Those who have hiked around the network of trails in Golden Horseshoe near Breckenridge will likely know the Sidedoor Trail. From French Gulch and the town of Breckenridge, the trail winds up to connect with the Prospect Hill summit, affording sweeping views of the town and surrounding areas.
Recently, the trail has come under scrutiny for its upper portion, which covers a very steep section of ground.
“There’s a portion near the end of it that’s unsustainable,” said Chris Kulick, Open Space and Trails planner for the town of Breckenridge. “It’s very steep, not a very enjoyable experience.”
Despite its difficulties, the trail remains fairly well traveled for multiple-use recreation, from hikers and dog walkers to bikers and horse riders in the summer, and cross-country skiers and snowshoers in the winter. Its popularity comes from its direct access to Golden Horseshoe and its network of trails.
It is for this reason that Sidedoor was chosen for this year’s collaboration between the town of Breckenridge’s Open Space and Trails and Volunteers for Outdoor Colorado (VOC), taking place at the end of the month. Each year, the two organizations get together for a volunteer project that benefits Summit County’s environment in some way. Previous years have seen campground restoration, tree plantings and, in 2005, restoration of the lower portion of the Sidedoor Trail.
Volunteers for Outdoor Colorado
Since 1984, VOC has spread its mission of outdoor stewardship throughout the state. To do this, it relies on volunteers of all ages and walks of life to provide manpower to its various projects, like the one in Summit County this month. While the organization has a staff of 12, its ranks swell to the thousands when counting volunteers.
“It really doesn’t matter who you are, or whether you know anything about the environment at all — you can still help,” said said Ann Baker Easley, executive director of VOC. “Whether you’re a kid or a mom or a dad or a single person, young or old, VOC can find a spot for you, no matter what.”
Easley has held her position with the VOC since 2007. Before that she spent more than 10 years at the Colorado Youth Corps Association, which she helped found. It was the VOC mission that caught her interest, she said.
“For me, the idea of doing (outdoor stewardship) with people just giving freely of their time through volunteerism was a really compelling idea, a compelling mission,” she explained. “Colorado’s resources are such that we really need people to be engaged in that. So it was an incredibly exciting opportunity to (join) and build on all of the connections and efforts I had been doing years before that with the state.”
In recent years, the organization has focused increasingly on how to get the state’s youth involved with its stewardship and volunteer projects. Easley estimates that at least one third of VOC volunteers in 2012 were under the age of 18.
“We’ve really adapted our work effort so that a family can come out and a family can spend just part of the day coming out, so we’ve seen a much greater increase in families coming together and volunteering for a day or part of a day,” she said.
By making the volunteer projects more accessible and more numerous, the organization has been able to increase its impact statewide.
In another effort to involve Colorado’s youth, VOC is hosting its first Youth Stewardship Summit in early August. The summit, which takes place in Black Hawk, is a four-day camping trip to educate high school-age teens about stewardship, outdoor recreation, environmental education and leadership training. Participants will take part in fly-fishing, ghost town tours, hiking, habitat restoration, invasive species removal, trail maintenance and historic preservation during the day and listen to campfire speakers on topics of wilderness leadership, environmental ethics and astronomy in the evening.
Those wishing to participate can transport themselves or take advantage of buses provided by the VOC at its various partnership offices throughout the state. Those closest to Summit County are the Eagle/Vail and Salida/Leadville offices. Applications for the summit are due by July 12.
While people often associate VOC with trail maintenance, many don’t realize that the VOC offers much more than that, Easley said. “We have a lot more diverse opportunities.”
Choosing to volunteer not only helps the environment, but benefits the volunteers themselves as well.
“People can go back, years and years later and see exactly what they did, whether that’s a trail that they built or a wetlands that they restored or a tree that they’ve planted in an urban park,” Easley said. “There’s something really tangible about that.”
Sidedoor and Summit
The Sidedoor Trail realignment project will draw volunteers not only from Summit County, but from across the state as well. Ellie Jordan, VOC project manager for the Sidedoor project, said that between 65 and 95 volunteers will be traveling to Breckenridge for the weekend of the project and camping out overnight by the ice rink. Plans are in place for some free music on Saturday and breakfast will be served both mornings.
“It’s just a lot of fun and you get to meet people from all around the state who are like minded and interested in getting outdoors,” Jordan said. “We all use the trails in Colorado and it’s (only) a day. We provide the logistics and the tools and you don’t have to do anything but show up and help break a little trail.”
While many VOC projects are open to all ages, the physical exertion necessary for hiking to the site and breaking the new trail is likely too much for anyone under 13 years of age, Kulick suggested. “It’s definitely fairly physical.”
But beyond the physical capability, all else anyone needs is simply the will to volunteer.
“That’s one of the great things about it. Someone that’s wanted to volunteer but doesn’t know anything about trail building will learn a lot over the course of the weekend,” he added.
Those interested in volunteering can sign up on the VOC website, although the group will certainly welcome walk-ins throughout the weekend. The feeling is one of ‘the more the merrier.’ The goal is to get between 125 and 150 volunteers to get the project done in just two days.
“Having that critical mass of people really just helps it happen,” Kulick said.