The Dirt Diaries Blog

Molly's picture

Colorado College Bonner Fellow Joins RMFI

For the 2017-2018 shool year, RMFI is partnering with the Colorado College Collaborative for Community Engagement on that organization's pilot Bonner Fellowship program. RMFI's Bonner Fellow is Asa Hussain, a freshman hailing from Miami, Florida where he has participated in marine habitat restoration projects among other extracurricular endeavors of note. In his first few weeks in this position, Asa has begun working closely with RMFI staff on both office and field work projects and establishing himself as a member of our team for the year and hopefully years to come throughout his college career. Read on for more information about this exiciting program and partnership.  

The following is a reprint of a blog created by the Colorado College Collaborative for Community Engagement.

This year, five students have been selected to participate in the CCE’s pilot of the Bonner Fellowship. This program aligns with the well-established nationally organized network of schools that have a Bonner program at their institution. These Bonner Fellows will engage in a yearlong paid internship with a community partner, in addition to working on community building and social justice education, as well as skill building to effectively create social change. The holistic nature of this program is designed to give students the education, preparation, and dialogue that empower them to be intentional in their community work. Launching this program at CC gives fellows access to a network of partner organizations, community engagement offices, other fellows, and alumni.

“Bringing the Bonner Fellowship to CC addresses issues that the CCE wants to prioritize: providing paid opportunities for community engagement for students who have to work while in school,” says Dr. Jordan Radke, CCE director. It also adds to the programs offered by the CCE, including BreakOut, the Community Engaged Scholars program, and the Community Engaged Leadership Certificate program. The Bonner Fellowship offers a program that is high-commitment and high-impact, which fills a niche in the CCE continuum of opportunities. The fellowship is intended to open engagement to students who need to work through college and do not have the same access to leisure time as other CC students – this includes underrepresented, first generation, and low income background students. This year’s five students were selected “based on their merit and passions and understanding of community engagement,” stated Dr. Radke.

This year the CCE office recruited a variety of organizations in the community. According to Dr. Radke, “we were intentional in selecting partners who suited several criteria – they needed to cover a range of issues, be located nearby for easy transportation for interns, and offer internships. These internships needed to provide our students with meaningful work, and the opportunity to scale up their responsibilities over time, because ideally this is a 4-year program.” The CCE sent student finalists to interview at the community partner organizations, and matched the students and partners to each other. This year, the partners are the Rocky Mountain Field Institute, Colorado Springs School District 11, Meadows Park Community Center, Southern Colorado Health Network, and the City of Colorado Springs (Parks, Recreation, and Cultural Services).

The future of the program is contingent on funding for next year, provided that this year’s pilot program is successful. Dr. Radke hopes that the program will develop to support up to 10 students, and that the CCE “can leverage the expertise of both community partners and faculty. The program’s small group meetings are collaborative, and we want to create a learning community around the program.” If the program continues, Dr. Radke would also like to see the program become integrated into the admissions process as a scholarship to support committed students, and function as a recruiting tool. Currently, the Bonner Fellows meet three weeks out of every block to check in, and they also attend additional programming outside the blockly requirements for their internships. Their most recent workshop was on reciprocity in community engagement, said Dr. Radke. “We discussed how to go into a community humbly – you have something to offer and also something to learn.”

To learn more about the CCE’s Bonner Fellowship, visit

Jennifer's picture

Waldo Canyon Reopens on October 4, 2017

waldo canyon, public access, burn restoration, stabilization, reopening, forest management, forest service, waldo canyon trail, rmfi, rocky mountain field institute, hiking, trails, conservation, stewardship, volunteers, willows, wildfire

The Pike National Forest has revised the closure order for Waldo Canyon to allow public access. The Order (PSICC-2017-22) rescinds parts of the previous closure that prohibited entry into Waldo Canyon. The many years of work by federal, state, local, and non-profit organizations has allowed for recovery of the land making public use of this part of El Paso County on the Pikes Peak Ranger District possible again.

While the public will be allowed to access Waldo, the Waldo Canyon Trail (NFST 640) and Waldo Canyon Trailhead on Highway 24 will remained closed for public safety. There are no other legally designated Forest Service system trails in Waldo Canyon. Public accessing the area should use caution and be prepared for cross-country hiking over rough terrain and debris from the 2012 wildfire. The potential for flash flooding still exists. In addition, there are many dead hazard trees that can fall down. Anyone entering the area should be aware of these hazards and take any necessary safety precautions by using extreme caution.

This opening is the beginning of the next chapter in Waldo recovery. "We are proud of the massive recovery effort the Forest Service, partners, and the community has poured into Waldo and happy that we are finally able to open the area as hunting season gets going," said Oscar Martinez, District Ranger. The Forest Service is working with partners on a sustainable path forward for recreation in the area. Redesigning and implementing a safe sustainable recreation plan in the Waldo burn scar is complex and will take time.

The newly revised Order maintains prohibitions of camping and campfires in the area and keeps several roads closed. However, parking will now be allowed in non-designated parking areas. To read the new order and see the map, visit and look under "Alerts & Warnings."

The map below shows how to access the once-closed forest from Woodland Park on Rampart Range Road (see purple line). 


Jennifer's picture

North Cheyenne Cañon Master Plan

North Cheyenne Cañon Park, Colorado Springs, Parks, Open Space, Master Plan, Community Input, Public Process, Community, Management Plan, Get Involved, Public Meeting, stewardship, trails, conservation, RMFI

The City's historic mountain park is set to get lots of attention over the next eight months as the City's Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services Department teams up with community residents to develop an updated Master and Management Plan for the popular North Cheyenne Cañon Park.

The Master and Management Plan will focus on a little over 1,855 acres of land, including the core of the park property as well as the adjacent Cresta and Stratton Forest Open Spaces. Additionally, the plan will encompass the property added to the park from the recent land exchange with the Broadmoor. The plan will also focus on trail connections between the park and the adjacent open space properties, including Stratton and Stratton Preserve Open Spaces. (see map)

The existing North Cheyenne Cañon Park master plan was developed in 1999. Since that time, park use has significantly increased and recreational needs have expanded and changed, creating impacts on the natural resources of the park.


The Master and Management Plan will guide use and management of the park for the next 10 to 15 years. It will create a shared community view of what the park is and should be by identifying current and future needs. The plan will provide a framework to accommodate a variety of recreational uses while also taking care of the land, its history, and its natural environment.

The City has retained Tapis Associates to lead the team of consultants who will work with the community to develop the Master and Management Plan.

The process offers lots of opportunities for you to have your say about the future of this wonderful park.

At the meetings, participants will get valuable information about the park and provide equally valuable insights back to the City and consultant team about the park's needs and what should be done to meet them. People who attend the meetings will help guide master plan decisions.

The process offers lots of opportunities for you to have your say about the future of this wonderful park. All community meetings indicated below will take place at 6 p.m. at Cheyenne Mountain High School (1200 Cresta Road):

  1. Identify issues, concerns and guiding principals (July 2017-September 2017)
  2. Interviews, ice cream socials, on-site, social media and web online surveys
  3. Community workshop #1 on September 19
  4. Identify opportunities, problem situations and master plan preferences (October 2017)
  5. Community workshop #2 on October 17
  6. Review preliminary draft plan approaches (December 2017)
  7. Community workshop #3 on December 13
  8. Review draft master and management plan (January 2018)
  9. Community open house on January 25
  10. Present recommended master and management plan (February 2018)
  11. TOPS Working Committee - Park Advisory Board
  12. Approve final master and management plan (March 2018)
  13. Park Advisory Board

Jennifer's picture

Are We Loving Colorado’s Wild Places to Death?

trails, stewardship, colorado, conservation, restoration, overuse, national forest, wilderness, trash, cleanup, outdoor recreation, fourteeners, hiking, camping, land management, forest service, backcountry, leave no trace, adaptive management, colorado fourteener initiative, rocky mountain field institute, colorado outdoor recreation industry office


Trampled wildflowers. Eroded trails. Trash littering the forest floor. Piles of (not just dog) poop. These are not the images one conjures when thinking of Colorado’s postcard-perfect landscapes. But according to stewardship organizations and land managers across the state, these unfortunate scenarios are occurring with increasing frequency as our population and tourism numbers rise and as social-media-stoked enthusiasm for the outdoors sends more people traipsing through the Centennial State’s hallowed grounds.

