Key events in the history of The Colorado Trail
Bill Lucas of the U.S. Forest Service endorses “Rocky Mountain Trail”
In his new position as Region 2 Forester for the U.S. Forest Service, Bill Lucas, with encouragement from the Roundup Riders of the Rockies and the Colorado Mountain Club, grasped the opportunity to push for the creation of a long-envisioned “Rocky Mountain Trail.”
See: The Colorado Trail Formative Years Remembered by Bill Lucas
Gaskill and Lucas speak in D.C.; legislation enacted for volunteers in National Forest
Gudy Gaskill, chairwoman of the Colorado Mountain Club’s Huts and Trails Committee, joined Lucas in Washington, D.C., in speaking to the Volunteers in the National Forests Act of 1972, which was approved on May 18. The act became the framework for using volunteers to build The Colorado Trail.
See: Forest Service Volunteer Program Guide 2013
Merrill Hastings, publisher of “Colorado” magazine, begins boosting the idea for a Colorado Trail
Publisher Merrill Hastings becomes an advocate for the Trail and publishes the first feature article about it in his Colorado magazine. At a key meeting in November, concepts for the trail are discussed.
See: Article on Merrill Hastings thanks to Colorado Snowsports Museum
Birth Year of The Colorado Trail; Gudy Gaskill takes on key role
1974 is considered the birth year of The Colorado Trail. Meetings focused on establishing the Trail began and the Colorado Mountain Trails Foundation (CMTF) was established. Gudy Gaskill was asked to help organize the effort and became executive director of the CMTF. Another feature article appeared in Colorado magazine.
See: 1974 article in Colorado magazine
Public-Private Cooperative Agreement and trail vision
A cooperative agreement between the U.S. Forest Service and Colorado Mountain Trails Foundation is signed, creating a “unique partnership” to go forward with construction of The Colorado Trail. An article in Colorado magazine describes planners’ vision and ideas for the Trail.
See: 1976 article in Colorado magazine
RMTF activity dwindled and efforts languished
Progress establishing the CT is slower than expected. Funding nearly dried up. Though early hopes were for a far-reaching trail network with something for everyone, including huts, realities loomed and frustration set in. Enthusiasm waned and there were arguments. The RMTF has its last meeting in 1979. Some advocated dissolving the RMTF to make way for a different entity and effort. Gudy Gaskill, still the chair of the CMC Huts and Trails Committee, continues assembling a few volunteer trail crews each summer. With trails other than the CT to work on, they are able to construct about 2-4 Colorado Trail miles each year.
USFS releases EA and Route Directive
The U.S. Forest Service releases an Environmental Assessment and Route Directive for the Trail. It is an important document but does not finalize, end to end, where the CT would be placed.
“Trail to Nowhere” article describes challenges
A decade after conception of the Trail, efforts to complete it bog down. An article, Trail to Nowhere, which appeared in the Denver Post’s Empire Magazine of December 9, 1984, describes the problems dogging organizers in bringing the Trail to fruition.
See: 1984 Trail to Nowhere article in the Denver Post’s Empire Magazine
Colorado Governor Dick Lamm supports completion
Governor Dick Lamm (left) with USFS James Torrence (right) installing a trail sign at Twin Lakes.
The 1984 article, Trail To Nowhere, attracted the attention of one influential Coloradan, Governor Dick Lamm, who in 1985 threw the support of the Governor’s office behind the project. An ambitious schedule was devised for finishing and finally joining Denver to Durango via a trail. The resulting two-year plan, which was coordinated by the Forest Service, called for completing nearly 60 miles of trails through six forest districts during the 1986 and 1987 seasons, using primarily volunteer labor.
Volunteers in record numbers labor to finish the Trail
1986 volunteer trail crew at Hotel Draw between Silverton and Durango
The effort put forth in 1986 and 1987 by the volunteers was unprecedented. In 1986, some 400 volunteers labored in 20 trail crews building new tread. The following year, nearly a thousand volunteers happily took up their tools in 46 trail crews. The complicated logistics taxed the volunteer organizers, many of whom used their own vehicles to help the Forest Service supply and relocate base camps. Also challenged were the dedicated Forest Service liaisons who worked tirelessly alongside the volunteers.
