Gudy Gaskill, Mother of The Colorado Trail

Gudy Gaskill wearing a backpack and Colorado Trail T-shirt
Gudy was an avid backpacker and hiked “her” trail many times.

The name Gudy Gaskill is synonymous with The Colorado Trail. If not for her untiring devotion to the idea of creating a long-distance trail connecting Denver and Durango, this Colorado treasure may never have been realized. She did not do it alone, of course, but she was the spark that kept the dream alive. Sadly, Gudy passed away in July 2016, but her legacy lives on in every life made richer through experiencing the Trail. Following are some tributes and other articles recounting her life and work on behalf of the Trail.

A Visionary Whose Legacy Can Be Measured in Millions of Footsteps

Mention the name “Gudy” in Colorado outdoor circles and people immediately knew who you were talking about. There was only one Gudy, and the impact she had on her adopted state can be measured by the thousands of people from around the world who have followed in her footsteps on The Colorado Trail and elsewhere in Colorado’s backcountry.

Gudy Timmerhaus Gaskill has been described by many who knew her as a “force of nature.” It was no exaggeration. It was a “force” that continued pushing forward until just days before she died on July 14 at age 89 from stroke complications. Her passing was noted from one end of the state to the other.

Her chief legacy – outside her family, of course – is The Colorado Trail, which she and a small band of supporters rescued and revived after initial efforts to create a cross-state trail languished for years. She simply would not give up, and the moniker she was later given, “Mother of The Colorado Trail,” was well earned.

Gudy was around in 1974 when the idea for The Colorado Trail gained footing. Then chairwoman of the Colorado Mountain Club’s Huts and Trails Committee, she was asked to lead the organizing effort.

Two years later, the Forest Service and Colorado Mountain Trails Foundation, predecessor of The Colorado Trail Foundation, signed a partnership agreement to build the Trail. By then, a route had been roughed out, connecting existing trail and forest roads with new trail to be built mostly by volunteer and Forest Service crews.

By building on existing trail systems, organizers believed they could complete the Trail as early as 1978; 1980 at the latest. It was not to be. Due to a variety of factors, interest flagged, progress stalled, money ran out, and the Colorado Mountain Trails Foundation board stopped meeting.

By 1984, an article by Ed Quillen in the Denver Post’s Empire Magazine, referred to the project as the “Trail to Nowhere.” After describing the problems that had dogged trail builders, he noted that “If there ever is a Colorado Trail, it will likely be because Gudy Gaskill hasn’t given up.”

Gudy Gaskill, Polly Gaskill, and Denise Wright at Molas Lake in 1987.
Gudy Gaskill, daughter Polly, and Denise Wright on a trail crew at Little Molas Lake in 1987.

Often working on pure grit alone, she and a few others righted the ship, sending out volunteer trail crews over the next three years to complete unfinished sections.

“One year, pushing to connect the trail, we had 32 weeklong trail crews,” she said. “We received free food from a number of wholesale companies. I visited each camp every week, hiking in in the mornings, staying for a day or two, and driving at night to the next crew. We completed 32 miles of trail that summer. The work was hard, but the mind, body and spirit were in top shape.”

On Sept. 4, 1987, “golden spike” ceremonies were held at Molas Pass, Camp Hale and Mount Princeton to commemorate the linking of The Colorado Trail from Denver to Durango. That same year, the nonprofit Colorado Trail Foundation was established, with Gudy as its first president, to oversee the continued improvement and upkeep of the Trail. She continued as an active member of the board of directors until her death.

Today, thanks in no small part to Gudy, The Colorado Trail Foundation is strong, overseeing all aspects of the Trail from maintenance to rerouting to trail crew and trekking programs.

Over the years, Gudy received numerous honors. She was recognized by President Ronald Reagan’s Take Pride in America Campaign and President H.W. Bush’s Thousand Points of Light program. She was inducted into the Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame in 2002.

Executive Director Bill Manning marvels at the tremendous legacy left by Gudy and the many beneficiaries. “Countless outdoor enthusiasts enjoy The Colorado Trail as they hike, bike or ride horses along it,” he said. “Others volunteer as trail stewards and many contribute to sustain the legacy. Gudy’s bright smile and determined spirit remains with us.”

