The Dirt Diaries Blog

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Thank You, Crew Leaders!

The PPRCLT Class of 2018 training in Red Rock Canyon Open Space

Last week, RMFI and our partners in the Pikes Peak Regional Crew Leader Training (PPRCLT) program hosted a season-ending party in celebration of our volunteer Crew Leader base and the great work they have accomplished in 2018. The gathering served to bring our region's trained Crew Leaders and Friends Groups all together in one place and featured prizes for all Crew Leaders, complimentary food and drinks courtesy of our hosts at Trails End Taproom, and year-end remarks from Scott Abbott, the Regional Parks, Trails, and Open Space Supervisor with the City of Colorado Springs Parks Department. The party marked the end of the 7th year of the PPRCLT program. 

PPRCLT is an educational program designed to empower motivated community members with the skills and opportunities to lead safe and effective volunteer projects within our region’s parks and open spaces. It is implemented through a partnership between RMFI, the City of Colorado Springs Parks, Recreation, and Cultural Services Department, Friends of the Peak, and the Trails and Open Space Coalition

In 2010, severe budget cuts within the City of Colorado Springs Parks, Recreation, and Cultural Services Department necessitated an increase in citywide volunteer engagement initiatives largely focused on basic trail maintenance. At the time, many local “Friends Groups” were willing to take on these additional responsibilities, but were challenged by a shortage of trained crew leaders to help lead the projects. The PPRCLT was debuted in 2012, and is designed to comprehensively address this issue and strong community desire.

The program begins with an intensive weekend-long course held at the beginning of each field season. The course covers skills in technical trail and restoration practices as well as group management and leadership. Following the course, participants obtain an official certification by co-leading projects under the supervision of expert Crew Leaders and/or professional RMFI field staff. Certified Crew Leaders are able to help lead fellow volunteers on workdays at local parks and open spaces, significantly helping to increase the capacity of full-time stewardship groups like RMFI as well as local, regional, and state land management agencies to engage more volunteers, further leverage resources, and have greater on-the-ground impact. Since the program's inception, approximately 225 Crew Leaders have been trained through the PPRCLT, many of whom continue to actively lead critical local projects. 

We would like to give a huge shoutout and congratulations to the PPRCLT class of 2018. Thirty-one trainees participated in this past year's training. They represented a variety of trail groups including the Academy Riding Stables, the City Parks Department, El Paso County Parks Department, the Colorado Mountain Club - Pikes Peak Group, Friends of Cheyenne Cañon, Friends of Monument Preserve, Friends of the Peak, Friends of Red Rock Canyon Open Space, Friends of Ute Valley Park, Guardians of Palmer Park, the Manitou Trail CATS, and Medicine Wheel Trail Advocates. 

Please join us in welcoming these members to the Pikes Peak Regional Crew Leader family! 

       Summer Adelbush                Vance Hewuse                 Mike Oroszi
       Rand Ancell                          Anton Jacobs                   Robert Rimmer
       Genevieve Armstrong          Jeffrey Johnson                Cregor Rodriguez
       Glenn Barr                            Rasha Kathrein                Marc Schendzielos
       Laura Booth                          Sam Kibler                       Ryan Stacklin
       Curt Brasier                          Isaiah Litzell                     Steven Sueppel 
       Alex Cole                              Robert Lomenick             Jennifer Sullivan
       Emily Duncan                       Robert Lucey                   Graham Thompson
       Ben Fisk                               Laura Mallory                   Kevin Wood
       Art Fuellenbach                    Brady McPeak                                                 
       Anna Garlick                         Brian Mullin


Are YOU interested in taking your volunteering to the next level? Learn more about the Pikes Peak Regional Crew Leader Training program at THIS LINK. 2019 training dates will be released in the early part of the new year. Stay tuned!

Joe's picture

RMFI & Partners Celebrate 15 Years of Pikes Peak Stewardship

Photo courtesy of Mark Colvin.

On September 8th, RMFI coordinated a tour of Pikes Peak restoration project sites for 38 interested members of the community including business, non-profit, and political leaders. The tour-group made stops at Elk Park Knoll, Devil's Playground, and Glen Cove - three success stories of the 15-year project - where project managers provided background and answered questions about the critical ecosystem restoration projects on America's Mountain. Since 2003, RMFI has led 172 workdays and engaged 563 volunteers and 59 youth conservation corps members who have collectively contributed more than 14,300 hours to the Pikes Peak Fund Project. The tour was planned and made possible by members of the Pikes Peak Fund.

As a result of a Clean Water Act settlement agreement with the Sierra Club, the City of Colorado Springs and the U.S. Forest Service paid a total of $600,000 into a Pikes Peak Fund to repair damage to streams and wetland caused by erosion and deposition of gravel from the Pikes Peak Highway. These funds were used to establish the Pikes Peak Watershed Erosion Control and Restoration Project, a multi-year, cooperative project between RMFI, the Pikes Peak Chapter of the Sierra Club, and the U.S. Forest Service to address the erosion that has occurred on Pikes Peak. This 15-year effort, concluding in 2018, has improved or restored many of the streams and wetlands impacted by runoff from the Pikes Peak Highway. Due to RMFI's efforts to secure additional grant funding, over $180,000 in additional funds were raised for the remediation effort. Much of the work was done by RMFI and Sierra Club volunteers, and by AmeriCorps, Mile High Youth Corps, and Pikes Peak Corps volunteers.

Photo courtesy of Mark Colvin.

Jennifer's picture

Would You Pay to Hike?

Reprinted from the Adventure Journal:

As Wyoming considers first-of-its-kind fee for hiking, we wonder: Would you mind paying to maintain trails?

Wyoming state lawmakers are considering a first-of-its-kind fundraising measure: Charge hikers, bikers, horseback riders, and others for using trails. At least one prominent outdoor recreation user group is on board.

A mandatory $10 annual permit fee paid by users of non-motorized, “natural-surface” trails would support public-land trail systems across Wyoming, advocates told lawmakers eyeing a draft trail-fee bill.

The bill could raise $1 million a year for Wyoming trails, even those trails on federal lands, according to information presented to the Legislature’s Travel Recreation Wildlife and Cultural Resources Committee. As a draft bill is re-worked, backers say Wyoming outdoorswomen and -men who enjoy non-motorized trails are not opposed to paying a fee that would support creation and maintenance of recreational routes — the same way snowmobilers and ATV riders contribute funds through machine permits.

Today, “there’s no funding for non-motorized trails,” Domenic Bravo, the administrator of the Wyoming Outdoor Recreation Office, said in an interview. Trail users have mixed feelings about a fee, however.

“Some are very bought-in,” Bravo said. “For others, just the idea of paying a fee to use a trail is concerning.”

Tim Young, the executive director of Wyoming Pathways who testified before the committee in Evanston, Wyoming, last month, said the fee is “an opportunity to improve our livability in our communities.”

He outlined the lack of public funds and trail crews needed to keep up with use. Federal agencies are cash-strapped, Young said. They have massive trail-maintenance backlogs with as much as three-quarters of Forest Service trails in disrepair, he said. Public agencies have been unable to plan for the non-motorized trails that are in demand by equestrians, mountain bike riders, hikers, runners, and others.

“Many of them [national forests] have lost their trail crews, their trails supervisors,” Young told the committee. The Bureau of Land Management “can’t even give us a list of the entire trails in Wyoming.”

“The need is pretty dramatic,” Young said. “The [funding] hole is so big I’m going to support this.”

The draft bill says that any adult that uses a “designated” non-motorized trail in Wyoming “shall annually obtain a non-motorized recreational trail permit,” costing $10. The bill would create an account to be operated by the Department of State Parks and Cultural Resources, which would designate trails in the system and furnish numbered permits. Permits wouldn’t be required where other fees, like parking or parks admission, are already in place.

