Colorado River Valley to the environment. The organization will enlist volunteer labor from roughly 2,500 people this summer through it public projects, special group outings and youth initiatives.

Its most visible effort is coordinating and supervising projects — building or rerouting trails, performing overdue maintenance such as installing water bars or planting vegetation in wetlands. Hamilton estimated the volunteers have completed 150 to 200 such efforts.

It also creates special projects for groups, such as employees of a business and youth groups. When those projects are added up, the organization has overseen roughly 500 projects during its 20 years.

The organization’s mission appealed to valley residents right off the bat. Ecosystem restoration at Crater Lake and trail work on the lower Hunter Creek Trail in Aspen attracted 60 volunteers each the summer of 1995.

Some people have volunteered for projects all 20 summers, including Suzanne Wolff, who recently stepped down from the organization’s board of directors, and Michael Hutton, another of the founders. For the big public projects each summer, roughly half of the volunteers are “newbies,” Hamilton said.

The common denominator among returning veterans and first-time laborers is a desire to contribute.

“You always hear it — people want to give something back,” Hamilton said.

Most people live in the area because of their love of outdoors, he said. Many are trail users who feel they should help take care of a route they use.

The public land-management agencies are grateful for the help. The U.S. Forest Service has watched its budgets shrink, though critics contend the agency’s leadership has done a poor job of getting available funds to the ranger district level. The Bureau of Land Management’s oversight of trails in the valley is minimal. Both agencies prepare wish lists that Roaring Fork Outdoor Volunteers considers when it prepares its summer project lineup. The public agencies and nonprofit collaborate well, Hamilton said.

There’s definitely job security for the trail’s group. “There’s always work to be done,” Hamilton said.

The work pays off. Hamilton said he has heard from many a local resident that visitors are impressed by the quality of the valley trail system when they visit. Trails in many other areas aren’t as well maintained.

And the work is likely to keep appealing to the valley’s outdoor-loving population. The organization has been effective, Hamilton believes, because it doesn’t waste the time of volunteers. Crew leaders are well organized. Tools are ready and well maintained. Work conditions are safe. And volunteers get dinner and a beer or soda after a hard day’s work.

“Our volunteers are dirty, tired and smiling,” Hamilton said.

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