By: Andrea Kurth
Leadville, CO families celebrated Latino Conservation Week during the Mt. Elbert Family Camping Weekend in July. A coalition of conservation organizations came together to create this opportunity for members of the Leadville community to participate in a multi-generational camping experience and learn the fundamentals of trail building and restoration.
The US Forest Service, National Forest Foundation, Rocky Mountain Youth Corps, Get Outdoors Leadville, and the Colorado Fourteeners Initiative partnered to create this event, inviting families of youth engaged in building the new South Elbert Trail, as well as other members of the community, to participate.
Mount Elbert, located in Lake County, is the tallest mountain in Colorado, and welcomes over 30,000 visitors a year. Construction and opening of the new trail began in 2017, and will continue at least until 2019. The US Forest Service partners with the Colorado Fourteeners Initiative (CFI) to design and implement new trails on all of Colorado’s 14ers, or peaks over 14,000 feet. They strive to create trails that are inviting to users and will minimize natural resource damage. The newly designed trails are designed to keep hikers from creating their own routes that would damage the delicate alpine tundra and other mountain biomes. In this way, properly designed trails protect endangered plant and animal species.
The USFS and CFI work in partnership with many other organizations around the state to create and maintain 14er trails. In Lake County, they employ youth ages 14-18 through the Rocky Mountain Youth Corps (RMYC) to help build the trails on Mt. Elbert. This partnership creates employment opportunities for the youth in the small community of Leadville, as well as teaches local youth about the conservation and natural resource management fields. We hope, that through this exposure, Lake County youth will be inspired to explore outdoor and conservation careers.
This event allowed whole families to experience the outdoors together and learn about some of the work being done to protect and preserve their local forests. The US Forest Service and CFI led an educational hike to talk about alpine ecology and trail building. Participants also learned Leave No Trace camping practices, and attended a talk by Colorado Parks and Wildlife, during which they learned ways to coexist with wildlife while camping. The weekend culminated in a hike two miles up the South Elbert Trail to the worksite, where attendees assisted in building structures that will reduce soil erosion.
The strenuous, but rewarding hike ended with a beautiful view of the surrounding Arkansas River Valley and the area of Twin Lakes. The participants returned home tired, but more knowledgeable about the public lands surrounding their homes, and the efforts being made to protect them.