The bill would allow individual users and user groups to document volunteer trail maintenance or work time in exchange for a permit.

The bill would apply to and support “natural-surface trails,” only, not paved paths and sidewalks.

People shouldn’t worry about potential path police Bravo said. “We didn’t even think about the penalty,” Bravo said. “We’re not going to sit there and hire a bunch of park rangers.”

Instead, Bravo believes marketing could convince people, even tourists, to pay the $10 “because it means something.”

The volunteering element of the bill is “critical,” Bravo said, but it alone can’t provide for the system of trails Wyoming needs. “You still need cash,” he said.

If adopted, the bill could be the first of its kind nationwide, Young said. “I don’t believe any other state has a mandatory fee. Wyoming would be pioneering a new approach of how to take care of its public trails. This would be the first person-based, non–motorized trail fee in the country.”

A provision in the draft to divert 10 percent of the revenue raised to the Wyoming Wildlife and Natural Resources Trust Account has drawn fire. Critics instead want to provide a way to make a contribution to that account voluntary.

Trail users have shown they’re willing to pony up for well-maintained routes, said Rep. Marti Halverson (R-Etna), a member of the committee considering the bill. While she’s generally skeptical of increasing taxes and fees, “I cannot say I have never voted for a fee increase,” she said in an interview.

When officials proposed to boost snowmobile fees, “I heard from 16,000 snowmobilers from around the state,” Halverson said; “Please raise the fee.”

“It was all going to trail grooming,” Halverson said. “I know the users are willing to contribute to trails and maintenance.”

But while trail-users — even those using non-motorized trails — may be willing to pony up, “I don’t think they should be the only ones,” Halverson said. “I have already heard from folks who say there’s no reason for Wyoming or Wyomingites to be subsidizing trail work on public land.

“I take that to heart that just because the Medicine Bow National Forest doesn’t have a trail crew doesn’t mean that Wyoming should be paying for trails,” she said.

“So, I’m getting some push-back from my constituents. They want the U.S. Forest Service to pay something. There is ample opportunity for the Forest Service to take advantage of the resource to raise the funds necessary to meet the demands of the outdoor recreationalists in this state — and the visitors.”

Young sees it slightly differently. “Congress and the Forest Service should be providing much better funding for our trail system,” he said. “Congress has not done its job.” Nevertheless, the bill should be revised to require a federal matching grant, Young wrote in remarks to the committee.

Regardless of any failed responsibility, Wyoming Pathways partnered with the Shoshone National Forest to create the new Upper Brewers Trail near Lander, Wyoming, and with the Medicine Bow National Forest to rebuild damaged trails on Pole Mountain between Laramie and Cheyenne, Young wrote the committee. In all, the projects constructed about 6 miles of trails and cost $220,000, much of it funded privately through grants and aided by significant volunteer work, his Aug. 30 letter read.

In Jackson Hole, trail advocates kick in $350,000 a year in cash and volunteer value, he said. Evanston’s Bear River Outdoor Recreation Alliance aids the Forest Service and Evanston Parks and Recreation District with Nordic skiing, mountain biking, hiking, river, and equestrian use around Uinta County. In the Cody area, Young said, Park County Pedalers, best known for their mountain bike trails, have invested $400,000 in a trail network on city and BLM land.

Non-motorized trail users could leverage their funds and fundraising in a heretofore-blocked avenue if they begin paying fees, Young said. By contributing financially to trail maintenance, non-motorized trail users could strengthen their arguments when seeking a share of the federal trail funds distributed to Wyoming.

The federal Recreational Trails Program funds trail work through the Wyoming State Trails Advisory Council. Since 2013 Young has complained that the state council “unfairly restricts” money that the federal government earmarks for “diversified trails” — meaning those for several different user types. Federal guidelines allow the funds to be spent on a non-motorized “diversified trail,” such as trail for skiing, hiking, and fat-biking. But the Wyoming council, by policy, spends the funds only on trails that include a motorized component.

“Wyoming is the only state in the nation that requires motorized use in all diversified projects” Young wrote the trails council in 2015. The rule is “an unfair bias against non-motorized projects,” he wrote. “This unnecessary requirement is in conflict with the clear language of the federal law and should be removed.”

For Outdoor Office chief Bravo, a trail fee “would definitely open the door for those … conversations,” with the trails council. “If everybody is paying into the process, it’s easier to get fair balance in the programs,” he said.

Reprinted from the Adventure Journal.

Alex Hladkyj's picture

2018 - Year of the Bear

With diverse projects throughout the Pikes Peak Region, many RMFI work sites require extensive time in the backcountry where encounters with wildlife are common place.  Although coming across wildlife is often a beautiful experience, this year has proved challenging in dealing with one critter in particular; the black bear.  

Over the course of this field season, RMFI staff has repeatedly interacted with black bears in project locations such as Kit Carson and Bear Creek.  We even had a black bear perform a bluff charge while reviewing trail construction objectives at Red Rock Canyon Open Space! The increased frequency of encounters this year can be partially attributed to improper storage of food and trash by inexperienced outdoor enthusiasts. This is especially true where overnight camping is permitted.  For instance, several groups in Willow Lake Basin below Kit Carson would simply hang trash bags from tree branches, leave food in non-bear resistant coolers, and rig inadequate bear hangs too close to the ground or adjacent trees. To their surprise, black bears are amazing climbers and are powerful enough to break into cars, let alone flimsy plastic coolers! An adolescent black bear inhabiting Willow Lake Basin this summer, which our field staff named Baloo, quickly discovered easy meals among the slew of campers looking to summit the iconic 14ers above. Despite RMFI’s best efforts to educate newcomers and haze Baloo by deploying pepper spray and throwing stones, the damage was done. Baloo had become too bold and habituated to humans. Unfortunately, he was put down by CPW last month.

With this tearful tale in mind, we must do our part to educate one another to prevent future loss of this majestic creature. When we lose a bear, we catalyze imbalance to our ecosystem and deplete a unique quality of Colorado’s wilderness.  Below is a link to a great set of resources by Colorado Parks and Wildlife detailing how to live in bear country. Please share with others so we can keep Colorado’s black bears wild, free, and most importantly, alive…

(Above Photo: Black bear encountered by RMFI in Red Rock Canyon Open Space)

Jennifer's picture


BOULDER, Colo. – September 20, 2018 – Outdoor recreation accounts for 2.2 percent of the U.S. gross domestic product (GDP), according to the final report by the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) on the outputs from outdoor recreation. The final report also found that outdoor recreation contributes over $734 billion to total U.S. gross output, which is the total value of domestic goods and service produced by an industry.

“BEA’s final numbers confirm what the outdoor industry has always known: that outdoor recreation truly is an economic force, accounting for over 2 percent of the entire nation’s GDP and growing faster than the economy as a whole,” said Amy Roberts, executive director at Outdoor Industry Association (OIA). “OIA’s analysis shows that Americans spend $887 billion annually recreating outside. All of this data underscores that outdoor recreation is a significant and growing contributor to the U.S. economy – we strongly encourage members of Congress to invest in public lands as these numbers demonstrate the return on investment.”

“The government’s data confirms what many of us in the industry have known for quite some time. Millions of Americans love to get outside and enjoy time with friends and family, adventuring right out their back doors or off into our iconic wild places,” said Jerry Stritzke, president and CEO of REI Co-op. “This is something that unites us as a nation. Whether they live in a city, suburb or small rural town, Americans cherish their outdoor experiences. It’s also very good for the economy. We appreciate the work of the Commerce Department and, in particular, the Bureau of Economic Analysis on this analysis and are committed to helping assure the data is kept fresh into the future.”