Gudy is survived by her husband, Dave; children Robin, Steven, Craig and Polly; and eight grandchildren. Her family has requested that donations in her memory be made to the Colorado Trail Foundation’s Gudy Gaskill Endowment Fund, which supports trail maintenance.

Newspapers from one end of The Colorado Trail to the other paid tribute to Gudy Gaskill after her passing in July, 2016.

The Denver Post

Gudy Gaskill, mother of the Colorado Trail, dies at 89

By Jason Blevins
July 18, 2016, 8:22 pm

“Hikers along the 567-mile Colorado Trail cross the South Platte River a few miles from metro Denver on a bridge named for Gudy Gaskill, after the spirited woman who spearheaded the creation of our state’s longest foot-and-bike path.

photo of Gudy Gaskill bridge
This bridge at the beginning of Segment 2 of the Colorado Trail is named after Gudy. It crosses the South Platte River.

“A force of nature,” Gov. John Hickenlooper tweeted after learning that Gaskill had died this month at age 89. But in a sense, Gaskill still lives along the trail connecting Denver and Durango.

“Many hikers know of her even before crossing that first bridge: In the Colorado Trail guidebook, each chapter begins with Gudy’s Tips, such as what turn will lead to an exceptionally great view.

“She could have written tips for life, too, such as the importance of vision: For three decades, she rallied supporters, negotiated with federal agencies and managed an army of volunteers to build the route the U.S. Forest Service calls Trail No. 1776. …

“Just a few miles from the trail’s southern end, weary hikers can sit on a bench overlooking the last views before trekking to Durango. The bench, called Gudy’s Rest, represents a welcomed reprieve after hundreds of miles of sweat and worn boot leather.

“The body that housed Gaskill’s indomitable spirit deserves its well-earned rest, even as thousands of people who love the outdoors still follow — literally — in her footsteps.”

Editorial: Gudy Gaskill, a force of nature

By The Denver Post Editorial Board
July 22, 2016, 3:00 pm

Hikers along the 567-mile Colorado Trail cross the South Platte River a few miles from metro Denver on a bridge named for Gudy (pronounced “Goody”) Gaskill, after the spirited woman who spearheaded the creation of our state’s longest foot-and-bike path. “A force of nature,” Gov. John Hickenlooper tweeted after learning that Gaskill had died this month at age 89. But in a sense, Gaskill still lives along the trail connecting Denver and Durango.

Many hikers know of her even before crossing that first bridge: In the standard Colorado Trail guidebook, each chapter begins with Gudy’s Tips, such as what turn will lead to an exceptionally great view.

She could have written tips for life, too, such as the importance of vision: For three decades, she rallied supporters, negotiated with federal agencies and managed an army of volunteers to build the route the U.S. Forest Service calls Trail #1776.

She also might have given advice about the need for persistence: A good hiking trail isn’t just built, it must be maintained year after year or else fallen trees and erosion will eventually obliterate the path.

And she could have explained the wisdom of always looking up: near Silverton, the steep descent and long climb linking the Elk Creek drainage with Molas Pass is a slog regardless of which way hikers approach it, but that part of the path also traverses terrain of exquisite beauty, of sharp peaks, roaring rivers and tumbling waterfalls.

Today, Gaskill’s legions of supporters continue her mission. The Colorado Trail Foundation plans to build a field operations center near the trail’s midpoint, about a block from the intersection of U.S. Highways 50 and 285 in Poncha Springs. The facility will house the truck, trailers and other tools volunteers use each summer to maintain the trail, and a repair shop to keep the equipment working properly. The new center will make trail upkeep and management of the volunteer brigades more efficient. Careful financial planning enabled the foundation to save much of the $400,000 the project requires, but the foundation now needs to raise another $150,000 to begin construction.

Meanwhile, to complete Gaskill’s original vision, the foundation continues working with federal agencies to move the trail entirely off motorized roads — parts of the trail currently follow either roads or four-wheel-drive routes, disrupting the meditative quality that long-distance hiking and biking normally offer. This long-term goal, though, may take several years.