Trail connected end to end and “Golden Spike” ceremonies held
Volunteers complete The Colorado Trail end to end. The final 2-year push was organized by The Colorado Trail Foundation. On September 4, 1987, “Golden Spike” ceremonies are held at Molas Pass, Camp Hale (photo) and Mt. Princeton to celebrate the linking of the Trail from Denver to Durango.
The Colorado Trail Foundation gains official status
After a two-year effort to gain official status, the new organization becomes a legal entity on October 5, 1987. The Colorado Trail Foundation, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit under the leadership of Gudy Gaskill, is established to steward the Trail.
First year…The Colorado Trail…Volunteers built it
One big year for the Trail. Official dedication ceremonies are held at each end. Key volunteers became the very first completers. Gaskill leads a group of dedicated volunteers on the “Trail-A-Bration,” the first supported trek of the Trail starting in Denver and arriving in Durango. This first end-to-end hike arrived just in time for the official dedication at the Junction Creek, southern terminus on July 23. A day later, another dedication ceremony is held at the Trail’s northern terminus at Waterton Canyon. (Photo)
The Colorado Trail Foundation and U.S. Forest Service sign a Master Agreement creating a partnership tasked with maintaining the Trail.
An Adopt-A-Trail program is established to maintain the Trail and the first Adopter volunteers were enlisted to perform the annual work on their sections.
Ongoing volunteer trail crews shift the effort and begin improving The Colorado Trail, where possible moving it off motorized routes and, in some cases, private lands.
Presidential Awards for Trail Success
President George H. W. Bush presents a Take Pride in America Award to The Colorado Trail Foundation for making The Colorado Trail a reality and a One Thousand Points of Light Award to Gudy Gaskill for leading the effort. The CTF also receives a Celebrate Colorado award from Governor Roy Romer. In 1987 as the end-to-end Trail connection was being made, Gaskill’s work was recognized by President Ronald Reagan with a Take Pride in America Award.
See: Presidential awards received for Trail success
Early CT Guidebooks and trail history
The Official Colorado Trail Guidebook, first published in 1988, greatly helped Trail travelers. It detailed the entire Colorado Trail between Denver and Durango in chapters corresponding to each of the Trail segments. Trail maintenance and improvement work was ongoing. As the CT Foundation volunteers improved and changed the Trail routing, moving it off of roads and motorized routes, book revisions were authored and a new edition guidebook was published. Pages and maps in the first edition were black and white while subsequent editions gained full color maps and beautiful photographs. Each edition included an insightful recap of the Trail history leading up to 1987 when it was connected end-to-end.
See: An early edition CT Guidebook includes trail history
Volunteers celebrate 20th Anniversary; article published
On May 14th, Colorado Trail volunteers assembled at the Colorado Governor’s Mansion to celebrate the 20th Anniversary. Publisher Merrill Hastings extols the qualities of the Trail in an article in Colorado magazine. “The Colorado Trail is a pathway to adventure,” he writes. “It will lure you with romantic visions of unspeakable beauty. It will intoxicate you with anticipation so that you can’t wait to get started. You’ll talk about your plans to everyone who will listen and you’ll dream constantly about your upcoming adventure.”
Gaskill retires; partnership renewed; endowment fund established
On April 19, 1998, Gudy Gaskill retires as president of The Colorado Trail Foundation but remains involved as President Emeritus. On July 12, 1998, The CT Foundation and U.S. Forest Service renew their partnership agreement with the signing of a Master Plan for The Colorado Trail. On October 28, 1998, CTF establishes the Gudy Gaskill Endowment Fund to ensure the Trail will be maintained in perpetuity.