“I authored the Outdoor Recreation Jobs and Economic Impact (REC) Act because it’s important that Congress has a clear understanding of how much of a major economic driver outdoor recreation is for communities across the country,” said Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colorado). “This report provides important data for Congress and will be extremely useful as I work to gain support for initiatives that highlight the importance of our beautiful outdoors.”

“This report shows that outdoor recreation is an economic powerhouse – and underscores the need to continue investing in measures that preserve our environment and access to public lands,” said Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-New Hampshire). “New Hampshire draws visitors from all over the world, which is why expanding outdoor recreation and protecting our environment is fundamental to our tourism industry. My bipartisan legislation with Senator Gardner, which was signed into law, will ensure that we continue to understand the economic impact of outdoor recreation, and I’ll continue to prioritize legislation in Congress to build on that effort.”

“Outdoor recreation continues to be an important part of the American experience, and that’s why I introduced the Outdoor REC Act in 2016. It plays a major role in the Northern Virginia economy by contributing over $1 billion annually and provides critical jobs to the region,” said Rep. Don Beyer (D-Virginia). “These new numbers give policymakers useful information to underpin legislation that strengthens national recreational policies, which will go a long way toward improving all Americans’ physical, environmental and economic health.”

“This report is further proof that outdoor recreation is important to our country’s economy. In my home state of Washington, we know this well since outdoor recreation is one of the largest industries in our state,” said Rep. Dave Reichert (R-Washington). “Washington state is the proud home of stunning mountains, beaches, lakes and rivers, drawing visitors from around the world for our hiking, skiing, fishing, climbing and many more outdoor opportunities these lands offer. I am proud to see this report that my colleagues and I successfully authorized in 2016 come to fruition and show what many of us already knew: how important this industry is to our country. It is why I remain committed to advocating for Washington’s public lands and the benefits they bring to my constituents and our economy.”

“Vermont is blessed with unparalleled natural beauty that affords visitors year-round opportunities to enjoy the great outdoors,” said Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vermont). “This report documents what we have always assumed: outdoor recreation creates good jobs and boosts our economy.”

This study is the result of the unanimous passage of the Outdoor REC Act of 2016. OIA and its membership worked with Senators Gardner and Shaheen as well as Representatives Reichert, Beyer, McMorris Rodgers and Welch to move this bill and insure funding to get the study launched. OIA is now looking to Congress to continue to fund this report on an annual basis and produce regional data.

For more detailed information from BEA, please visit

For an FAQ about the outdoor recreation economy, please visit click here.

Cody Wertz
[email protected]
Final Bureau of Economic Analysis Report Confirms Outdoor Recreation Is an Economic Force; Accounts for Over 2 Percent of U.S. Gross Domestic Product


About Outdoor Industry Association

Based in Boulder, Colo., with offices in Washington, D.C., Outdoor Industry Association (OIA) is the leading trade association for the outdoor industry and the title sponsor of Outdoor Retailer. OIA unites and serves 1300 manufacturer, supplier, sales representative and retailer members through its focus on trade and recreation policy, sustainable business innovation and outdoor participation. For more information, visit

Jennifer's picture

Time series of high-resolution images enhances efforts to monitor post-fire condition and recovery, Waldo Canyon fire, Colorado, USA

Abstract. Interpretations of post-fire condition and rates of vegetation recovery can influence management priorities, actions and perception of latent risks from landslides and floods. In this study, we used the Waldo Canyon fire (2012, Colorado Springs, Colorado, USA) as a case study to explore how a time series (2011–2016) of high-resolution images can be used to delineate burn extent and severity, as well as quantify post-fire vegetation recovery. We applied an object-based approach to map burn severity and vegetation recovery using Worldview-2, Worldview-3 and QuickBird-2 imagery. The burned area was classified as 51% high, 20% moderate and 29% low burn-severity. Across the burn extent, the shrub cover class showed a rapid recovery, resprouting vigorously within 1 year, whereas 4 years post-fire, areas previously dominated by conifers were divided approximately equally between being classified as dominated by quaking aspen saplings with herbaceous species in the understorey or minimally recovered. Relative to using a pixel-based Normalised Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI), our object-based approach showed higher rates of revegetation. High-resolution imagery can provide an effective means to monitor post-fire site conditions and complement more prevalent efforts with moderate- and coarse-resolution sensors.

Additional keywords: burned area, GeoEye-1, Landsat, QuickBird-2, revegetation, severity, Wildfire, Worldview-2, Worldview-3.

To read the full research article, please click here


Joe's picture

In Their Own Words

RMFI wrapped up the 17th annual Earth Corps program earlier this month. Earth Corps is a flagship program for the organization, as close to 200 college students have been transformed through the immersive, experiential, for-credit college course since its inception. This year we thought we would share a new perspective of the program and let you hear directly from the students what the program meant to them.

These blogs were written in the field, after the final exam, on day 20 of living at 11,500 feet.

"I feel so lucky to have had the opportunity to spend 3 weeks living and learning in the remarkable Willow Lake Basin. It's not every day you get to watch the sky change from stormy-black to rosy gold to brilliant blue and back again. Free from the constraints of cell phones, mirrors, and responsibility beyond the task at hand, Earth Corps gave me the space to be fully present and unfailingly perceptive.

There wasn't a single day that I didn't laugh until my stomach hurt. I don't have much else to say other than thank you, thank you, thank you. Despite my sore muscles and chapped lips, it's going to be a few weeks before I stop smiling."
--Nicole Goodman, Middlebury College

"Earth Corps with RMFI was both pleasure and pain, in a sense. The schedule was brutal, giving up the amenities of a first-world life was quite an adaptation; the work was hard and hours long; both taxing to body and mind. I pushed myself, some days more than I knew I could.


I discovered that I could, in fact, push myself harder than I thought possible. I worked hard on a meaningful project of ecological impact mitigation. I met the beautiful harshness of the alpine and learned to appreciate it for what it was. I learned a lot about the ecology of a place that seemed half alien to me - and whats more, discovered I was hungry to learn more. And in evenings, I learned the issues surrounding these designated wild places, and had my ideas and ideals challenged - for indeed, wildness exists every where, even in the human heart.
I learned about myself. I learned to deal with people better. I learned my own hubris and my own excesses; what I could do without, both mental/emotionally, and physically. I saw mountains and I climbed them. And now I knew what it takes, to a degree and now I know to expect more or the unexpected. I know it is all worth it, I've seen myself grow. I 'm learning who I am and my values, in this place stripped of all the normal conventions. Perhaps... perhaps. I've come home. To the mountains. To myself. Thank you RMFI Earth Corps 2018 and my friends and teachers from it all. I've learned so much and hope you all did and will continue to as well"
--Tom Zimmerman, Eastern Connecticut State University

"Earth Corps has been very important for both my education and personal growth. Even though I am not studying environmental science, I have become more aware of ways that I can make a positive impact on the environment, through participating in citizen science projects and volunteering to do trail maintenance. The readings that we did gave me more context about the history of managing public lands and the way they are intended to be used. This knowledge will help me to be a more informed voice in debates about public lands. This is a very controversial issue in Utah, where I am from, and my experience in Earth Corps has helped me to better understand how to advocate for the conservation of public lands.

I also learned how to minimize my impact on the environment during recreation. I did not know that deer and mountain sheep dig up plants to get salt from human urine, or that some alpine tundra plants die after being stepped on five times. I have witnessed a bear stealing food out of someone's tent and later being shot. This made me a lot more conscious of how I impact the environment.