Just a few miles from the trail’s southern end, weary hikers can sit on a bench overlooking the last views before trekking to Durango. The bench, called Gudy’s Rest, represents a welcomed reprieve after hundreds of miles of sweat and worn boot leather.

The body that housed Gaskill’s indomitable spirit deserves its well-earned rest, even as thousands of people who love the outdoors still follow — literally — in her footsteps.

The Durango Herald

Gudy Gaskill, ‘Mother of the Colorado Trail,’ dies at 89

By Jessica Pace Herald Staff Writer
Friday, July 15, 2016 11:20 AM

Gudy’s Rest, above Durango

The Colorado Trail has lost its first and most devoted advocate: Gudrun “Gudy” Gaskill, “Mother of the Colorado Trail,” died Thursday from complications related to a stroke she suffered last week. She was 89.

Each year, an estimated 150 people complete the 500-mile trek from Denver to Durango over 13,000-foot peaks and through wildflower-spotted backcountry.

Without Gaskill, friends and family said, the widely traversed trail wouldn’t be here today.

A native of Palatine, Illinois, she attended college in Gunnison, where she met her husband, Dave Gaskill. They married, and in 1952, the pair joined the Colorado Mountain Club, and eventually Gudy Gaskill became the club’s first woman president. She lived in Golden.

The Colorado Trail was conceived in 1973, and Gaskill spent the next 30 years taking the project from idea to reality as a builder and organizer of the trail.

For her work, Gaskill was inducted into the Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame in 2002 and received honors from former presidents Ronald Reagan and George Bush.

An avid mountaineer, she summited each of Colorado’s Fourteeners, as well as explored peaks around the world as high as 23,000 feet.

Family members said Gaskill died “peacefully in her sleep.”

Son Steven Gaskill provided The Durango Herald with a statement about his mother:

“Gudy Gaskill was outstanding in every way. She was the best mother we children could have ever had, who along with Dave, taught us to love wandering in the mountains, the beauty of wildflowers, the chill of a waterfall shower. She was a painter, sculptor, artist and always a leader. She was a leader who we all followed because she inspired everyone she met.”

Bill Manning, executive director of the Colorado Trail Foundation since 2006, worked extensively with Gaskill since he began volunteering on the trail in 1994.

“Gudy leaves a wonderful legacy of the Colorado Trail. The trail is cherished by so many of us, and we are so grateful,” Manning said. “She had a wonderful smile, a can-do attitude, and tremendous determination. Without her, the Colorado Trail would never have come to be.”

“She was extremely hard-working,” said Jerry Brown, vice-chairman of the Colorado Trail Foundation. “There was nothing passive at all about her.”

In March 2015, Gaskill gave a talk about her life’s work at the Durango Arts Center, where she was asked if she had ever considered writing a book.

“People keep asking me that,” she said at the time. “But life is so short, and there are so many interesting things to do, so many things to accomplish, I don’t have time for that.”

Gaskill is survived by her husband, Dave; children, Robin, Steven, Craig and Polly; and eight grandchildren. Her family requests, in lieu of gifts to the family, that donations be made to the Colorado Trail Gudy Gaskill Endowment Fund to support trail maintenance. To donate, visit www.coloradotrail.org/contribute.html.

A public memorial service at the Colorado Trail trailhead in Golden may be held in the coming months, but details are not final.

Gudy Remembered

After Gudy Gaskill’s death, scores of people who knew or admired her responded to the news in e-mails and Facebook posts. Here is a sampling of those comments:

Beyond the shadow of a doubt, Gudy made a difference for us all, and those to follow. I raise a cup of tea to her, her life, her accomplishments, her spirit, her grit, and everything she taught us about giving and giving back. I cherish every moment spent with her, and will miss her, but am confident in the legacy she leaves behind. Happy Trails Gudy, until we meet again.

Julie Mesdag

Some insist they leave a campsite better than they found it. Some come along, see a need, and will not walk around it. Today, consider Gudy’s imprint along the Colorado Trail. We could not have done better, because she would not fail. If indeed ‘we are what we leave behind,’ Look at the record and see ‘one of a kind.’