In outdoor-industry parlance, this degradation is commonly referred to as the “loving-it-to-death phenomenon”: too many people in the same area at the same time, sometimes doing things they’re not supposed to be doing. It’s not a new problem—the Appalachian Trail has been witness to an excess of footfalls for years; Yosemite National Park began limiting visitors in 2014; and the U.S. Forest Service implemented a permit system to battle crowds on California’s 14,505-foot Mt. Whitney way back in 1971—but it is a relatively recent development in Colorado. Certainly there are areas of our state that have long endured millions of annual visitors. But Forest Service rangers, national park personnel, and state park operators say that in the past four or five years they have discerned not only an uptick in visitation but also a dramatic surge of disappointing behaviors that are detrimental to our outdoor spaces.

To continue reading the article, please click here

Joe's picture

Student Reflections: Earth Corps 2017

trails, stewardship, colorado, conservation, restoration, national forest, wilderness, outdoor recreation, fourteeners, hiking, camping, outdoor education, life changing, rmfi, earth corps, alpine living, academic, kit carson, challenger point

In mid-August, RMFI concluded the 16th annual Earth Corps field studies program. Ten college students from across the nation (and Canada) and a small team of RMFI staff spent a month living, working, and learning in the Colorado backcountry. Early mornings that started with a hike to 13,000 feet gave way to long days working in the alpine to establish a new sustainable summit trail to Challenger Point (14,081') and Kit Carson Peak (14,170'). The focus in the afternoon shifted to academics -- reading scholarly articles on Colorado water law or climate change, or hearing from a visiting expert in botany or public lands management, among many other topics. Evenings were spent exploring the nooks and crannies of Willow Lake Basin before re-fueling on dinners high in carbs, finally preparing to do it all again the next day.

The following is a summary of the experience as told by three students, written on the final morning of the program.

"If I had to sum up my Earth Corps experience in one word, I would have to choose the word growth. One month ago I never could have imagined the different ways that I've grown over these past 30 days up in the Willow Creek Basin. I've seen growth physically, growth mentally, and growth socially that can't be attained in my everyday life.

My physical growth became apparent about a week and a half into the program. On the first day when we hike 5 miles to base camp, I didn't think I was cut out for the program. I barely made it to the base camp and was exhausted once I made it. I stuck with it though and after a week working on the trail, I felt like a completely different person. I felt stronger, faster, and more energetic than I have in my whole life.

My mental growth became apparent almost immediately once I reached camp. I had no idea that I was strong enough to push myself to make it to camp. The alpine environment was the perfect place to distance myself from everyday stresses and focus. I learned more about the environment and conservation than I did in any other class. The isolation from society helped me to also focus on the things that truly make me happy."
--Jack Clark

"It is hard to find words to describe my time at Earth Corps. I feel as if nothing I say can fully do justice the experiences I had and relationships I made.

One thing I can say for sure is that I will never forget it. The trail work was tough, but rewarding, the academic side was interesting and memorable. The views were spectacular and the people unforgettable.

I'd like to thank everyone who contributed to possibly the coolest month of my life, students and staff alike."
--William Weeks

"Beginning the ascent in to Willow Lake Basin, I had no idea what to expect. I heard the first mile or so was all switchbacks, and if you could get through that, you could make it through the rest. I was doing well through that and for another couple of miles until the talus field headwall. There, my pack seemed to weigh 200 pounds and my legs seemed to stop moving. I had so many thoughts running through my head; I literally considered unpacking my pack and carrying individual items up. Soon, however, I become more life-like and finished the hike feeling good. The arrival at camp was magnificent; I felt truly elated at both the site and at having completed such a hike. The Basin is surrounded by large talus fields from which I could see several Bighorn sheep travel to forage. I then walked up to the lake and saw the waterfall loud and cascading over the large rock formations into a serene and still pond of freezing water. From this moment, I knew this was going to be an experience like nothing I have ever done or even imagined before.

The trail construction was challenging, yet incredibly rewarding. For me, pushing myself to move large rocks and crush rocks 50 times for one single break was certainly going to make me stronger. Additionally, the idea of working, getting to know, and laughing with each of my fellow students is something that cannot be accurately described. We shared countless tough jobs, inside jokes, and unique ideas. At the site, the day seemed to fly by; soon it was about 2 PM and I could feel the storm clouds gathering. After we hiked down, the rest of the day brought either a fascinating and knowledgeable lecturer, a lively group discussion, an exploration up to a talus field, or a quick jump in the freezing lake, just to name a few. It was during this time that I spent some of my most memorable moments with others and engaged in profound thinking and self-reflection. After the free time in the afternoon, we all gathered for a delectable and quite creative dinner. This was always a great time to bond AND enjoy really, really good food that is typically not associated with backcountry living.

As I conclude my experience on Earth Corps, I mull over the many different skills I learned and think about how fortunate I am to have had this experience. This is a one-of-a-kind program that cannot be boiled down to a few words; it has to be experienced in its fullest."
--Mary Lundin

Alyssa's picture

Dirt Camp 2017 Wrap-Up

trails, stewardship, colorado, conservation, restoration, wilderness, outdoor recreation, hiking, outdoor education, rmfi, environmental education, catamount, youth, dirt camp, garden of the gods, national natural landmark

In just a few short years, Dirt Camp students have tripled in numbers. It’s not surprising given the set up of this weeklong course of field work and hands-on learning.

Rocky Mountain Field Institute teaches youth aged 10-12 about our mission of preserving and protecting Southern Colorado’s public landscapes. RMFI takes great pride in stewardship and education and spent the week sharing that pride with the campers in as many ways as possible.

RMFI has partnered with Catamount Institute in offering Dirt Camp since 2014 (one of several summer youth camp programs offered by Catamount). The first year of camp was actually a fire restoration camp in Black Forest, and the 2015-2017 Dirt Camps have all been at Garden of the Gods.

Each day, campers participated in environmental education lessons with Catamount Institute staff focused on soil, erosion, flora and fauna, and vermiculture. Campers then participated in hands-on trail and restoration projects led by RMFI staff. The students also enjoyed a trip to Cave of the Winds and the Garden of the Gods Visitor and Nature Center to round out their week.

Bright and early, these 21 campers were getting their hands dirty. In just one week, they completed 700 feet of social trail closure and restoration, but not before learning the science of and behind it. Together, they replaced native soil and transplanted over 100 larger bits of grass and sage into non-designated footpaths.

This year is already predicted to be a record setting year, with City counters already logging over 2 million visitors to the Garden of the Gods! With these astounding numbers, it’s clear that RMFI's work is necessary to help maintain our beloved park, which has been a National Natural Landmark since 1971. It was blissful to help complete critical stewardship work, and to teach the importance of caring for our public lands to these interested mountaineers-to-be. We were fortunate enough to have a Garden of the Gods park ranger come out to speak about what he does on a day-to-day basis. Together, we all learned that this position isn’t all sunshine and happy tourists, but a great deal of trash clean up and general park maintenance.

Watching the boys and girls find enjoyment through maintaining heavily-traveled stairs on Old Colorado City trail is something I won’t soon forget. The avid learners now understand the benefits of check dams and were able to see different stages of gullies. We broke out into groups to make 3 check dams to help catch sediment, allow water flow, and prevent future erosion. Thankfully it rained multiple days that week enabling everyone to see the check dams doing what they’re supposed to do, in action. Additionally, campers cleaned out 5 drains to help prevent erosion even further paired with educational activities.

Each student left each morning tired but fulfilled and ready to enjoy a lunch and learn more in the afternoons. They worked hard with overall positive attitudes; at the end of the week each camper had the opportunity to show their stewardship accomplishments to their parents and siblings.