The program was one of the worst physically challenging things I have ever done, and I was impressed by the way the other students and I adapted to it. I got to form valuable relationships with people from very different backgrounds and learn to do trail work. Working as part of a team to build a trail helped me build confidence in myself and develop friendships with the other students. I am very grateful to have l had the opportunity to be a part of Earth Corps this year."
--Isabella James, Brigham Young University

"When I think of my time in the Earth Corps program I think that I have gained an understanding of the land. Earth Corps combines all aspects of RMFI so well and having the opportunity to combine stewardship and education in the back country is something that few places offer.
As we went to work on the trails everyday we formed an understanding of how a proper trail is built. It was hard work and to have RMFI staff there to help us along the way was so appreciated. I knew that it probably took us longer than other people to work on the trail but they were still nothing but willing to help us with any problems that arose.We were also able to gain a new perspective on why these trail were needed. On the current trail up to Kit Carson and Challenger Point the trail was made socially, following a gully that easily gets eroded more and more each season. The trail that RMFI has been working on will help improve and restore alpine ecology in the area.

Every day as we got back from the work site we had free time in order to read, journal, and enjoy the world around us. It is a rare thing to be able to spend so much time exploring and appreciating a new part of the world. The readings we did gave us new perspectives to think about the world around us and how we take care of it and the people who came to share their knowledge with us gave us inspiration and different points of view.

I am thankful for the moments that were spent with the people around me, learning and appreciating the little things. Earth Corps gave me the chance to slow my life and mind down in order to reconnect with the important thing sand why we need to care for the world around us. I feel that this college program is important for so many reasons and I am glad I was able to take par this year. Thank you RMFI for putting together such an impact-ful program!"
--Becca Reberry, University of Colorado Colorado Springs

"It'll be a life changing experience" (Joe Lavorini). I am always skeptical when people tell me things like this, but here I am in the aftermath of a truly life-changing experience. Earth Corps taught me about wilderness, about animals and plants, laws and regulations, and most importantly it taught me about myself. I can't lie and say it was easy, but it also wasn't hard, it was challenging. One of the most challenging things I've ever done, actually. I made friends that I think I'll have for life, my perception of public land is a lot more informed, and I have more of a value and love and appreciation for wilderness areas (and everything in them) than I ever have in the past. We learned the importance of teamwork, we practiced endurance and came out the other side with some truly wild stories and the satisfaction of having contributed to a sustainable trail that will exist under the boots of thousands of people, for decades to come. I'll never walk on another trail without appreciating the hard work, blood, sweat, and tears that was put into it. I won't hesitate to speak up for public lands and wild areas, I'll make it a priority to inform people and spread the things I've learned.

Not only did I challenge myself, I also felt more in touch with myself. When all the distractions of the world are stripped away, there's space to hear the birds call, there's space to appreciate a cool breeze against your dirty skin or a light mist of a waterfall. There's space to hear yourself think and to listen to what you have to say. We got to summit 3 peaks and feel the euphoria of sitting on a rock at 14,000 feet, knowing your own legs carried you all the way there. Every day presented a new challenge and a new opportunity to surprise myself with what I'm capable of. Some days my belly hurt from how hard I was laughing, some days my fingers hurt from being smooshed by a rock. Some days were hard for everyone but we got through it together. I honestly wouldn't trade the experience I've had these last 3 weeks for anything in the world. There were ups and downs, amazing people and breath-taking views. One thing is certain, Joe wasn't wrong; it really did change my life."
--Lexi Hudson, Texas State University

"If I had to use only one word to describe my Earth Corps experience, I don't think I could come up with anything better than just "awesome". Luckily, I don't have to use only one word.

From the very first hour of the program to the end of the final exam, I've been learning. Meeting my cohorts that first morning, I had no idea of all the unique memories we'd share, from jaw-dropping vistas, to gut-busting laughs, and even a few shed tears. No other college class has given me such an immense range of emotions, let alone fantastic friends.

There's no one part of the three weeks that eclipses any other for me. Working on the trail re-route up Challenger Point and Kit Carson Peak was a fascinating, if not frustrating, but also fun time very day. Our summit days were tough but more fulfilling than I could have imagined.

All in all, I learned more than I thought possible in the past 21 days. About wilderness, about conservation and restoration, and ultimately about myself. I'm also happy to know that the friends I made here had just as unique and amazing experiences as I did, in their own ways of course. And that's what keeps me going"
--Stephen Henderson, University of Colorado Colorado Springs

"Earth Corps was amazing. I have learned so much, and have been given a unique opportunity seldom found anywhere else. I learned about myself, the environment, and other people around me. I spent time constructing trails, discussing history, listening to educators, and forming my own perspective on wilderness.

The time spent building trails was tough, but it builds character. I was actively impacting the environment in a positive way and leaving my mark in the form of a sustainable trail. I worked with amazing people and we were led by extremely caring and smart people. Working as a team towards a common goal helped build community.

Education was a priority, and I learned more than ever. From the extremely qualified educators, to historical readings I learned so much. But most of all I learned from those around me. I was surrounded by so many bright individuals it was inspirational.

Lastly, I spent time in the wilderness. I reflected on my own thoughts, away from distractions, focusing solely on my relationship with nature. The Sangre de Cristos are a strikingly beautiful place that I was able to develop a connection with. Earth Corps provided me with knowledge and experience unlike anything else, and now I can go share and relive my experience anywhere else."
--Daniel Nielsen, Northern Iowa University

"My experience with RMFI has taught me the value of alpine ecosystems and how environmental restoration work involves the natural biota. Through trail construction and maintenance I have gained a deeper understanding of alpine landscapes and how vulnerable they've become because of growing human usage for recreational activities. I have gained a broader understanding of environmental bureaucracy and the challenges CPW, the Forest Service, and trail crews face. Building and maintaining trails aren't for human usage but instead for resource protection.

My experience through RMFI Earth Corps has also allowed me to explore the human relations to the land and in particular the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. The Sangre de Cristos not only provide a natural aesthetic to the landscape but also provide deep historical contexts for how Willow Lake Basin became a designated Wilderness Area and how to protect and conserve its resources.

Although all of these learnings are important for an understanding of the environment and landscape in which I've worked for these past 3 weeks, it was the people whom made the experience worth while and the perspectives gleaned from them about the environment and our own and society's role to preserve our public lands for future sustainable usage."
--Dabreon Darby, Bucknell University

Jennifer's picture

Colorado Introduces Outdoor Rx

The Colorado Office of Outdoor Recreation Industry is pleased to announce the release of the "Colorado OutdoorRx" report! Through a year-long journey of looking at connections between health and the outdoors, the ORec / Outdoor Health Collaborative has created this report to examine and provide suggestions for improving health outcomes through outdoor experiences. We hope you will read it, share with it your networks, and discover ways to implement pilot programs in your communities. After all, it's our belief that every person's health should #startoutside.

To read the report, please click here

Jennifer's picture

Colorado Leads Eight States in Historic Outdoor Recreation Alliance

The Confluence Accords, signed and ratified Wednesday in Denver, create a partnership between eight states surrounding shared values and practices within the multi-billion dollar outdoor industry.

The $887 billion outdoor industry grew in strength Wednesday morning as eight states, led by Colorado, signed the Confluence Accords, a wide-ranging, first-of-its-kind document that provides a set of common values and best practices for states with economies that depend on outdoor recreation. Representatives from Montana, Utah, Oregon, Vermont, Washington, North Carolina, and Wyoming joined Luis Benitez, director of Colorado’s Outdoor Recreation Office, to sign and officially ratify the Accords at Le Méridien hotel in Denver.

