COLORADO SPRINGS — The Rocky Mountain Field Institute is hard at work rerouting a four-mile segment of the Devil's Playground trail while safely engaging volunteers in the stewardship of our shared public lands, trails, and open spaces; already the group has nearly doubled the volunteer numbers from 2020.
According to Jennifer Peterson, executive director for RMFI, during 2019 the organization had been able to engage about 2,300 volunteers over the course of their season which starts about March and lasts through October.
In 2020, the number of volunteers dropped down to 189 due to precautions taken in response to COVID-19.
RMFI has started to safely ramp up volunteer opportunities, while also maintaining smaller group sizes in order to continue promoting safe working environments. There are now 350 volunteers within the group.
"We started engaging the community and volunteers in the work that we do and we really haven't slowed down," said Peterson.
The goal, according to Peterson is hopefully reaching about 1,000 volunteers by the end of their 2021 season.
Even while the group's volunteer numbers continue to be lower than those experienced in recent years, RMFI, now in its 40th year of operations, reports that 2021 might just be its biggest year yet in terms of overall operations.
This year, the organization dedicated to outdoor stewardship brought on 25 seasonal staff members; only a few years ago the group only had about five or six seasonal employees.
"We're not really in this to keep growing every year," stated Jennifer Peterson, "but the fact that we are and the fact that we're able to respond to the needs of our land management partners, [and] the needs of our public lands, it's a good sign that we're well-positioned to take on more, to do more, to have more presence in our parks and open spaces and public lands; because, again, they need a lot of care and maintenance. So it's going to be a big year, but I suspect next year could be bigger as we are able, hopefully, to get back on track to those normal volunteer numbers of 2,300 plus."
RMFI reports that this increase in staff has allowed them to keep up, for the most part, with demands, that have only increased over the course of the past year, as more and more people turned to the outdoors as a way to relieve stress and seek a safe environment in which to recreate.
However, there's no substitute for the lending hands provided by volunteers.
"Just having a group of maybe 10 to 15 to 20 volunteers out for a day can really knock out what a crew of five could do in five days," commented RMFI field coordinator, Joe Gibson.
One of the projects that continues to stand out this year, is the continued work on the reroute of a four-mile section of the Devil's Playground trail that began in 2019.
The Devil’s Playground Trail (also known as the Crags Trail) traverses approximately 7 miles and 4,300 feet starting from a trailhead located near the Crags Campground (Woodland Park, CO) and terminating at the summit of Pikes Peak, elevation 14,115 feet.
The trail is one of two that leads to the summit of Pikes Peak and this four-mile section will replace a heavily eroded portion of the trail.
The trail is aligned with the fall line in many locations and it lacks proper stabilization structures in areas where the slope exceeds gradient standards. This has led to incision of up to 4 feet in some areas, both above and below treeline. Because the trail does not drain properly, channelized water flows have scoured soil leading to mass wasting of vegetation loss and loose rock. Hikers pick their way up the trail, often times stepping on sensitive alpine vegetation rather than sticking to durable surfaces.
Work on the new addition to the popular hiking route includes everything from scratching out the new path, sourcing local materials for construction, and then building structures to ensure stability before filling in the path making it more durable.
According to RMFI field coordinators on-site, the hope is to reach the halfway point of this multi-year project during the 2021 season, leaving a few more years of work left to be done.
"So this year we are just ramping up. Last year we had 74 to 75 days and this year we're aiming for 100 individual work days [on the project]," said Peterson.
Once work is completed, the existing segment of the trail will be closed to the public, shored up, and RMFI crews will transplant local vegetation in order to prompt nature's reclamation of the area.
Once the re-route is complete, the old alignment will be actively restored to avoid further degradation to the alpine.
For more information on the work being done on this well-known trail and how you can get involved in volunteering with RMFI, CLICK HERE.