Catamount campers impressed RMFI greatly, not only in the work that was accomplished, but in their knowledge of what they did and why it needed to be done. They spoke with pride and certainty as they explained each site that was improved to the people that showed up for them. If I were a parent I’d be so proud of my kiddo; as a field instructor, I sure was. They learned about tools and adopted the techniques to use them most efficiently. Little siblings looked up to their brothers or sisters on that day and admired their pride and responsibility taken for their work. Everyone was happy to be romping around the Garden of the Gods learning about one another, environmental stewardship, and the beautiful public space we share.

We can’t thank Catamount Institute enough and the students they brought along for the amazing week of education and work. RMFI invites you all back to volunteer with us!

Liz's picture

Eclipse Fever

eclipse, pikes peak observatory, totality

Do you have it yet?  The fever? There can be a total eclipse of the sun somewhere in the world about once every 18 months, but this is the first time we have had a total eclipse cross the US from Pacific to Atlantic since 1918. Colorado Springs was just outside the path of totality for that one, but was a major player in the 1878 eclipse with scientists travelling here from back east to observe from the Pikes Peak observatory. Scientists relied on eclipses to be able to observe the sun’s atmosphere; and Colorado Springs was anxious to make its mark in the scientific community, which was dominated by easterners. The next total eclipse over the Springs will be in 2045, but if you’re willing to head east you can catch one in the Midwest in 2024.

In Colorado Springs the August 21 eclipse will be at 11:47 am, and will be about 90% complete. We have to go to Wyoming or Nebraska to catch a total eclipse (Click for an interactive map). So what’s all the fuss? 90% sounds pretty darn good and you can see that from your own back yard. But if you catch the fever, that may not be good enough.  Those two minutes of being in the moon shadow are supposedly quite special. So much so that the experts say don’t even think of trying to photograph it. Just be there and watch.

As the moon begins to pass in front of the sun, taking a bite out of it, as many ancient myths recount, the sky will get progressively dusky, but this may not even be noticeable if you’re not paying attention. It is important to only look at the sun through special eclipse glasses. Or project its image onto the ground or a piece of paper with a pinhole. The small spots of light shining through tree leaves will show miniature eclipses on the ground. You can make a wonderful projection through a kitchen colander.

About a minute before totality there may be shadow bands, moving wavy lines of light and dark on the ground. These are the result of the last rays of light refracting through earth’s atmosphere. The totality of this eclipse will last about two minutes. As the moon shadow sweeps over and the moon covers the sun, the sky will get dark, the stars and planets will be visible, with just a rim of “sunset” all around our horizon. And it may get cold. I’m told, don’t run for a sweater, just wait it out and experience the power of the sun returning, bringing its light and heat back to the earth.

While the moon covers the sun you do not need special glasses to look at it. With the intensity of the sun hidden, you can see the corona, the charged particles of the sun’s atmosphere. Streaks in it are the magnetic fields carrying plasma out into space (and creating the solar wind).  The chromosphere is a lower level of the sun’s atmosphere, which appears for a few seconds as a red glow right around the moon. During the “diamond ring” phase, at the beginning and end of totality, just a spot of intense light is visible. Sometimes there are more than one bead, “Bailey’s beads”, which is the sun shining between the mountains of the moon. One of the great unsolved problems in physics is why the temperature of the corona is millions of Kelvins higher than the sun’s surface.

Because planets’ and moons’ orbits are elliptical rather than round, eclipses vary depending on how close the moon is to the earth. When the moon is farther away, there is more of a bright ring around the moon, called an annular eclipse. Interestingly, the moon is slowly getting farther away from the earth. In the age of the dinosaurs it was closer, and eclipses lasted longer and covered more of the sun. It is really just a fluke of our timing in the universe that the moon fits pretty perfectly over the sun for us. The sun’s diameter is 400 times that of the moon but 93 million miles away. Both orbs appear the same size to us here on earth.

There is a wealth of information online about the eclipse. Here are a couple great websites:
NASA eclipse website:
Great American Eclipse:

So get yourself a pair of eclipse glasses and catch the fever.

Donnie Ferns's picture

DIRT CAMP: The Importance of Environmental Education

trails, stewardship, colorado, conservation, restoration, wilderness, outdoor recreation, hiking, outdoor education, rmfi, environmental education, catamount, youth, dirt camp, garden of the gods, national natural landmark, teaching, environment

With RMFI’s third annual partnership with the Catamount Institute’s “Dirt Camp” this month, we felt the need to discuss the importance of introducing environmental concepts at a young age. Dirt Camp is a weeklong summer camp sponsored by the Catamount Institute. It allows children the opportunity to get their hands dirty by helping RMFI complete various conservation/restoration work projects in the Garden of the Gods. These kids learn a variety of conservation techniques and how the structures we install help to improve the natural areas we work in. The trails we build are placed to not only provide access to the public, but also to protect the non-designated areas from erosion, habitat fragmentation, and other impacts. These are lifelong lessons and skills that we hope stay with these kids as they grow older. With increasing demand and visitation, it’s important to educate the kids about trail etiquette, such as staying on the designated trails and avoiding areas not intended for human traffic. Teaching children about trail maintenance and showing them all the hard work that’s put into them will hopefully instill a sense of respect for nature. 

Exposing and educating young children about the environment at a young age can play an important role in shaping lifelong attitudes, values, and patterns of behavior toward natural environments. The earlier youth become accustomed to the outdoors, the more of a connection they will feel. Positive interactions with the environment such as Dirt Camp help enforce this level of connection.

Beyond the outdoor experience, parents and educators can help influence young children’s behavior toward nature and the planet. Valuable lessons can be taught at school and at home including:

• Recycling
• Gardening
• Healthy eating habits
• Water conservation
• Replacements for plastic products
• Electricity and fossil fuel reduction

Remember, children are the future to a clean and green planet !

Alex Hladkyj's picture

The Challenges of Federal vs. State Land Ownership

trails, stewardship, conservation, restoration, national forest, wilderness, outdoor recreation, hiking, rmfi, indian creek, federal land, state land, energy development, outdoor recreation, public lands transfer, outdoor retailer, public lands, sagebrush rebellion, hcr1, land management

A political resurgence among lawmakers to transfer federal public lands to individual states is gaining momentum.  This revival is reminiscent of the Sagebrush Rebellion and subsequent legislation considered by many western states during the late 1970s and 1980s. The rhetoric of the Sagebrush Rebellion is similar to current initiatives arguing for greater state government control or outright ownership of federal public lands.  This movement is concentrated in western states because much of the eastern U.S. has already distributed ownership to state, local, and private entities. Western states containing huge tracts of federal public lands like national parks, national forests, and BLM land are at center stage. 

Utah, home to RMFI’s longest running stewardship project in Indian Creek, is currently pushing hard to gain control of public lands within its borders.  Specifically, by rolling back public land protections, Utah is making it easier to transfer ownership.  A few examples include initiatives to rescind Bears Ears National Monument and shrink the borders of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.  These two actions are supported by several Utah legislators and backed by Trump’s executive order instructing Interior Secretary Zinke to review up to 40 national monuments created within the past 21 years. Utah also enrolled HCR1; a resolution demanding that the fed hand over significant portions of land under its control. It should be noted that since the inception of the new administration, this resolution has been toned down from a harsh demand to a pressing request.  In a summary, HCR1 no longer threatens to sue the federal government if Utah’s requests are not met and declares a commitment to remaining a “public land state” after transfer of ownership is complete.

Supporters of public land transfer range from those interested in localized environmental stewardship to those set on growing local economies via energy development.  A common argument for increasing state land rests on the assumption that land management issues are best addressed by people closest to the task at hand.  In other words, federal oversight is often criticized for being too disconnected from local communities to make the right management decisions.  Additionally, federal decisions often move very slow, which further frustrates supporters of localized land ownership who want swift action.

Another argument for state control rests on the financial cost of managing land on the federal level.  Many who are monetarily concerned see the fed as a poor management choice since a direct profit is not made. Immense backlogged maintenance expenses are cited along with other examples like the high cost of acquiring multiple national parks in recent history.  Sources like the American Lands Council claim shifting ownership would fix this concern in a report. To elaborate, states’ regulatory frameworks are often dispositioned to generating profits from their lands.  This is partially a result of the states’ fiduciary responsibility to balance budgets.