Ken E. Stagner

Gudy was larger-than-life, an incredible woman.  I loved listening to her tell stories from crews and adventures past, chock full of laughs and inspiration.  I am thankful I had the opportunity to know Gudy and for the work and strength she gave The Colorado Trail and Foundation.  She leaves a legacy for so many.

Aimée O’Malley, former CTF Director of Administrative Operations

A woman of strength, tenacity and vision. I will miss her perspectives and her stories. I feel privileged to have known her.

Steve Stadler, CTF Board Member

How fortunate we all are to have known Gudy and shared her love of The Colorado Trail! Thanks, Gudy, for being such an inspiration.

Glenn Kepler, longtime trail crew leader

We just finished 55 miles of the Trail and offer homage to the beautiful Gudy for our journey! We will finish next year in her honor.

Colleen Means

Gudy had a HUGE impact on many people. She certainly was one of kind. She could build trail all day and still have the energy to climb a peak in the evening.

Mark Schmalz

After leaving camp one day to pick mushrooms and other wild things, Gudy made mushroom soup and salad from her pickings. Being naive, I asked, ‘Will this make me sick?’ She replied, ‘Let me know.’ Gudy invited me out for an entire summer of crews in 1987 and I was never the same after that. She inspired me and countless others. Thank you for your light, Gudy. It is still so bright in my heart.

Mark Santa-Maria

It’s always hard to witness the passing of a visionary. Gudy leaves one hell of an awesome legacy. The many people who have traveled The Colorado Trail, and the many more who will, will keep her spirit alive every time they crest a beautiful mountain pass, drink from a crisp stream, or cower from a thunderstorm. May future generations have the courage to carry her vision forward.

Toby Gadd

I rode the CT last summer and thought of Gudy often. Her efforts and those of many other volunteers allowed me to have the experience of a lifetime.

Bill Wright

In 1992, I ran into Gudy and hiked with her for the day! I’m so grateful for her vision of the CT!

Sandy Bielenberg

My love for the CT started on a trail crew with Gudy. Such an amazing, strong and compassionate lady.

Rory Dolfi

The best year of my life started on her Trail. I will be eternally grateful for her work!

Bob Scales

My wife helped care for Gudy during her last days. She said it was a pleasure to be there for her and her family. She left such a legacy.

Fernando Alvarado

I remember working with Gov. Dick Lamm in the early to mid-‘80s and hearing about Gudy effort with others to create a trail connecting Denver to Durango. I thought it was a pipe dream and would never happen. Boy, was I wrong! I got to meet her at the CT Picnic a few years ago and told her that story. She just laughed.

Ron Davis

Gudy Gaskill – Pioneer, Mother, Trail Builder, Friend, Artist, Mountaineer, Canyoneer, and Much More

This memorial was written by Gudy’s children for a celebration of her life at the Colorado Mountain Center on Aug. 8, 2016.

Fear less, hope more; eat less, chew more;
Whine less, breathe more; talk less, say more;
Love more and all good things will be yours.

– Swedish proverb sent by Gudy to her great friend Nora

It is with great sadness we must tell you that Gudy Gaskill died peacefully on July 14, 2016, at age 89, following a stroke about a week earlier.  Though Gudy had some health issues during the past two years, she most certainly never let them get in the way of the lifestyle and activities she loved, embraced and shared with so many of us.  Our loss is immense, as will be that of the wide community she embraced.

She remained alive and vibrant, living independently and fully to the end of her days. Just two weeks before her death she had driven with family to Flagstaff, Ariz., to attend the wedding of one of her granddaughters.

Gudy Gaskill was outstanding in every way.  She was the best mother we children could have ever had, who along with Dave, taught us to love wandering in the mountains, the beauty of wildflowers, the chill of a waterfall shower.  She was a painter, sculpture, artist and always a leader.  She was a leader who we all followed because she inspired everyone she met.

