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Collegiate West trail near Lake Ann on the continental divide; photo by D. Dolton
The U.S. Forest Service had a need, The Colorado Trail Foundation (CTF) saw an opportunity, and trail users are the winners.
Last year, the CTF, with Forest Service blessing, added 80 miles of tread to The Colorado Trail, an increasingly popular long-distance track spanning nearly 500 miles of spectacular Colorado high country between Denver and Durango.
The “new 80” will not extend the end-to-end length of the trail. It will, however, offer users an exciting alternative to the existing route that skirts the eastern side of the Collegiate Peaks, part of the Sawatch Mountain Range that features a dozen of Colorado’s 14,000-foot-plus peaks. Together with the “old 80” (the two routes are now referred to as Collegiate East and West) it also creates a 160-mile loop sure to become popular with multi-day users who don’t want to hassle with shuttling vehicles.
Colorado Trail Foundation Trail crew hauling logs
“It’s all very exciting,” said CTF Executive Director Bill Manning, noting that the timing and opportunity to add the mileage proved too good to pass up. His board of directors agreed, giving the proposition its unanimous approval last year.
The Collegiate West isn’t new trail, although it has been undergoing extensive rerouting and improvement over the past few years. It is, in fact, part of the 3,000-mile Continental Divide National Scenic Trail, with which The Colorado Trail has long shared more than 230 miles of tread.
When the Continental Divide Trail Alliance, a nonprofit that oversaw the building and maintenance of the CDNST, dissolved in early 2012, the CTF saw an opportunity to add to its existing mileage in keeping with its long-held concept of creating a Colorado Trail “system.”
The Forest Service, in turn, was seeking help in filling the gap left by the dissolution of the Alliance. An agreement on the addition was reached last year and formally announced in advance of this year’s trail season.
Log to support cribbing along trail
Adding more trail was a big decision for an organization with just two full-time employees and an all-volunteer board of directors. The CTF has been reluctant in the past to take on more than it thought it could handle.
But given a dedicated corps of hundreds of volunteers who contribute thousands of hours each year to maintaining and improving the CT, in this case it seemed feasible, Manning said.
Those volunteers include a core group of trail adopters, who not only provide maintenance and upkeep on sections of the trail ranging from two to 18 miles, but are also the CTF’s eyes and ears on the ground, keeping staff informed about trail needs and potential problems.
For instance, when a massive blowdown in 2012 toppled hundreds of trees, completely blocking the trail in some areas, adopters and staff rallied dozens of volunteers who cleared the mess in a matter of a few short weeks, well in advance of the opening of the trail season.
Location of the Collegiate West Trail
Many of the adopters are long-time volunteers. Others come from user groups, including bike and horse riders. Still others are new to the CT but strong supporters of outdoor recreation in Colorado. With the addition of the Collegiate West trail, there are now 72 adopter sections. All are all filled and the waiting list is growing.
A completely updated Colorado Trail Databook, a mini-guide found in the pocket by nearly every multi-day user of the trail, includes the new Collegiate West 80. It is available in bookstores, outdoor recreation outlets, and for purchase online. (Go to ColoradoTrail.org and click on CT Store.) New maps by professional surveyor Jerry Brown, who has hiked and mapped not only The Colorado Trail but also the entire Continental Divide National Scenic Trail, are also available.
Much of the Collegiate West trail now follows old logging and mining roads, but being rerouted and rehabilitated as part of a multi-year project involving crews from the U.S. Forest Service, Volunteers for Outdoor Colorado, Southwest Conservation Corps, Buena Vista Correctional Facility, and the CTF. Trail signs are already in place to aid users along the route.
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