Energy development is also a big part of this conversation, as it plays a significant role in a state’s economy. A typical complaint is environmental protections under the fed are usually more stringent than those enforced on state, local, or private levels.  This obviously can make it more difficult to exploit fossil fuel resources in a robust manner.

Certainly all these arguments have merit and should be considered while discerning land management mechanisms that are inclusive to all stakeholders. With the idea of inclusiveness in mind, it is important to discuss those who are against federal public land transfer and the reasons supporting their stance. 

Conservationists, environmental organizations, and leaders in the outdoor recreation community among many others are putting up a strong opposition to public lands transfer.  A core value shared by many of these groups is maintaining the collective ownership of public lands by all Americans.  It is argued that once these landscapes are given to individual states, Americans could lose access as well as a shared voice in the way these places are managed.  If transfer is successful, these lands could become treated much like private land; possibly eliminating land access needed for outdoor recreation activities like hiking, fishing, camping, and much more.  Although federal decisions are sometimes ridiculed for not considering local needs, it should be noted that a public comment period is required when instituting policy change.  A good example showcasing how the fed allows all Americans to have a say in national land policy is the recent comment period on Bears Ears National Monument.

As mentioned earlier, many advocates of state ownership assert that the financial benefit of transfer makes it a clear option. However, those favoring federal control insist on looking at other long term economic gains tied to public lands. Revenue generated from the outdoor recreation community is one of the best examples. RMFI’s blog post from May 2017 showcases just how significant outdoor recreation supports the U.S. economy as a multi-billion dollar industry. States like Utah playing political hardball to win over ownership are starting to feel pushback from the outdoor community. For example, Outdoor Retailer, an annual expo hosted in Salt Lake City responsible for pulling in 45 million dollars a year and over 40,000 visitors, has left Utah after 20 years due to legislator’s attempts to roll back public land protections.

Another important factor when considering the financial component is the fact that states may become burdened by the costs of taking over such vast geographic areas. This is especially true for addressing wildfires accounting for 3.1 billion dollars annually of the federal budget on average. A report by the Center for Western Priorities provides a discussion of how states could be affected by shouldering wildfire costs.

Keeping federal oversight also makes sense for big picture management objectives.  Watersheds that span across the west and protection of endangered species with habitat in multiple states are two good examples where a more centralized management approach could have an advantage.

Arguments presented in this blog post are certainly not exhaustive, but provide an idea of the complexity surrounding public land. With so many challenges in the federal vs. state ownership debate, how do we move forward? Although the answer will not be simple, perhaps taking a more collaborative approach is worth exploring. NCSL provides a good example while describing Colorado’s House Bill 1225 in an article. This bill offers technical and financial support to local governments while increasing communication with those on the federal level.  Perhaps a middle ground could move this issue to resolve. Exploring the interests of all stakeholders and understanding different perspectives will be imperative in securing the future of our nation’s public lands.

Jennifer's picture

The Outdoor Recreation Industry and RMFI

In April 2017, the Outdoor Industry Association (OIA) released the third edition of the Outdoor Recreation Economy report. The report is the largest and most comprehensive report of its kind, and the numbers are simply staggering. The national outdoor recreation industry economy generates $887 billion in annual consumer spending, 7.6 million U.S. jobs, $65.3 billion in federal tax revenue, and another $59.2 billion in state and local tax revenue. In Colorado alone, the industry generates a whopping $13.2 billion in annual consumer spending, 125,000 jobs, $4.2 billion in wages and salaries, and $994 million in state and local tax revenue.

The release of the report comes on the heels of the recent passing of the bipartisan Outdoor Recreation Jobs and Economic Impact Act of 2016 (REC Act), which requires the Department of Commerce to annually measure the outdoor recreation economy and the industry’s contribution to the nation’s gross domestic product (GDP). This law and associated data, along with the OIA report, now brings the size and scope of America’s outdoor recreation economy into the national spotlight. It also provides leaders with a better understanding of the industry's role in the nation’s economic health, and will hopefully serve as a tool to help lawmakers protect and invest in policy that grows the infrastructure on which the outdoor recreation economy is built.

It is no secret that one key piece of infrastructure driving the outdoor recreation economy and industry are our nation’s public lands. In Colorado alone, we are fortunate enough to have roughly 23 million acres of federally-owned public land at our fingertips and another countless millions of acres of public parks, trails, and open spaces managed by various other municipalities. Our public lands are our lifeblood and identity. They are our escape, our place of adventure, our solitude. In 1910, President Theodore Roosevelt said the following, “The nation behaves well if it treats the natural resources as assets that it must turn over to the next generation increased, and not impaired, in value.”

What the OIA report clearly demonstrates is the outdoor recreation industry is growing. From this, one can extrapolate this to mean that our population is also growing as more people move to towns and cities that boast their natural assets and quality of life, and increasingly choose to partake in outdoor recreation activities on public lands. It is expected that Colorado’s population will double by the year 2050.

What this means is the conservation and protection of our public natural landscapes is more important than ever before. At RMFI, we work day in and day out to protect our public lands so that future generations have the ability to enjoy them just as we get to. We actively educate and engage thousands of community volunteers and youth conservation corps members every year through the completion of hands-on trail and restoration projects that help to conserve and protect the public landscapes that truly define our community and region. Places like Garden of the Gods, Pikes Peak, Barr Trail, Cheyenne Mountain State Park, Red Rock Canyon Open Space, and so much more. Our stewardship model centers on community engagement as a means of connecting people to the outdoors, promoting an active and healthy lifestyle, creating stronger and more resilient communities, and fostering an ethic of environmental responsibility and stewardship. Please join us out on a volunteer workday or consider contributing financially to support our important work! And while we're at it, check out the new Pikes Peak Outdoor Recreation Alliance (PPORA) that's formed to unite the business and nonprofit sectors in promoting and stewarding our region's natural assets. 


Interested in reading the full Outdoor Recreation Economy report? CLICK HERE!

Molly's picture

Colorado the First to Designate a State Public Lands Day

For the last 23 years, federal land management agencies, conservationists, volunteers, and outdoor enthusiasts have come together on the last Saturday of September to celebrate National Public Lands Day (NPLD). The annual holiday is characteristically observed with nationwide volunteer trail and restoration workdays, organized recreational opportunities, and free admission into all of the National Parks. Here at RMFI we like to think that our local friends and volunteers associate National Public Lands Day with the weekend-long camping, trail work, and volunteer appreciation projects that our organization has been hosting every year since the holiday’s 1994 inception! Historically, these RMFI events took place at Shelf Road Recreation Area, the popular rock climbing area just north of Cañon City. In 2016, we ran our celebratory work weekend on the top of Cheyenne Mountain and continued our work to construct the highly-anticipated Dixon Connector Trail (click here for more information on that exciting project!). This year, we are thrilled to be hosting not only a September National Public Lands Day special event (info on that coming later in the season) but also a special event to celebrate the very first Colorado Public Lands Day.

In an exciting announcement made last year, Colorado became the first state in the nation to officially designate our very own state holiday to recognize the public lands unique to our piece of the country. The Colorado General Assembly passed a bill during the 2016 legislative session establishing Colorado Public Lands Day as the third Saturday of May, effective this year. The inaugural celebration will take place on Saturday, May 20th, 2017.

Currently, more than 35% of Colorado’s land area is comprised of public land. These parks, open spaces, and recreational areas that lie within the rectangular border of our state contribute $34 billion in consumer spending to our economy according to the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade. Outdoor enthusiasts in Colorado enjoy unparalleled access to an incredible array of recreational opportunities on landscapes that thrill, rejuvenate, inspire, and contribute immensely to quality of life. There is no question that we as a state have a lot to celebrate when it comes to public land access. In a time of increasing national controversy over public lands, we also have an opportunity to unite as a state in support of our treasured natural landscapes, get involved in the conservation and stewardship of them, highlight the benefits that public lands make to the economy, environment, and public health, and set an example for all other states to potentially designate their own state Public Lands Day.

