Trail Worker Award

This award recognizes an individual that has made outstanding contributions and provided consistent support for trail planning, development, or maintenance. It is intended to recognize the efforts of a private or public sector individual working for enhanced trail recreation on either the local, state, or national level.


Colorado: Ken Neubecker

Ken Neubecker of American Rivers has worked tirelessly with partners in Eagle County, Colorado to enhance recreational opportunities along the Eagle River and protect ecologically and recreationally valuable parcels of land through the Eagle River Blue Trail.

A Blue Trail is a river adopted by a community that is dedicated to improving family friendly recreation, such as fishing, boating, wildlife watching, and to conserving riverside lands. They are voluntary, locally led efforts that improve community quality of life.

Eagle River Blue Trail

The Eagle and upper Colorado rivers are at the heart of a nationally recognized recreational area. The Eagle Valley is home to the Vail Resort ski area, and the upper Colorado River above Eagle County is one of the most popular whitewater and fishing rivers in the country. The Blue Trail is drawing on these assets and catalyzing a focused effort to protect the river and connect communities to it, with a focus being on underserved community members who are less likely to engage in river-based recreation.

As river access and recreation expands with support from Ken Neubecker and American Rivers, the Valley will become as well known for its rivers as for its ski hills. This in turn will have a tremendous impact on addressing the various threats posed by major diversions facing the Eagle and upper Colorado rivers. The upper Colorado is already severely de-watered, to the point where additional diversions will threaten the well-being of the river itself and the substantial recreation economy of the area. The Eagle is facing a new diversion project in its headwaters. While these plans have been in the works for many years, many people living in Eagle County are unaware of this threat to river health and recreation. By expanding the number of people who enjoy these rivers and become aware of their value and the impending threats, we will be better able to influence the progress and outcomes of these projects.

In addition, protecting tracts of open space along rivers, both large and small, is vital in rapidly growing areas like Eagle County. These areas preserve riverside habitat and critical winter range for wildlife and calving areas. Open space parcels such as the Horn Ranch, Eagle River Preserve, Miller Ranch, and Colorado River Ranch were all targets for large residential and commercial development before they were successfully acquired for open space protection. Public support is essential for land and river protection to succeed and continue. Nothing creates strong support like getting people on the river to know it, feel it, and form a personal sense of ownership for it.

Open Space and River Access

Since March of 2013, Ken has made great progress toward that goal. He provided strong support for the acquisition of and access improvements at Horse Creek Landing, the Duck Pond, and Horn Ranch. These protected areas will expand community green space and greatly improve access to the Eagle and upper Colorado rivers.

It took long and often difficult negotiation with the owner, and Ken Neubecker was proud to have had a part in helping push this effort over the top to success. He has continued his work with Eagle County to help develop facilities and programs at both Horn Ranch and the Duck Pond and will work closely with the Town of Minturn to develop and promote a river recreation corridor through town with the new Boneyard open space parcel, Little Beach Park and undeveloped river frontage through the downtown business area. Minturn plans to create a significant economic and recreation-based opportunity with the help of the Eagle River Blue Trail.

Outreach and Education

Ken developed a communications plan for the Blue Trail, essential component of our outreach strategy and materials and information for an interactive mobile site, which American Rivers will launch in the fall of 2014. These materials will provide a wide range of information about access, river conditions, businesses, natural and local history and recreational opportunities on the Eagle and Colorado rivers. This will be the first time all of this information has been collected into a single site and format.

Ken helped organize and sponsored events with our partners, including the River Fest, Eagle River Cleanup, River Rangers workshop with the Bureau of Land Management and River Management Society, and Public Lands Day river cleanup on the Colorado River.

Community Involvement and Engagement

Through his extensive outreach efforts, Ken has gained the support from all Eagle River municipalities, from Vail and Minturn through Avon to Eagle and Gypsum for the Blue Trail. He gained support of Eagle County and the Bureau of Land Management, two of our major partners in this effort, along with the Eagle River Watershed Council and Eagle Valley Land Trust.