As we were growing up she kept us continually engaged.  She started a 4-H program in the Lookout Mountain area and taught many of the classes, started a ski program at Mount Vernon after getting a ski hill built, and she was the adult sponsor for many CMC Denver Junior trips, leading large groups of youth around the Colorado and North American mountains.

Born Gudrun E. Timmerhaus in 1927 in Palatine, Ill., to Elsa and Paul Timmerhaus, Gudy’s love for the Rocky Mountains began in the early 1930s when her father started working in Rocky Mountain National Park as a summer ranger, bringing the family to Colorado each year. Gudy attended Western State College in Gunnison, where she taught German to help finance her education. In one of her classes she met Dave Gaskill. The two married and became parents to four children: Steve, Robin, Polly and Craig. Dave went on to become a geologist with the U.S. Geological Survey and Gudy completed a master’s degree in industrial recreation from the University of New Mexico.

painting of Gudy
Portrait of Gudy GaskillPainting by Sadie K

Gudy and Dave herded sheep together during winters in Kansas and they ran a Colorado backcountry youth summer program for a number of years to get by.  They then spent a few years in Albuquerque to finish graduate school, then moved to Los Angeles for Dave’s first geology job with the USGS before returning to Colorado. Gudy worked in real estate and eventually opened her own business.

For Gudy any challenge was simply an opportunity.  Son Steve remembers finishing the 120-plus-foot free rappel off of the Maiden, a rock pinnacle near Boulder, onto a narrow rock rib worried that Gudy would be intimidated.  Not to worry, she took her time and stopped frequently to view the 360-degree horizons as she slowly spun around.

Avid mountaineers, skiers and hikers, the Gaskills joined the Colorado Mountain Club (CMC) in 1952. By the 1970s, Gudy was one of the club’s most active participants, leading trips throughout the world for the CMC and chairing multiple committees, including outings and trails. In 1977, she became the first woman president of the organization, then 5,000 members strong. But it was a planning meeting that Gudy attended in 1973 for a fledgling concept that changed her life and the state’s landscape as well.

Gudy really found her passion, showing her gentle but visionary and indomitable leadership, with the concept of The Colorado Trail.  She became the state’s premier trail builder, volunteer organizer and female mountaineer.  Gudy devoted more than 30 years to taking The Colorado Trail from an idea to one of the leading hiking, biking and equestrian trails in the world.

In the early years the fledgling organization and movement faced many obstacles, but as executive director, Gudy refused to allow the initiative to die. She drew a detailed route through the Forest Service districts, linking early trails and existing mining and logging roads. She single-handedly persuaded the powerful directors of the districts to support the project. She then recruited volunteers and led the trail-building effort.

Years of effort and many trails crews later, the Trail was dedicated on July 23, 1988.  In the words of Merle McDonald, past president of The Colorado Trail Foundation, “It’s an understatement to say that there would be no Colorado Trail if it weren’t for Gudy. No person, man or woman, has ever single-handedly had a greater impact on the successful completion of a national treasure as Gudy has with the creation of the Colorado Trail.”

Gudy reads trailhead sign

Once the trail was built and the Foundation secure with professional leadership, Gudy remained active on the board and then as an adviser, focusing most of her efforts on educational programs along the Trail and at the Colorado Trail Cabin near American Basin in the San Juan Mountains, where she spent many summers.

Somehow, while guiding the creation of the Trail, raising four children, and developing a successful real estate business, Gaskill found time to ascend all 54 of Colorado’s 14,000-foot peaks – Longs Peak alone more than 35 times – as well as mountains around the world up to 23,000 feet high.

She was recognized by President Ronald Reagan with the Take Pride in America Campaign Award and was honored by President George H.W. Bush through the Thousand Points of Light program.

She appeared on The Today Show and countless television and radio programs. Famed Colorado singer Judy Collins dedicated a song to Gudy and her efforts. Another Colorado musician, Michael Martin Murphey, was inspired by Gudy and the Trail to record the classic cowboy song, Along the Colorado Trail.

Gudy Gaskill, was also recognized as one of Colorado’s most influential contemporary and historical women with her induction into the Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame on March 14, 2002.