Numerous public lands celebration events will take place across Colorado on May 20th. We encourage residents from all parts of the state to learn more about this exciting new holiday and find ways to get involved by visiting the brand new official website of Colorado Public Lands Day: So what is RMFI cooking up here in the Pikes Peak Region? We are proud to be teaming up with the Friends of Red Rock Canyon, UpaDowna, Medicine Wheel Trail Advocates, and the City of Colorado Springs, Parks, Recreation, and Cultural Services Department to host a day of service and fun in Red Rock Canyon Open Space, a public open space near and dear to many a hiker, biker, climber, and nature lover in the Pikes Peak Region. The event will take place on May 20th from approximately 8:00am to 2:30pm and include a stewardship project focused on trail finishing work on the multi-use White Acres Trail followed by lunch and a variety of recreational opportunities including guided interpretive hikes, and more. An after party will be hosted at nearby Fossil Craft Beer Company (2845 Ore Mill Road, Suite 1) and include prize drawings from host organizations and other event sponsors. The minimum age for the service project is 16, or 13 if accompanied by a parent or guardian volunteer, and pre-registration is required for planning purposes. Find more information and sign up at THIS LINK. After you’re done doing that, go ahead and pencil us in for the third Saturday of May every year moving forward. We are looking forward to celebrating Colorado Public Lands Day in this inaugural year and for many, many more to come.

Joe's picture

RMFI and Public Lands

Public lands have been in the news a lot lately. From the appointment of a new Secretary of the Interior (and the horse he rode in on) to local conversation about a ballot initiative that would have proposed raising funds for our city parks and open spaces, our nation’s greatest assets are a big topic of conversation.


Here at RMFI, we steer clear of political advocacy and focus on environmental stewardship—the protection of our public lands through shovels in the dirt and community involvement. But decisions made through governance can have a big effect on the work RMFI does. For example, the recent presidential designation of the Bears Ears National Monument in southern Utah is a political hot potato. RMFI’s longest running project site—Indian Creek—is located within the boundaries of the Monument. Should the designation be overturned and the monument fall under the jurisdiction of the state of Utah, as some state legislators are proposing, there is no telling how the sandstone cliffs and associated recreation activities may be managed. RMFI is visiting Indian Creek in mid-March for a spring break desert adventure program with Texas Tech University, Montrose High School, and others.

Other examples of public lands management decisions affecting RMFI abound. A federal hiring freeze, while since thawed, has impacted RMFI field staff hiring. Cuts to federal budgets and appropriations have increased competition for funding to support projects on National Forests. Acquisition of new city parkland can influence RMFI’s scope of projects and need for additional volunteer labor. And approaches to managing public lands for seasonal variations and issues such as insect infestations can have an impact on natural disasters like flooding and fire.

For context we thought we would provide an overview of RMFI project sites and the respective land management agencies with whom we interface.

Municipal Level
City of Colorado Springs
Garden of the Gods: Community Stewardship Project
High Chaparral Open Space: TOPS Stewardship Project
Palmer Park: Trail Improvement Project
Red Rock Canyon Open Space: TOPS Stewardship Project
Stratton Open Space: TOPS Stewardship Project
Ute Valley Open Space: TOPS Stewardship Project

City of Manitou Springs
Wildcat Gulch: Flood Recovery Project

El Paso County
Black Forest Regional Park: Fire Restoration Project

State Level
Colorado Parks and Wildlife
Cheyenne Mountain State Park: Dixon Trail Construction Project

Federal Level
Bureau of Land Management
Indian Creek Trail Improvement Project

United States Forest Service
Pike National Forest: Barr Trail Improvement Project, Bear Creek Restoration Project, Devil’s Playground Trail Improvement Project, Pikes Peak Restoration Project, Waldo Canyon Fire Restoration Project
Rio Grande National Forest: Kit Carson—Challenger Ridge Trail Improvement Project

This list is not exhaustive, but gives a good idea of the number of land management agencies RMFI interacts with on a daily basis. What happens on a federal, state, or municipal level has impacts on the present and future of RMFI.

Jennifer's picture

RMFI 2016: A Big Year in Review

The 2016 field season was the biggest in the organization’s history in terms of staffing and project load. In all, we estimate to have grown by about 120% with the addition of 8 new project sites and the doubling of our seasonal field staff. We led a total of 444 workdays (many happening on the same weekend days) with a combined total of on-the-ground work exceeding 33,000 hours (16+ years worth of work). One major highlight included RMFI being awarded a multi-year stewardship contract through the City of Colorado Springs to lead stewardship efforts on open spaces acquired through revenue from the Trails, Open Space, and Parks tax. Other project highlights of the season included:

  • Completing critical trail improvements to the popular Silver Cascade Falls Trail in North Cheyenne Cañon, the Edna Mae Trail in Palmer Park, and Barr Trail.
  • Completing construction of the new 1.0-mile Buckhorn Connector Trail in the Bear Creek Watershed.
  • Completing our 19th year of stewardship work in the Garden of the Gods.
  • Beginning construction of the new, highly-anticipated Dixon Trail in Cheyenne Mountain State 

  • Planting 1,000 willows in the Waldo Canyon burn scar to help restore a critical riparian area. 

  • Building sustainable climbing access trails at Indian Creek and Shelf Road recreation areas. 

  • Beginning new stewardship projects in our City’s open space properties including Stratton Open Space, Ute Valley, Blodgett Peak, and Red Rock Canyon. 

  • Making significant progress on our multi-year project to reconstruct the summit trail to Kit Carson 
Peak and Challenger Point in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. 

  • Leading the 5th annual Pikes Peak Regional Crew Leader Training program.
  • Completed the 15th annual Earth Corps program, RMFI’s signature college-accredited field studies

  • Beginning a new citizen science monitoring program.

Final volunteer and worker statistics:

  • Total Volunteers: 2,006
  • Total Workdays: 444
  • Volunteer Hours: 14,499
  • Volunteer Value: $375,524
  • RMFI Crew Hours: 13,084
  • Youth Engaged (8-24): 950
  • Conservation Corps Members: 89
  • Community Groups and Schools: 72
  • Veterans/Active Military: 191
  • Project Sites: 21
  • Total On-the-Ground Work Hours: 33,752


We are well into our planning for the 2017 field season and it’s shaping up to be just as big if not bigger than next year, which means a greater reach and impact in our community. Some things to look forward to next year is the start of a new citizen science monitoring program and also making a big push to finish the new Dixon Trail in Cheyenne Mountain State Park, which will open up new and unparalleled access in the southwestern part of town. There will be plenty of opportunities for everyone to get involved, and we are super excited about what lies ahead and hope you’ll join us for the ride.

Haley Leslie-Bole's picture

Trail FAQ's

While the RMFI staff is out with volunteers working to maintain trails, restore impacted areas, and build buff physiques (in other words doing what we do best), trail-users often stop to chat and see what we’re doing. Here are a few of the questions we are often asked.

1. Q: Why are you closing this trail?! I’ve walked my dog on this trail for years!

A: There are a few reasons RMFI might be closing a trail. Often, the trail is a ‘rogue’ or ‘social’ trail that is user-created and not on the master plan for the park or open space. Trails on the master plan are most often planned by trail-building professionals and are aligned to shed water and tolerate heavy use. Rogue trails, on the other hand, are made by users repeatedly walking the same (unplanned) path until a trail forms, and as a result, the trails are not designed to manage water or be durable. A lot of rogue trails are also redundant, meaning that they are superfluous because they get people to the same places that planned trails do. Redundant trails allow humans to unnecessarily cut through habitat, resulting in animals being scared out of their homes and dining areas and plants being trampled. This is known as habitat fragmentation.

So, if RMFI is closing your favorite trail, it’s probably because the trail was redundant (causing habitat fragmentation) and/or it was unsustainable and was posing an erosion problem. Luckily, some of the trails RMFI closes will be re-routed and made more sustainable. If not, know that your favorite park or open space is now more sustainable and has better habitat for it’s non-human users.

2. Q: Why are you working on this section of trail when I’ve seen other sections that need the work so much more urgently!? Who decides what work you do first?