Gudy Gaskill bridge dedicated and 25th Anniversary
On June 12, 1999, a bridge spanning the South Platte River at the junction of Segments 1 and 2 is dedicated to Gudy Gaskill. The new bridge was built using funds from Friends of The Colorado Trail, Great Outdoors Colorado, and the U.S. Forest Service. On July 6, 1999, volunteers celebrate the 25th anniversary of The Colorado Trail at Mount Vernon Country Club on Lookout Mountain in Golden.
First GPS survey of The Colorado Trail
Jerry Brown, CTF volunteer trail surveyor beginning in 1999 and 2000, surveys The Colorado Trail.
Before 1999 and 2000, CT maps had all been hand drawn. With the advent of GPS, key CTF volunteers embarked on an ambitious, first GPS survey to map the CT with much better accuracy. The route was in the backcountry, though, and not a normal survey project. A plea for expert help was placed in the Tread Lines newsletter and professional surveyor and CT Completer, Jerry Brown, responded. A collaborative effort began. Jerry figured out the survey equipment for this unusual backcountry trip. With support from other CTF volunteers, he traveled the CT, biking and hiking, recording professional grade survey data all the way. (We think the CT was the first long distance trail to be mapped with survey-grade GPS, far superior to any consumer grade equipment at the time. What made it particularly valuable was the Trimble survey unit’s ability to log all the available satellite data at any given instant and then enable one to utilize software and post-process the information to select only the best data points.) The GPS trail survey project greatly helped improve the CT guides, benefitting trail travelers, and the improved maps contributed a lot to the organization’s trail stewardship operations.
Gaskill Inducted into the Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame
Gudy Gaskill is inducted into the Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame.
CT 30th Anniversary
The 30th anniversary of the Trail is celebrated in Buena Vista and Colorado’s Governor declares statewide “Colorado Trail Day.”
Memo of Understanding Reaffirmed
CTF President, Marilyn Eisele, and U.S. Forest Service Region 2 Forester, Rick Cables, reaffirm the longstanding partnership and continued cooperation in maintaining the Trail.
Bill Manning Begins As First Executive Director
Bill Manning is named the first executive director – and first full-time employee – of The Colorado Trail Foundation.
First Map Book Published
The first shaded relief topo maps are released, greatly improving trail navigation as well as volunteer trail maintenance operations.
CT Online Store Launched
Making the CT Guides and other Trail merchandise far more available, the online CT Store began catering to purchasers throughout the United States and even abroad.
Collegiate West Opened
Eighty additional miles are added to the Trail on the west side of the Collegiate Peaks mountain range, forming a 160-mile loop when combined with the Collegiate East segments. It becomes known as the Collegiate West and gives Trail users an alternate route north- and southbound.
Phone App Released
Partnering with Atlas Guides and their “Guthook” trail apps, the CTF contributes trail data and photos. The CT phone app proves a game changer, helping users pinpoint their exact location, follow the Trail and replenish water.
Field Operations Manager Joins Staff
A full-time field operations manager, Brent Adams, is added to the Foundation staff (joining the executive director, office manager, and trekking manager) to oversee future projects, including the building of 90-100 miles of new trail over the next 10-15 years.
Field Operations Center Fundraising Begins
A fund-raising campaign to build a field operations center begins.
Gudy Gaskill Passes
Gudy Gaskill, whose untiring efforts were chiefly responsible for the completion of The Colorado Trail, dies on July 14.
Field Operations Center Construction Begins
Design of the field operations center is completed and construction begins.
Field Ops Center Named for George Miller
The Foundation announces at its annual holiday party in Golden that the new operations center will be named in honor of George Miller, longtime board member and former Foundation president who was volunteer operations manager for 20 years.
George Miller Field Operations Center Dedicated
The George Miller Field Operations Center in Poncha Springs is dedicated. The half-million-dollar project enables the CTF to consolidate all of its equipment in one place for the first time in the Trail’s history, providing a “base camp” for future trail building and maintenance operations.