The months-long bipartisan effort to create an alliance between these eight “original states”—the only states so far in the United States that have offices dedicated to outdoor recreation—was spearheaded by Benitez and Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper. “I saw a really clear need to get the gang together in an official way,” Benitez says of his colleagues in the other states. “And Governor Hickenlooper—because the Outdoor Retailer show is now here—he really wanted us to lead it.”

The process began last November when Benitez sent a survey to other state representatives about what practices work best in their respective economies. Then in January, at the first Outdoor Retailer expo hosted by Denver, the representatives had a summit and began drafting the Confluence Accords. After seven months, the representatives met again two weeks ago for a second summit in North Carolina, where they agreed on the language and pillars of the document and left with a common goal: Convince your Governor to support it. While Benitez did not say which states took longest, he said it was down to the wire. Ultimately, all eight states’ Governors supported the Accords and on Wednesday morning the document was ratified just a block from the Colorado Convention Center where the Outdoor Retailer Summer Market is in full swing.

The Confluence Accords rests on four pillars: economic development, conservation and stewardship, education and workforce training, and public health and wellness. “The goal is as much cooperation, partnership, and transparency as we can muster,” Benitez says. The alliance provides a way for the states to share knowledge and best practices within the industry but, perhaps most importantly, it defines rules for engagement when courting outdoor industry businesses.

Because outdoor recreation is such a lucrative industry—generating $28 billion in yearly consumer spending and 229,000 jobs in Colorado alone—it’s a given that each state would want to act in their own best interest. That dynamic creates economic competition, even (and perhaps especially) among the eight states that signed the Accords, Benitez admits. “At the end of the day, we are responsible to our governors and to keep our economies strong and growing,” he says. “Companies move around sometimes. And they look at one state compared to another state. We try to be as transparent as we can, given the fact that when companies are looking at moving, they are very private about those things.”

Part of the Accords is aimed to address economic competition head on. “There are ways to do economic development and there are ways not to do it. There are states out there that will cold call some of your iconic companies, and try to swipe them right out from underneath you,” Benitez says. “That’s not what the way we’re going to work together.” Instead, the eight signatory states agreed not to court companies based elsewhere unless they are approached first by that company. “If companies approach us, that’s one thing. That’s respectful. That’s a professional agreement between states,” he says.

Beyond economic development and business ethics, sharing of knowledge is one of the key motivators that compelled each state to participate in the process. “In public policy, I never saw a good idea that I didn’t want to steal,” Jon Snyder, policy advisor for outdoor recreation in Washington, joked at a press conference Wednesday morning. “I hope that other states will steal this from us.” If things go to plan, at least five other states will be doing just that shortly. According to Benitez, Michigan, Maryland, Kansas, Arkansas, and Pennsylvania are working to join the Accords at the next summit in January 2019.

Political tides could change before more states hop on board, though, as midterms elections in November shift leadership at the executive and legislative level across the country. When we spoke in May, Benitez noted that, depending on who is elected the next Governor of Colorado, the Outdoor Recreation Office could be fundamentally changed or eliminated. Still, he is confident that the work being done in Colorado will speak for itself and, furthermore, he says the spirit of the Accords was constructed in such a way that he expects bipartisan support to continue far beyond November’s election.

Read the original article in 5280 Magazine here

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VF Foundation, Patagonia and Thule Kick Off Multi-Million Dollar Funding Effort to the Outdoor Foundation to Get More Kids and Families Outside

DENVER, July 24, 2018 /PRNewswire/ -- In an unprecedented act of generosity and commitment to the outdoors, VF Foundation pledged $1 million to the Outdoor Foundation's core goal to invest in communities to help kids and families get outside – and do so more often. VF is joined by Patagonia and Thule, which have made significant multi-year pledges. In addition, REI has committed to a future investment. This generous support will be invested in innovative programs and with organizations in key "Thrive Outside Communities" to ensure that outdoor experiences become woven into the fabric of communities.

The leadership shown by VF, Patagonia, Thule and REI builds momentum and enthusiasm for participation and support from many companies in the industry, including financial, gear and mentorship contributions. The goal is to engage companies of all sizes in the Outdoor Foundation's effort to dramatically increase outdoor participation.

Getting kids and families into a regular routine of exercising and playing outside is an extremely challenging goal. According to the Outdoor Foundation's 2018 Outdoor Recreation Participation Report:

  • 91 percent of Americans say getting outside for their health is moderately to extremely important, but their actions do not reflect this
  • 20 percent of Americans participate in an outdoor activity only once per week, and 50 percent of Americans are active outdoors only once per year
  • Less than 21 percent of children are active outdoors once or more per a week

The focus of the Outdoor Foundation is to create Thrive Outside Communities that bring together coordinated programming for kids and families of diverse backgrounds. The Foundation will weave the outdoors into the lives of many and provide repeat experiences of fun and joy that will help build healthy individuals and healthy communities.

"VF's outdoor brands, most notably The North Face, are proud supporters of Outdoor Industry Association and have had a strong partnership with OIA over the years," said Steve Rendle, chairman, president and chief executive officer of VF Corporation. "Throughout our longstanding relationship, we have continually seen important work being done by OIA and its Foundation to advance the spirit and passion of the outdoor industry. With this founding-partner gift from VF Foundation, we express our deep gratitude and hope that it inspires others to join in support." 

"The connection to the outdoors is broken, as both adults and children are overscheduled and over-screened with TVs, smartphones, video games and busy lives," said Amy Roberts, executive director of Outdoor Industry Association. "The generous support from VF Foundation, Patagonia and Thule will go to communities, organizations and programs focused on reversing the decline of outdoor participation. It is our hope that this support will inspire other outdoor businesses to invest in this critically important work."

"The Outdoor Foundation is an important force for getting more young people outside, and Patagonia is humbled to invest in growing the next generation of advocates for the planet and outdoor enthusiasts," said Patagonia President and CEO Rose Marcario. "The strength of our industry comes from those who enjoy getting outside and are committed to protecting wild places, and we hope this gift helps to inspire solutions and leaders at the community level for years to come."

"As a proud member of Outdoor Industry Association and supporter of the Outdoor Foundation, we are pleased to be help them further their mission with this gift," said Fred Clark, Thule group Americas president. "Thule is a brand that strives to encourage active consumers to embrace the outdoors and pursue their passions, and through the hard work done by OIA and its members, we join in their commitment and pledge to furthering participation in the outdoors."

"In today's world, there are too many barriers to access quality, safe and close-to-home outdoor experiences with positive, affordable programming by trusted community partners," said Lise Aangeenbrug, executive director of the Outdoor Foundation. "We plan to change that through our focus on investments in multiple organizations working within communities to get kids and families connected to the outdoors and reap the benefits this provides. This funding will help us make getting outside a healthy habit for all."

About the Outdoor Foundation

The Outdoor Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Outdoor Industry Association, is a national 501(C)(3) nonprofit organization dedicated to getting people outside for their health, the health of communities and the health of the outdoor industry. Through community investment and groundbreaking research, the Outdoor Foundation works with many partners to get more people outside more often. Visit for more information.

SOURCE The Outdoor Foundation

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100 Years (Almost) of Barr Trail

It seems that the Barr Trail has been an almost daily topic of conversation around our RMFI office in 2018, and for various reasons. We discovered in the early part of the year that our maintenance funding from the City of Manitou Springs’ Barr Trail parking lot fees, RMFI’s largest source of funding for our work on Barr, was cut by approximately 60% due to increased funding needs for other Barr Trail and Incline support infrastructure, most notably the now year-round free shuttle service that takes users to the trail heads. Fortunately, our concerns over the cut were relatively short lived as new supporters really stepped up to the plate to fill the need. Our stewardship partner, the Incline Friends, donated $10,000 to RMFI to go toward our Barr initiatives, and not long after that we received a grant from REI for $15,000 in support of the same project. This new revenue, in addition to the existing support from the City of Manitou Springs, City of Colorado Springs, Colorado Springs Utilities, the Barr Trail Mountain Race, and Pikes Peak Marathon, Inc., has not only restored, but exceeded normal annual funds for our Barr maintenance.