A: When RMFI begins work on a property, we discuss priorities with the land manager (i.e. the Forest Service, the City of Colorado Springs, El Paso County, etc.) and plan our work according to the sites they think are the most urgently in need of work. Because many of these properties are so well-loved, there is an infinite amount of work that could be done, so we have to prioritize some areas while leaving others for later. But don’t worry: the land managers have long-term plans for restoration and upkeep on the property, so they will often ask RMFI to return throughout the season and throughout the years to work our magic on different projects. For example, RMFI is currently working with the City of Colorado Springs to do some much-needed work on properties acquired through the City's Trails and Open Space (TOPS) tax. We will likely continue this project for the next five years, each year building on the work we did the previous season.

Once you start looking for areas that need a little RMFI love, you see them everywhere and you want them to get the attention they deserve. But you can rest easy knowing we probably have a plan for helping those places later. And if there’s a place that means a lot to you, look out for opportunities to volunteer there!

3. Q: Thanks so much for your work! Are you all volunteers out here?

A: RMFI has seven full-time field staff (and five amazing office staff) working our buns off to steward the properties where RMFI works, but we certainly can’t lift all that rock and shovel all that dirt by ourselves. That’s where volunteers come in! RMFI’s most valuable resource is the human power provided by the thousands of volunteers that work with RMFI every year. So no, we’re not all volunteers; there are always 2 or more paid professional RMFI staff members working with and guiding volunteers on all projects. Our volunteers are the lifeblood of the organization and certainly help make the work we do possible. 

Liz's picture

The History and Future of Cheyenne Mountain

Long ago, when Colorado was covered with an inland sea, the parents of mankind prayed to the great spirits to remove the water. The spirits sent “Thirst”, a great Lizard Dragon, who drank all the water. His form remains as Colorado Springs’ own Cheyenne Mountain. Later the Cheyenne and Apaches came to the mountain for teepee poles, and the Utes retreated up the mountain’s ravines with their stolen horses, sometimes setting fires to block their pursuers.

Thus begins the history of the mountain RMFI is delighted to be working on, having built the Top of the Mountain Trail, laid out by our late founder Mark Hesse, and now progressing to constructing the Dixon Trail, which will connect the top with the rest of Cheyenne Mountain State Park.

But the mountain holds a lot more of interest besides the old Indian legends.

Our region’s grand old explorer Zebulon Pike famously looked from the summit of Cheyenne Mountain to the mountain he had his sights on (Pikes Peak) and said, “It would have taken a whole day’s march to arrive at its base, whence I believe no human being could have ascended to its pinnacle.” This was 1806.

Gold fever hit the area in the mid 1800’s, first in the Denver/Boulder area, and later in the Pikes Peak area, then part of the new Colorado Territory. In the 1870’s, prospectors built the Little Suzie Lode on the north end of the mountain. Not too much gold came from the mine, but it is now the source of water for the Overlook Colony, founded in 1911 by a group of Colorado College professors, which grew to include doctors, artists, musicians, oilmen, and an ambassador to India.

William Dixon homesteaded the northeastern lower slopes of the mountain in 1867, some of which was purchased by Spencer Penrose for the Broadmoor Hotel. Dixon also built a tavern on the trail along the backside of the mountain. He later turned the trail into the Cripple Creek Stage Toll Road, which we now call Old Stage Road.

In 1880, a man named John Lytle grazed cattle on the eastern slope of the mountain until he parceled it out to Lida Touzalin and her husband, who owned most of the land until 1937. Lida was an accomplished chef who wrote a cookbook in French, “L’Amerique a Table”. The Jones family then negotiated a land swap with the Touzalins to form the JL Ranch, which occupied the space until 1963 when NORAD forced Jones to move-both because the water on the property had dried up, and NORAD did not want cattle there. In 1979, the ranch was sold to a foreign investor, reputedly Philippines dictator Ferdinand Marcos, and the State of Colorado purchased the land in 2000. It was opened to the public as Cheyenne Mountain State Park in 2006.

The year 1885 saw a Wade homestead 4 miles up the Old Stage Road, which became known as Wade City. “Although never a city-outside its name-at one time it was quite a little settlement. The Cripple Creek stage, which started from the corner of Colorado Avenue at Tejon Street, always stopped at Wade City. The six horses that pulled the stage and passengers alike had easily raised a thirst by the time Wade City was reached.” Wade’s grandson was Fred Barr who built Barr Trail.

Grace Lutheran Church built a retreat in Emerald Valley in 1904. It changed hands several times and is now The Broadmoor's Ranch at Emerald Valley.

In 1905, Dr. August McKay homesteaded on 120 acres on the east slope of Cheyenne Mountain. He developed a series of trails and rest houses that led to The Sunshine Inn that he built as a health resort above Old Stage Road. The property was purchased by Spencer Penrose, who had the inn torn down, although some sources say that landslides from the construction of the Cheyenne Mountain Highway are what took it out.

Thomas Dixon (possibly William’s grandson?) and Bert Swisher homesteaded the top of the mountain in 1917. Both had cabins there and after a title dispute the land wound up in the Swisher family. They sold 10 acres for the Antennae Farm in 1950, and eventually put conservation easements on the land and sold it to State Parks and the City of Colorado Springs to become part of the state park.

Dixon, the entrepreneur, when he heard the Broadmoor was serving frog legs in their restaurant, made a frog pond near his cabin to supply them. The pond is still there, but dried up. What does remain is a great stand of rhubarb, which we made a pie out of this summer.

The Dixon Trail was Dixon’s access to his cabin up the southeast end of the mountain. Swisher’s namesake trail heads up the west side, accessed from Old Stage Road and the MacNeill Trail. MacNeill was a notoriously nasty manager of the gold processing mill in Old Colorado City.

Spencer Penrose was flush with his earnings from Cripple Creek gold when he began purchasing property near Cheyenne Mountain in 1915. He built the Broadmoor Hotel in 1920 and hired the Civilian Conservation Corps to build the Cheyenne Mountain Highway in 1925-much to the consternation of many residents who felt it created an unsightly scar on the mountain. The beautiful white adobe Cheyenne Mountain Lodge was built the next year with a 3rd floor penthouse suite for Penrose’s personal use. Guests could ride to the lodge on an elephant, which had been given to Penrose by an Indian rajah. The lodge closed in 1961 and is the site of the Broadmoor’s Cloud Camp. The zoo was also built in 1926, or rather moved to its present location from down by the hotel where the smell bothered some of the guests. In 1938, a cog railway, a miniature version of the Pikes Peak Cog, was built from the Broadmoor lake to the entrance of the zoo. It was a two-mile ride and closed in 1974. In 1957, a T-33 training plane en route to Peterson Airfield crashed into the southern ridge of Cheyenne Mountain; the wreckage remains to this day.

It has a fun history, this mountain-next-to-our-town. In addition to its colorful past, the mountain and its 1,021-acre state park are home to a unique blend of ecosystems, and represent the last significant open space along the southern section of the Colorado Front Range. Soon, portions of the park closed off for decades will be open to the public thanks to RMFI’s work in building new, sustainable trails to its summit and surrounding areas. The new Dixon Trail could take another couple years to complete and will open up the Top of the Mountain to all who are willing to tackle a steep hike. It’s a wonderful backcountry setting close to town that has thankfully been protected from development.

Jennifer's picture

30 Days of Rock 'N' Roll

This latest blog post comes to you from a 2016 Earth Corps program participant, Tracy Jacobs, who recently spent 30 days in the backcountry of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, helping to reconstruct the summit trail to Kit Carson Peak and Challenger Point. Her blog is a personal account of her experience. Read on for some inspiration!

“I wanna rock and roll all night.”  More like rock and roll all day.  From 8:30 to 3 every day for 30 days, the students and instructors of Earth Corps 2016 moved rocks by carrying, rolling and sliding them across a mountain to reconstruct a trail for the public to summit Challenger Point and Kit Carson.  The existing trail is dangerous and straight up the mountain, but the one we were working on is so much better, but I may be biased.  We were working on steps and retaining walls for vegetation.  The rocks for these two projects had to fit just right so that meant we needed perfect rocks, even if that meant crossing a talus field or walking up the mountain a bit.  With that being said, there was a lot of rocking and rolling.

