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New volunteer initiative to educate trail users

Cars lined up at the Vasquez trailhead area on Memorial Day in 2020. With the increased use of trails in Grand County, the Headwaters Trails Alliance, Winter Park town leaders and US Forest Service personnel kicked off a volunteer ambassador program to educate people about trail etiquette.
Courtesy Maire Sullivan

Concerns about the impact of the increasing popularity of Grand County’s public lands have spurred the creation of a volunteer ambassador program to promote trail etiquette and sustainability.

Winter Park leaders have partnered with the Headwaters Trails Alliance and the US Forest Service to create the program, which will be a subcommittee of the countywide Grand Places 2050 initiative to plan for land and resource management. The goal is to launch the program by Memorial Day weekend.

“We view this as one of the best and most economic ways to prevent forest fires and facilitate education,” Winter Park Mayor Nick Kutrumbos said.



According to a recent economic study on outdoor recreation in Grand County, average trailhead use has more than doubled from 2000 to 2018, increasing at two and a half times the rate of population growth in Grand.

Degradation of trails, limited parking availability, illegal dumping and limited restroom facilities are only some of the concerns that come with more visitors using public lands.



“I think everybody has noticed the uptick in recreation the last couple of years and particularly with the COVID situation this last year, so (this program) is long overdue,” said Maire Sullivan, special projects coordinator for HTA.

To address these concerns, the ambassador program plans to utilize volunteers of all ages at high-traffic trailheads and recreation areas. The effort will work to educate users about stewardship, proper trail use and other recreation options to encourage users to disperse.

The program will highlight existing education, including the leave no trace principal, know before you go training and responsible recreation tips, as well as information about protecting wildlife and local fire bans and closures.

Fifteen popular recreation areas have already been identified for the focus of the program, including the Vasquez trailhead, the Phases trails, Meadow Creek Reservoir, St. Louis Creek, Byers Peak and Berthoud Pass.

Sullivan said the plan is to have volunteers act as a friendly resource by working shifts during morning hours, primarily on weekends and holidays, at the identified areas.

“It’s been incredibly well received so far,” Sullivan said of feedback to the program. “Already, we have had interests expressed in continuing the program throughout the winter.”

Grand’s ambassador program is based on others throughout the state that have been successful, including Gunnison and Crested Butte, which estimate 90% of issues on trails are due to lack of education.

If the summer pilot of the program is successful, Sullivan said it could extend into the winter and across more forms of recreation.

HTA is currently hiring a coordinator for the program, and other steps include seeking funding for volunteer training, messaging and marketing materials.

For more information about the ambassador program, call HTA at 970-726-1013.


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