It has also come up in conversation on numerous occasions how interesting and timely all this attention on Barr has been in, what we thought was, the 100th anniversary of the trail. Perhaps we thought that Fred Barr had completed the construction of his namesake trail in the year 1918 because of the plaque that is bolted to a large granite boulder alongside the trail just shy of the summit. Undoubtedly, this is a landmark that many of our staff have each hiked past on numerous occasions. That plaque, which states the trail was constructed between 1914 and 1918, is pictured here:

Intrigued by this milestone anniversary for Barr Trail, we began searching for more information about Fred Barr and the history of his great achievement. In doing so, I discovered that while some sources list the trail as having been finished in 1918, I found much greater evidence that told a slightly different tale.

The recently released biography of Fred Barr, authored by Eric Swab and published by the Manitou Springs Heritage Center, states that the trail was actually completed and opened to public use in the year 1921. It was the surveying of the trail to be cut that was completed in 1918, on Christmas Eve of that year to be specific. A Colorado Springs Gazette article published on December 25, 1921 and archived by the Pikes Peak Library District corroborates this information. The article featured the recently finished trail and recapped its years in the making, stating, “On Christmas eve, 1918, Fred Barr set out the last pile of rocks, designating the end of the trail survey. It marked the completion of a task which everyone had said was impossible and impractical. Completing the survey on Christmas Eve, Fred Barr broke into the summit house, spent the night there, and returned the next day to announce his achievement.” The summit house did already exist at that time as tourists had been enjoying many years of easy access to the summit via the Manitou and Pikes Peak Cog Railway that had been running since its opening in 1891. This post-surveying Christmas Eve night in 1918 would not be the last time that Fred Barr would break into the summit house. He did so again just a few years later as part of the first New Years Eve ascent to the peak with the AdAmAn Club, a group of which Barr was a charter member.

Another Gazette article published earlier that same year, June 1, 1921, references the almost-completed trail: “His (Fred Barr’s) Pikes Peak Trail was completed except for a short gap high above timber line, when the snow set in last fall. It will be complete and ready for use this summer. It is a picturesque trail, zigzagging down the face of the mountain overlooking Colorado Springs, and passing thru an area of above-timber line ground where boulders as large as houses are piled upon each other like children’s blocks. The trail is also a comparatively easy one of ascent.”

The life’s work of Fred Barr was in the mule tourism industry. Barr’s mules took tourists to sites of interest throughout the Pikes Peak Region, including Garden of the Gods, Glen Eyrie, High Drive, Williams Canyon, and Cave of the Winds. When the Manitou Incline Railway opened in 1908, Barr had secured a mule concession at the top from where he would take railway passengers on extended sightseeing tours to points of interest around that area, and eventually his tours would go on to the summit of Pikes Peak. The purpose of his design and construction of the Barr Trail was to make for an easy and efficient, yet scenic and interesting, route on the east face of Pikes for his mule tours to ascend. After years of tireless efforts, his dream of this trail and mid-route camp destination, both of which bear his name, became a reality in the years 1921 and 1922, respectively.

Whatever the reason behind the apparently inaccurate dates listed on that prominent Fred Barr memorial plaque, what we do know is that Barr’s legacy trail continues to be a source of inspiration, escape, wonder, and challenge to local citizens and tourists alike, nearly a century after its completion. What has changed dramatically is the population of users on Barr Trail. Mules no longer carry tourists up the trail. That business closed down in 1960, having been taken under new ownership for another 20 years after Fred Barr’s death in 1940. Nowadays, we see record-breaking user numbers on Barr. The full 12.6 mile trail, which serves as the primary route to the summit of Pikes Peak, sees an estimated 80,000 to 100,000 users each year. Usage numbers on the lowest 3 miles of trail between Manitou Springs and the top of the Incline are 3 to 5 times that many due to the tens of thousands of users who hike the Incline and run or hike down Barr, only using that lowest segment on such trips.

It is worth taking into account that Barr never built his trail with the intention of it accommodating 500,000 hikers, runners, backpackers, and mountain bikers annually. He was an entrepreneur in a very different time and place only seeking the best route for his mule tour concession. In order to maintain and preserve what is arguably our region’s most iconic trail under the circumstances of present day utilization, it is imperative that we all are stewards of this trail and continue to support the back log of maintenance and improvement work it needs to remain an enjoyable and sustainable path for all of us to enjoy.

Want to learn more about the fascinating life of Fred Barr, the Barr Trail, and/or Barr Camp? We recommend the following resources which provided many of the facts in this post:

Fred Barr, 1882-1940 by Eric Swab

Colorado Encyclopedia, Barr Trail

Barr Camp History

A special thank you to Matt Mayberry, Museum Director of the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum, for providing the archived Gazette article links from 1921. Those links again:

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Essential Kids Guide to Colorado Springs

RMFI was just featured in the latest edition of Consumer Advocates' "Essential Kids Guide to Colorado Springs!" Check out the full feature here:


Across the whole nation the secret is out, Colorado is where everyone wants to be! Aside from just Denver, though, Colorado Springs is gaining more and more recognition as one of the nation’s top cities to live in. In 2017 WalletHub had the Springs topping Denver, New York City, Las Vegas, and many other urban areas as one of the top five best big cities to live in. In addition to that U.S. News & World ranked the Springs one of the top 10 best US places in 2018.

Pikes Peak, the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, Garden of the Gods, and the US Olympic Training Center are just some of the many attractions pulling in thousands of new residents every year. Plus that’s not even mentioning the extremely affordable housing market or the easy drive to Denver whenever you feel the need to switch up your scenery. With all this rapid growth, however, parents and youth organizers alike know it will become increasingly difficult to keep a growing population of kids active and productive. After a couple months of great feedback from our guide to Denver, the team at knew that the Springs was the next logical step.

That being said, here are this week’s top varying areas of interest for youth-oriented associations and activities in Colorado Springs. They'll inspire new passions, help with healthy living options, and maybe even replace technology time with fresh conversations on the car ride home.

Read the full feature here!

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The Beginning of the End: The Bonner Fellow's First Year

Just like that, my first year as a college undergraduate is coming to a close. As a Bonner Fellow at Rocky Mountain Field institute and as a Colorado College student, I have gone through unmeasurable personal and professional growth during this academic year. This article is a reflective post about the impact the experience of being a fellow with RMFI has had on me.

Throughout my time at RMFI, I have been involved in a lot of important initiatives and projects. Among my favorites were definitely helping build our diversity in the outdoors efforts and being involved with meeting volunteers both in the field and at special events, such as with the end-of-the-year RMFI ShinDIG. In my experiences with these events and with the RMFI staff and volunteers, I have taken away so much more than I ever would have anticipated. Before coming to Colorado, I felt like I didn’t know anything about what the people and what the environment were going to be like. Especially coming from a place where my life centered around the water and diverse groups of people, I found it especially challenging to be in an area where the environment was so vastly different than what I was used to, both in a natural and a social sense. However, working in Colorado Springs’ public lands has broadened my ability to engage with the environment and the communities within Colorado Springs.