Aside from moving rocks, Earth Corps was both mentally and physically challenging, which I think made it a great experience for all.  It really pushed your limits.  Day 1 was probably the most challenging because I had no idea what I was getting myself into.  Day 1 was hiking up to base camp, 4.5 miles straight up…at least it felt like it, I did the trail later and it was barely straight up.  Anyway, after about 2 and a half hours of hiking I was really thinking “what the heck did I get myself into?” but I kept on trekking.  By hour 4, I was mentally being challenged, I was telling myself everything I could to keep going, and finally I saw the orange tents we would be staying in for the next month.  Thank goodness, I had made it. 

In the days that followed that first day, there were many more physical and mental challenges that everyone faced.  Your body becomes tired and your mind tells you to stop, but you keep going because you end up realizing you are a lot stronger than you think and you push yourself a little bit each day.

Some days, the days that still lay ahead would look like forever and it seemed like you’d never get that Chick-fil-A milkshake that you’ve been craving, but then you look around and see the beauty that surrounds you.  The wilderness would truly take my breath away and I would take a minute to stop and take it all in, and that’s when the 30 days seemed so short because you didn’t want to leave the wild. 

My favorite days were the days I completed a personal goal or something I didn’t believe I could do.  I was rocking and rolling at life, kicking butt at it too.  These were the days that I knew I was becoming stronger both physically and mentally and it felt good because I was learning so much about myself.  I will forever look back on these past 30 days and remember that there are no limitations in life unless you put them there.

Jennifer's picture

RMFI's Office Space in the Old Midland School

RMFI’s current office is located in an historic school building on Colorado Springs' eclectic Westside. The Second Midland School, or the Old Midland School as it’s lovingly referred to, is steeped in rich history that is too good to not share in a blog post.

The First Midland Elementary School was built in 1889 to meet the growing needs of a city that was in the midst of an economic boom. In 1891, gold was discovered in Cripple Creek. People with newfound fortunes flocked to Colorado Springs, building large homes on what are now Wood Avenue, Cascade Avenue, and other streets just east of downtown. Colorado Springs was officially incorporated on June 19, 1886. The year before, the Colorado Midland Railroad began service, and in 1889, the Chicago, Rock Island, and Pacific Railroads all began service in the city. By 1898, Colorado Springs had annexed Old Colorado City, Ivywild, Roswell, and other towns. Between 1880 and 1890, the city’s population had grown by an estimated 164%.

Land for the First Midland School was donated by Anthony Bott, a key player in the organization and development of Colorado City and El Paso County. Bott also donated the 43 acres of land across the street from the school, which is now Fairview Cemetery. Within a few years of opening, the first school had outgrown its walls and in 1902, the Second Midland School was opened on the same property (the first school was eventually demolished). The new school was three stories and built of red sandstone and brick. The principal of the new school was Augusta Kneipp who reportedly ran a tight ship and demanded excellence from teachers and students. Under Kneipp’s leadership, the school would go on to win many prestigious awards.

In 1956, the Midland Annex of the school was built on what was supposed to become Pine Street, situated at the northwest corner of Broadway. Pine Street was never built, but the Annex eventually housed the intermediate grades and administrative offices. The primary grades continued to meet in the Second Midland School on South 25th Street until 1970 when the entire school moved to the Annex on Broadway after it was expanded. 

The school was put up for sale and purchased by Mel and Louise Eskanos who, along with their 5 children, used the school as their primary residence. All of the school’s original features including classrooms, blackboards, and stage were kept intact. A few years later, the Eskanos’ sold the property to the Traditional Catholics who transformed it back into a grade school with classes being taught by Catholic nuns. The school was added to the National Register of Historic Places on September 12, 1980. In the early 1980’s, the school was again sold to Our Lady of the Rockies who operated a private Christian school in the building until March 2006.

In 2007, the school was purchased by Luanne Ducett who transformed the building into office space for a variety of local businesses, artists, and, of course, RMFI, which moved into the old school in 2012. Today, the Old Midland School evokes the charm of a bygone era with tall tin ceilings, original woodwork, hardwood floors, and classrooms still fully intact. We feel lucky to call this old school home (creaky floors and all!), and invite you to stop by and check it out if you ever find yourself in the neighborhood.

The outside facade of the Old (Second) Midland School.

Teacher's names still mark coat hangers in what is now the RMFI conference room. 

The old historic tin ceilings take you back in time. 

Jennifer's picture

RMFI's Legacy in the Sangre de Cristos

As our season in the high country kicks into full gear, we thought we'd focus this week's blog on the history and legacy of RMFI's work in the Sangre de Cristos (Spanish for "Blood of Christ'). The Sangres are located in southern Colorado and extend into northern New Mexico; they are the southernmost subrange of the Rocky Mountains. There are 9 peaks over 14,000 feet in the range. Since the early 1990's, RMFI (then known as the American Mountain Foundation) has been working in a variety of capacities to address recreational impacts on Colorado's high peaks, initially making improvements to summit trails in the Sahwatch Range, specifically on Mount Belford, La Plata Peak, and Mount Huron. In 1993 and 1998, RMFI completed studies on 52, 14'000 ft. peaks in Colorado. The studies found that 14'er routes were marked with erosion gullies, networks of user-created social trails, and large denuded areas. It was determined that the lack of single, sustainable summit trails was the principal cause.

Beginning in 1997, RMFI shifted its focus to the South Colony Lakes Basin in the Sangre de Cristos and the surrounding peaks (Humboldt Peak, Crestone Needle, and Crestone Peak) where RMFI completed some of the most difficult alpine restoration and trail work ever accomplished in the region. Over the course of several years, RMFI repaired the trails throughout South Colony Lakes Basin, constructed a trail to the summit of Crestone Needle, built a trail over Broken Hand Pass, and improved the trail into Cottonwood Lake Basin. RMFI also completed extensive restoration in conjunction with the trail work.

In 2011, RMFI began one of its most successful 14’er projects on Blanca Peak and Ellingwood Point. The project focused on reducing and mitigating recreational impacts to the fragile alpine lands by constructing a safe, sustainable summit trail from Lake Como Basin to the summits of Blanca Peak and Ellingwood Point.

RMFI's latest 14'er project is focused in Willow Lake Basin and the surrounding peaks of Kit Carson and Challenger Point. A defined route from Willow Lake to Kit Carson and Challenger Ridge has never been constructed or designated. With the lack of a defined route, people tend to take the most direct and/or obvious path with little regard for the sustainability of the route or the fragile ecosystem around them. Consequently, the current route is a network of user-created social trails, which is causing significant vegetation and soil loss. The increased use seen on Challenger Ridge and Kit Carson, like other 14'ers in the state, creates an immediate need for a thoughtful, sustainably planned route to provide an enjoyable user experience that minimizes environmental degradation in the very fragile alpine environment. RMFI began reconstructing the summit trail in 2014 and will have the project completed by 2020.

Since 2002, RMFI has been leading a backcountry field studies course in conjunction with its high alpine work in the Sangres. Earth Corps, is an award-winning, college-accredited program that provides motivated, environmentally conscious students the opportunity to live and learn in the incredible natural classroom of the Colorado wilderness. The program integrates key lessons in environmental studies with the completion of multiple critical environmental restoration projects. In 2016, students will be working on the Kit Carson project while learning from experts in alpine ecology, botany, wilderness management, and other pertinent topics. The program runs from July 11-August 9 - be on the lookout for updates from the field during this exciting program!

RMFI's extensive experience has positioned the organization to play a major role in the current statewide effort to construct sustainable climbing routes and restore badly damaged sites along 14'er summit corridors. In 2015, the Colorado Fourteener’s Initiative completed baseline inventories on 42 existing 14'er routes in Colorado. The report concluded that $24 million is needed in direct field-related costs to properly build out 14'er summit trails, including $18 million to build new trails and $6 million to bring existing planned trails up to ideal conditions. In addition, the report card rated routes on a scale from A to F (A being the highest, F being the lowest). RMFI's summit routes to Blanca Peak and Ellingwood Point, Humbolt Peak, and Crestone Peak and Needle all rated extremely high; the Sangres, in fact, were the highest rated mountain range inventoried in the state.

