How You Too Can Help Restore Peaks in Our National Forests

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Quandary Peak is one of the most popular of Colorado’s 54 “fourteeners,” peaks 14,000 feet or higher in elevation. Thanks to easy access from Denver and other Front Range cities, an estimated 15,000 people or more hike up Quandary each spring through fall. The trouble is, the peak is too well loved—spider webs of rogue trails at the top are destroying the plants of the fragile alpine tundra.

Rising out of the White River National Forest just south of Breckenridge, Quandary Peak is a concern of the National Forest Foundation (NFF) due to its deteriorating summit condition. While many local groups have been doing excellent trail maintenance over the years on Quandary and other fourteeners, it’s often piecemeal, with resources thinly spread across Colorado. But the nonprofit NFF, which partners with local groups to enhance and restore treasured national forest lands, had an ambitious idea. It decided to bring together highly motivated local organizations to combine resources and efforts for faster, more efficient trail and habitat restoration.

In 2016, two NFF staff members—Rebecca Davidson, Director of the Southern Rockies Region, and Emily Olsen, Colorado Program Manager—convened a series of meetings to get this new model underway. In addition to the U.S. Forest Service, local partners attending the meetings included the Colorado Fourteeners Initiative, Friends of the Dillon Ranger District, Rocky Mountain Youth Corps and many others.

These meetings had a specific goal: to pinpoint and prioritize fourteener trails that need help.

Working from baseline information in “Fourteener Report Cards” issued by the Colorado Fourteeners Initiative, the group focused on peaks with the worst grades. In other words, those in need of significant restoration and trail improvements. Quandary’s well-trodden summit route earned only a C+, placing it high on the list of peaks to address first.

Next, the NFF set up a “peak team.” Its job was to figure out how to organize the efforts of all these local groups to more efficiently make fourteener trail improvements—including the popular East Ridge Route on Quandary.

Dirt trail with wildflowers

Photo of the White River National Forest, Louis Kamler III, courtesy of the NFF

As a result, the Find Your Fourteener campaign was born, a five-year initiative launched in spring 2017. REI is contributing to this effort by donating $50,000 to the National Forest Foundation to help restore alpine habitat and build sustainable trails on Quandary. This amount is part of a larger donation, up to $1 million,* that the co-op is making to the foundation through REI members using their REI Co-op Mastercard®.

One exciting outcome of Find Your Fourteener is the “peak apprentice” idea. This summer, a peak apprentice hired from the Rocky Mountain Youth Corps will live at Quandary Peak in seasonal housing. She’ll facilitate communication between professional weekday trail crews and volunteer weekend crews.

“Having a single point person on the peak will help ensure that work is being done strategically, so that volunteer work builds upon what’s already been done by professional crews,” Davidson said.

Olsen pointed out, “Another exciting piece of the campaign is collaborative volunteerism.” That means local partners will co-host unified events and be able to lead greater numbers of volunteers than in previous years. “With more boots on the ground, the work goes faster,” she said.

“All these local groups were already doing amazing things,” Davidson said. “Find Your Fourteener will increase the scope and scale and shorten the time to get things done.”

While a sustainable route (a trail good for the user and the environment that requires little maintenance) was constructed lower on the peak a few years ago, it can be difficult to find skilled volunteers able to work above 13,000 feet. For example, the Colorado Fourteeners Initiative crews require a high level of fitness and skills in constructing wood-check steps, drainage systems, setting up tram systems for moving boulders and more, all in a fragile ecosystem.

However, there’s plenty to be done by volunteers of all skill levels. If you’re up for pitching in on Quandary Peak, primarily at or below tree line, join the work party on Saturday, Aug 12. Sign up soon on the Friends of the Dillon Ranger District calendar.

 


Did you know?

Each time REI members make a purchase with their REI Co-op Mastercard, REI will make a donation to the National Forest Foundation—up to $1 million.* As the nonprofit partner of the U.S. Forest Service, the NFF works to restore and enhance ecosystems, trails, rivers, campsites and more in our treasured national forests. If you’re a cardmember, you can feel good knowing your purchases help make initiatives like this project possible.

 

 

*REI will donate $0.10 per REI Co-op Mastercard purchase transaction made between 4/1/2017 and 12/31/2017 to the National Forest Foundation, up to $1 million. Non-Purchase transactions, including cash advances, convenience checks, balance transfer, and other advance transactions as defined in the Cardmember Agreement, as well as interest charges and fees, do not qualify. Transactions occurring in late 2017 may be donated in 2018. REI may change the benefit or named charity in future years. REI is solely responsible for making the donation.

The creditor and issuer of the REI Co-op Mastercard® is U.S. Bank National Association, pursuant to a license from Mastercard International Incorporated.

©2017 U.S. Bank ©2017 Recreational Equipment Incorporated. All rights reserved.

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