One of the toughest parts about coming to Colorado College and even RMFI was the culture shock. My background and my experiences with life have been in contrast to most others, which produced a sort of imposter syndrome. Nevertheless, the RMFI family has been so welcoming and interested in learning more about me - and I them. Since starting back in September, I have gradually become part of the RMFI and Colorado Springs community, and I am so proud to be able to have contributed to its environmental well-being over the past year. Should I be here until I graduate, I hope to keep contributing to the efforts RMFI makes to improve and maintain Southern Colorado’s public lands. The impact made by the office staff, field staff, interns, and especially volunteers is priceless, and it has been my pleasure to be a part of it!

Jennifer's picture

Stories from the Trail - A Tale of Two Users

A few weeks ago, I set out on a long run, starting first up the Incline and then continuing another 6 miles up Barr Trail to the A-frame shelter, located approximately 3 miles below the summit of Pikes Peak. Along the way, I encountered a number of folks out enjoying the beautiful weather and fresh air. Two users, in particular, really stood out to me as each represented two diametrically opposed types of trail users with regard to stewardship ethic and responsible use of our natural assets.

I remember the trip up the Incline that day had been especially brutal for me. While not particularly crowded for a Saturday morning, it was hot, which zapped my energy and further compounded the difficulty of an already difficult trail. There was a ton of people at the top, basking in the sunshine, taking pictures, and waiting for friends and acquaintances to reach the summit. I don't do particularly well in crowds, so I had a few sips of water and started jogging down the Incline Connector Trail toward Barr Trail, eagerly anticipating the adventure that awaited me.
Over the past several years, RMFI has made significant improvements to the Incline Connector Trail, beginning first with an entire new trail layout and design to make the connection to Barr Trail much more sustainable. In addition, we've worked with partners to install hundreds of linear feet of fencing, largely designed to keep users on the trail to prevent them from cutting switchbacks. Most of the Pikes Peak Region is characterized by highly-erosive, decomposed Pikes Peak Granite, which is among the most highly erodible soils in the nation. When users cut switchbacks, the stability of the landscape is compromised, leading to the loss of already fragile vegetation and habitat as well as increased risk for erosion and sedimentation. Before long, hillslopes can become massive erosion gullies, restoration of which can be very expensive and time consuming.

I had made it approximately 0.5 miles down the Incline Connector Trail when I came across two users intentionally sliding under fencing, cutting switchbacks, and trampling over deadfall and other obstructions installed specifically to protect the fragile landscape. "DO NOT CUT SWITCHBACKS" signs installed on the fencing in front of them had done nothing to deter their behavior. Now, this isn't the first time I have witnessed switchback cutting on the Incline Connector Trail, and whenever possible, I try and take the opportunity to educate users about the negative impacts of this type of behavior. Predominantly speaking, most users are simply uninformed and are at least somewhat responsive to my improptu educational lesson. This day was different. The two users became aggressive, laughed in my face, told me to "f*** off" and to mind my own business, and then proceeded to slide under the next set of fencing, and the next one, and the next one, with absolutely no care about the destruction they were leaving behind and the improper trail behavior they were modeling for other users. 

Admittedly, I was angry. In these types of situations, I struggle to understand the other side when to me the behavior is just so blatantly and obviously wrong. Yet, I found myself for the next several miles thinking about their behavior and trying to understand why they did what they did, why didn’t the signs help deter their behavior, why didn’t they respond positively to my friendly educational lesson, why is it so hard to just stay on the trail, how can we better engage these types of users – the exceptions, the seemingly 1% of users who tend to ruin it for everyone – through different messaging, education, etc.?  

Fast-forward 6 miles and a few hours when I encountered another user just below the A-frame. We stopped and chatted for several minutes about various topics, including how lucky we were to be able to enjoy the amazing public lands (not to mention an iconic Colorado 14er) right in our backyard. This user had moved from South Carolina to Castle Rock about 4 years prior, and had been traveling to Colorado Springs/Manitou Springs every month to train for a summit attempt of Pikes Peak in August. He talked about his love and respect for the outdoors and his support for public lands stewardship. He also was proud about the gear he was carrying on his back – everything from waterproof gloves, raingear, and a bivvy, to extra layers and an ultra light down blanket. He was aware that conditions can change at high elevations and was prepared for anything. In his words, “I could survive out here for days if I had to.” After a few minutes of conversation, he continued up the trail to meet his friend who was just ahead of him. I spent a few minutes at the A-frame before turning back and heading down Barr Trail to the trailhead in Manitou Springs.

When you have hours to spend on a trail, you have a lot of time to think. And on this particular day, that’s exactly what I did. My thoughts focused almost entirely on analyzing the behavior and ethic of the two types of users I had encountered that day. How did each develop their ethic, why do signs and barriers work for some and not others, why is it natural for some to obey rules and be responsible users of our public lands when it’s not for others, why do some respond to education while others do not, how do we effectively change behavior, how can we more effectively reach users that seemingly don’t care or don’t even want to be reached? These questions and more were swirling through my head the whole way back to the trailhead.

There are no easy answers here. But, I feel strongly that some thought must be put into these questions in order to move the needle on public lands stewardship. What opportunities exist to change behavior so that everyone can enjoy our public lands not just now, but future generations – and to ensure that our public lands are stewarded and maintained so they can perform their important roles for ecosystem health and function? If you have thoughts and ideas, please send them our way at [email protected] – we’d love to read them and engage in meaningful conversation!

Jennifer's picture

Recreation is redefining the value of Western public lands


Once, the West’s public lands were valued primarily for the timber, minerals and fossil fuels they held, which were extracted and then sold around the world. In the 1970s, more than two dozen Western counties relied on timber for at least a fifth of their revenue, while energy companies expanded onto public lands for coal and natural gas. Small communities swelled with loggers and miners and the businesses that supported them, providing an economy that helped preserve the West’s rural feel. Today, though, natural resource economies are waning, and many of those towns are struggling. Public lands are increasingly used for fun and leisure, and the West has joined the Northeast as the two most urbanized regions in the country, according to U.S. Census data analyzed by Headwaters Economics.

The West’s vast public lands remain its defining factor, but these days, their economic value increasingly comes from the outdoor industry. Nationally, that industry is worth nearly $900 billion annually, according to the Outdoor Industry Association. People made over 290 million visits to the West’s public lands last year and spent a lot of time — and money — along the way. Those numbers are growing, while the jobs and revenue associated with hydrocarbons and timber have declined over the past several decades. The West’s nearly 600 million acres of public lands have tremendous influence on what it means to be a Westerner, and that picture is changing. Here, a by-the-numbers look at the economic heft of recreation and public lands:


More than 290 million people visited Western public lands in 2017. Despite increasing visits to public lands and the billions of dollars in consumer spending on outdoor recreation that often takes place there, the percent of the federal budget allocated to manage these places has shrunk.



To read the full article, please click here


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Trail Building in the National Forests


Early Trails in the Forests
The Forest Service began building trails in the 1890s, when the national forests were first set aside as forest reserves. Those trails were not scenic walks, but designed as the quickest way between two points and built primarily for communication and fire fighting activities. Random trails created by the consistent use of visitors to access scenic areas were not of much concern to the early Forest Service.

"Mere ways through the forest, whether marked or not, are not regarded as trails; they are matters of woodcraft rather than of permanent forest improvement. A trail is a narrow highway over which a pack animal can travel with safety during the usual period when the need for a highway exists."

In the days before telephones and radio, Forest Service trails were the means of communication between remote stations. Travel and communication was done primarily by horseback, and packhorses were used to deliver supplies to distant lookout towers. Especially during fire season, efficient trails were essential to move men and equipment quickly. The value of the road and trail system to the Forest Service was recorded in each yearly Report of the Chief, the annual report of the Forest Service. Included were the amount of road and trail mileage constructed that year, the total miles of roads and trails, and the distribution by state of the budget appropriation for roads and trails.

