Opinion | Koehler: My summer of stewardship | SummitDaily.com

Opinion | Koehler: My summer of stewardship

Tom Koehler
Guest column

I recognized that Colorado is "loved to death" and wanted to contribute to its health and healing. That desire sparked my summer of stewardship.

On June 6, over 35 people gathered for National Trails Day to help heal the heavily used Salt Lick Trail system area. Areas such as these are key to our recreation and eco-health, as erosion into our streams can overwhelm healthy habitat for aquatic life and destroy safe and fun trails for hiking and mountain biking. The Friends of the Dillon Ranger District, our local stewardship organization, took the lead on organizing volunteers in this effort.

Energized by the event, I decided to help out Volunteers for Outdoor Colorado — a leading stewardship group out of Denver, along with the Colorado 14ers Initiative ­­— in closing down an old trail at Mount Elbert. It is the highest and the most visited peak, which means it is a logistically big undertaking to coordinate this operation. The work on Mount Elbert is an ongoing partnership between many of Colorado's restoration organizations as part of the Find Your Fourteener Initiative.

It is vital to take care of all our unique natural assets as we all benefit economically, socially and physically from a well-maintained alpine forest ecosystem. I set out a couple weeks after the Elbert project with VOC to work with a team on building a completely new trail southwest of Buena Vista on the Continental Divide Trail. A part of the trail needed to be rerouted as the current trail was on a gravel road that was not conducive to a fun or safe journey. It was work at about 11,500 feet above sea level and the sun was not going anywhere. I loved it and the new faces in my life who share a true sense of the land, the heritage behind it and what it takes to make them welcoming to our guests.

Most recently, the Masontown Project, a short hike from Zach's Stop in Frisco, brought out the passion and need. Originally a mining town that eventually was destroyed by an avalanche back in 1926, this area is now a labyrinth of trails that are worn-down. Some sections the trails are simply a muddy mess that continues to frustrate hikers and destroy vegetation.

FDRD, Wildlands Restoration Volunteers, the US Forest Service, along with 35-plus dedicated volunteers, took the first step in a two-day weekend to build structures to allow passage without more unwanted destruction of the trail and ecosystem. I had a magnificent time and felt wonderfully tired and fully accomplished. The crew really responded to the need building top notch bridges to move guests through for many years. There was fulfilling work for all abilities.

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As the summer comes to a close, I look back fondly knowing that each hour all of us gave made a difference in our environment. Each outing this summer of stewardship brought a lot of satisfaction and with the light lowering just a bit more each day, I would like to welcome you to join us once again this weekend at the Masontown Project for one or two days as the area now needs re-vegetation. We will be harvesting native willows, transplanting local vegetation, and restoring several areas along the Masontown Trail.

You can sign up with Wildlands Restoration Volunteers at WLRV.org

Tom Koehler is a Summit County sustainability advocate.