Fourteener work in the state is critical as recreational use and external environmental impacts increasingly threaten the health and function of fragile alpine ecosystems. Coupled with these threats are declining budgets at the federal level to support this important work. RMFI is excited to announce a new initiative spearheaded by the National Forest Foundation, which will create dedicated funds for 14'er work in the state to tackle the backlog of trail and maintenance work needed along key summit routes. We'll continue to keep you posted on the developments, but we're excited about the possibilities and are looking forward to a highly productive field season in the Sangres!


Blanca Peak and Ellingwood Point. 

Kit Carson Peak.

Jennifer's picture

The Ecological Impact of Rogue Trails

Rogue or “social” trails are unofficial, undesignated, user-created trails. These trails are often formed as shortcuts, or lead to an area not accessed by a designated trail. They form over time by visitors who are often unaware they are violating park policy.

Because rogue trails are not properly designed, they can often cause serious land management issues and ecological impacts. Whereas properly designed trails consider drainage patterns, trail width, vegetation characteristics, topography, and other factors, rogue trails do not. Consequently, water often becomes trapped on rogue trails, causing channelization, increased water velocity, and massive sediment movement. What starts out as an inconspicuous trail can often lead to unruly erosion gullies that require substantial time and resources to repair.

In areas where multiple rogue trails exist, closing and restoring those trails helps protect natural resources by:

  • Keeping visitors on designated trails and out of protected areas 

  • Reducing habitat fragmentation 

  • Maintaining adequate soil moisture levels on site necessary to support 
natural plant communities 

  • Creating a self-sustaining plant community that will protect the 
restored site from excessive soil erosion and provide wildlife habitat.

To close and restore rogue trails, RMFI follows a 5-step process:

  1. Decompact the trailbed: It is crucial to decompact the trailbed at least 4-6 inches when closing a rogue trail. Overuse can compact soil, which will make natural establishment of vegetation extremely slow. Freshly decompacted soil will increase the success of reseeding efforts and enhance vegetation regrowth.
  2. Bring area back to grade: This step will prevent water from continuing to downcut along the rogue trail while also helping to minimize sedimentation. Additionally, if the rogue trail is not brought back up to grade it will continue to be perceived as a trail and will attract use. Filling the old trailbed with a native soil is crucial for fully restoring the impacted area.
  3. Revegetation: Once erosion is addressed, revegetation treatments should be applied to achieve long-term slope stabilization and develop a self-sustaining, native plant community. Spreading native seed and installing erosion matting or covering with mulch is crucial to fully restoring the eroded area. Revegetation can be supplemented with transplants from the surrounding area to increase the ‘natural’ look of the restored site.
  4. Minimize the visibility of all rogue trails: As long as use continues on restored areas, erosion control and re-vegetation attempts will be unsuccessful. Physical structures, such as barriers and debris (fencing, large boulders, vegetation, timber slash, etc.) can help disguise closed trails. Visual barriers in conjunction with educational signage can substantially increase the success rate of any restoration project. Education is often an overlooked portion of restoration, but most people will not walk off-trail if they realize the damage they may be causing.
  5. Monitor and assess site:  Monitoring the site is an effective method to determine if restoration goals were achieved. This may be as simple as taking ‘before’ and ‘after’ photos to assess effectiveness of restoration treatments. For certain projects, more quantitative measures may be required.


Jennifer's picture

Collaboration is Key to Environmental Conservation

Colorado Springs and the Pikes Peak region are home to more than 2,000 nonprofit organizations, each working to make our community a better, healthier, and more vibrant place to live. With so many nonprofits, we often get asked how we differ from other like-minded organizations focused on environmental stewardship and conservation. The truth is, while all of us have different missions, values, and objectives, we are all ultimately working toward the same broad goal of protecting our region’s treasured natural landscapes. This may come in the form of engaging volunteers in hands-on stewardship projects, advocating for increased trail connectivity and access, adding new public open space to our parks system, or permanently protecting key open lands and the region’s important landscapes. With that in mind, today’s blog focuses on how the Rocky Mountain Field Institute (RMFI) and Palmer Land Trust partner to protect and steward our region’s iconic natural landscapes.

RMFI is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization located in Colorado Springs. Its mission is to conserve and protect public lands in southern Colorado through volunteer-based trail and restoration projects, environmental education, and restoration research. RMFI’s restoration model centers on community involvement as a means of connecting people to the outdoors, promoting a healthy lifestyle, conserving public natural landscapes, developing the next generation of environmental leaders, and fostering an ethic of environmental responsibility and stewardship. RMFI accomplishes its mission by actively engaging thousands of community volunteers and youth conservation crews each year in hands-on stewardship projects, leading and coordinating environmental education courses and trainings, and completing research and monitoring activities to assess the effectiveness of various trail and restoration techniques implemented on the ground. At 34 years old, RMFI has established itself as a leader in completing high quality, technical trail and restoration projects that are community-based, impactful, and focused on enhancing the health and function of southern Colorado’s land and water resources.

Palmer is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization located in Colorado Springs with the mission of guaranteeing that open lands, recreation, and working farms and ranches remain a part of southern Colorado’s identity forever. It works with both public and private landowners to permanently protect the beauty, identity, and rich natural landscape of our unique region. Since its grassroots beginning in 1977, it has permanently protected more than 100,000 acres of agricultural lands, inspiring panoramas and scenic corridors, and public recreation spaces in a 10-county region. It works at the landscape level to conserve land and water resources across property lines and political boundaries in collaboration with its landowner partners. Today, Palmer is one of the 15 largest land trusts in the country based upon conserved acreage easement holdings (there are approximately 1,700 land trusts in the United States) and is one of the country’s first 100 nationally-accredited land trusts.

So, what do an environmental stewardship organization and an accredited land trust have in common? How do the missions of the two organizations complement one another to support the broad goal of protecting our region’s treasured natural landscapes? Let’s take a look at Red Rock Canyon Open Space.

Red Rock Canyon is located on the western edge of Colorado Springs and is one of the most popular and beloved open spaces within the city. It has a rich and storied history including gypsum and Lyons sandstone mining in the 1800s and owners with visions of a resort community just a few decades ago. In 2003, the City of Colorado Springs purchased the property through the Trails, Open Space and Parks Program, better known as TOPS. As a component of the purchase, the City placed a conservation easement on the property with Palmer. The conservation easement guarantees the property will remain as undeveloped open land and allow public recreation forever. With the addition of Section 16 in 2010, Red Rock Canyon now encompasses 1,200 acres, all of which is protected in perpetuity.

As the property owner and land manager, the City of Colorado Springs is responsible for the maintenance and resource management of Red Rock Canyon. To help meet these responsibilities, the City relies on nonprofit partners like Friends of Red Rock Canyon and RMFI to assist with the ongoing stewardship of the open space. This includes trail maintenance, new trail construction, habitat restoration, and weed control to ensure the health of this public open space.

In the summer of 2015, RMFI worked with City staff and the friends group to repair damage to the park’s trail and drainage infrastructure that resulted from historic spring rainfall. Specific projects included trail maintenance and repair on the Quarry Pass Trail, restoration of Round Up Trail Creek, and stabilization of the Sand Canyon Pond breach site. Work will continue in 2016 to improve access trails to popular climbing areas within the park. All work objectives will protect the park’s natural resources while enhancing ecosystem health and function.

Each year, Palmer staff monitors all of its protected properties to ensure the conservation values are being safeguarded. The ongoing stewardship of preserved properties is one of Palmer’s top priorities, as effective stewardship ensures a property maintains its ecological integrity, sustainable recreation infrastructure, and strong conservation protection. Palmer partners with the City on large projects within the open space to ensure infrastructure improvements and ongoing maintenance does not degrade the conservation of the property.

By partnering, RMFI and Palmer, along with the City and friends groups, are ensuring our valuable community treasures like Red Rock Canyon remain accessible and healthy for generations to come.


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