"Many large areas are still entirely without even the simplest trail facilities. Valuable forests which will be urgently needed in the future are being jeopardized by reason of the fact that they are without adequate roads or trails by which fire-fighting supplies and men may be brought in case of need."

During World War II, the national forest road and trail system was considered a national security asset. Access to the timber was critical for the war effort as it provided material for many war-related necessities, including shipping containers, cots, and airplane propellers. One Forest Service document, assessing the potential value of the national forests road and trail system for the military, stated: "It can furnish a supplementary transportation system in the mountain regions, especially in the West, which is largely screened from the air and therefore not as liable to bombing as the open trunk highways."

Trails for Recreation

The first edition of Trail Construction on the National Forest (1915) defined trails as transportation routes for pack animals and classified them according to their forest management use: as main trails, secondary trails, and branch trails. In the second edition (1922), the categories were more specific and included the "Purpose of Trails: (a) Fire control; (b) administrations: (c) grazing: (d) recreation."

"Recreation trails will ordinarily be constructed only where the need is made clearly apparent by public demand or by existing heavy use of trails over which travel is very laborious or difficult."

Based on the Forest Service annual reports, it was not until the mid-1930s that trails were considered purely in terms of recreational value, particularly for their scenic attributes. The Report of the Forester, 1933, is the first annual report to include hiking as an activity in the report on recreational use. It is included in a group labeled "motorists, horsemen, hikers, etc."

The following year saw extensive infrastructure improvement and construction by the Civilian Conservation Corps and other work relief programs of the Depression era, which would continue into the early 1940s. Among the many construction efforts undertaken were trails designed specifically for hiking.

"In trail construction (recreational trails) it should be the idea to make them as inconspicuous as possible. In this way their effectiveness should be increased, and the pleasure obtained from walking over such a trail should be of the highest quality. Ordinarily speaking, trails should go from one point of interest to another as directly as it is reasonable in keeping with the conformation of the ground."

A National Trail System

During the era of relative prosperity of the 1950s and 1960s, the popularity of hiking continued to grow. Demand for all aspects of outdoor recreation was surpassing the available resources for national as well as state and local governments. In 1958 Congress formed a special commission, the Outdoor Recreation Resources Review Commission (ORRRC), to take a comprehensive look at current recreational resources as well as future needs. The commission spent three years gathering data and studying trends, working with local and state governments to survey existing recreation resources.

"America must not neglect its heritage of the outdoors--for that heritage offers physical, spiritual, and educational benefits, which not only provide a better environment but help to achieve other national goals by adding to the health of the nation."

Their 1962 report discussed the benefits of outdoor recreation for increasing the health and wellbeing of American citizens, and reiterated the importance of including recreational use in management policies at all governmental levels. This report paved the way for such significant legislation as the Wilderness Act (1964) and the National Wild and Scenic Rivers Act (1968), which set aside large sections of undeveloped land to ensure there would be wild places for future generations to enjoy.

In direct response to the findings of the ORRRC, President Johnson gave a speech on February 8, 1965. In it he called for a national system of trails, as well as a national wild rivers system and for full funding of the Land and Water Conservation Fund. A national trail study was begun and the resulting report, Trails for America, was published in 1966.

"In order to provide for the ever-increasing outdoor recreation needs of an expanding population and in order to promote public access to, travel within, and enjoyment and appreciation of the open-air, outdoor areas of the Nation, trails should be established (i) primarily, near the urban areas of the Nation, and (ii) secondarily, within established scenic areas more remotely located"

This act of Congress established four major trail systems, national recreation trails, national scenic trails, national historic trails, and connecting or side trails. The Appalachian Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail were designated as the first national scenic trails. Management of the national trail system trails falls to the agency with administrative responsibility for the majority of land on which the trails lay, usually with the National Forest Service or the National Park Service.

In 1978 Congress passed an amendment to the original act that created 4 national historic trails and added the Continental Divide Trail as a national scenic trail. By 2014 the national trail system included 30 national scenic or historic trails, and over 1,100 national recreation trails.

"The forgotten outdoorsmen of today are those who like to walk, hike, ride horseback, or bicycle. For them we must have trails as well as highways. Nor should motor vehicles be permitted to tyrannize the more leisurely human traffic."

Increasing Demand for Trails, 1970s

During the 1970s, recreational use of national forest trails reached new levels of popularity. By 1976, the Forest Service was spending $5.7 million on trail maintenance and more than $3 million for trail construction each year. A trail assessment underway in the 1970s suggested that approximately 50 percent of all trail miles were not in adequate condition. The Forest Service's 1977 statistics showed more than 10.5 million visitor-days on a 97,000-mile trail system (a visitor-day equaled one visitor for a 12-hour period). With the increasing popularity of its trails, the agency was also finding increasing numbers of user conflicts - between backpackers and horsepackers, for example, or motorcyclists and hikers - as well as needs for more trail maintenance, visitor education, and improved trail design.

Forest Service chief John McGuire pointed to many of these issues in a 1977 speech: "When most National Forest trails were built, utility and speed were the prime considerations - not esthetic appeal or quality of the recreational experience. Often, trails were located along canyon bottoms to take advantage of flatter ground and easier construction. Many are snowbound early and late in the season, susceptible to erosion, and costly to maintain. They also provide little opportunity for scenic vistas, and sometimes lie in the paths of avalanches."

"The United States has only about 100,000 miles of trails--less than one yard of trail per citizen. Give thanks that not everyone hikes and that hikers do not hit the trail at the same time. If they did, they could all hold hands."

McGuire proceeded to emphasize that public demands on trails could cause problems. "Nor were these trails designed for all-comers. They were generally meant for occasional use by experienced people and pack and saddle animals. Motorized vehicle use was not anticipated. Nor was safety a great concern. Nor was the sheer volume of use that we see today. . ."

Trails for the Future?

Surveys of recreational users conducted over several decades show that interest in hiking has continued to grow in the 21st century, albeit at a slower rate than the last decades of the 20th century.15 Providing trails to meet the increase in demand, as well as maintain them, has long challenged the Forest Service. Advocates for outdoor recreation have been critical of Forest Service management of its trail resources, although most blame lack of congressional funding more than management policies.

Concerns about the condition of existing trails and the large backlog of maintenance in the late 1980s prompted the Congressional Subcommittee on National Parks and Public Lands, Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs, to request the General Accounting Office (GAO) to review the issue of deferred maintenance on Forest Service trails. The committee chair felt that deferred trail maintenance was resulting in the loss of valuable recreational opportunities to the American public, as well as a financial loss of capital investment.

The GAO report found inadequate fiscal funding from 1981-1987 led to the large backlog of deferred maintenance, as well as unfulfilled new trail construction projects. The Forest Service reported that in 1988 the backlog totaled $195 million. Service personnel indicated funding had been inadequate for the previous decade, and budget limitations had led to a sharp decline in skilled trail personnel. The report continued that Congress had increased funding from 19.7 million in 1987 to over $36 million in 1988 and 1989, which allowed for many maintenance and reconstruction issues to be addressed, but would not provide for construction of new trails.

In 1991 hearings were held by the Congressional Subcommittee on National Parks and Public Lands on the management of America’s recreational trails. A statement presented to the subcommittee by the associate deputy chief of the National Forest System highlights the agency’s dependency on public-private partnerships to expand and maintain recreational trails under their jurisdiction.The partnerships included volunteers, hiking clubs, and local governments and businesses.

According to a 2013 conducted by the U.S. General Accounting Office in response to a Congressional request, the total mileage of national forest trails used for recreation and management in 2012 was 158,000. For that year the agency performed maintenance on 37 percent of trails, while only 26 percent met the Forest Service standards for condition. For 2012 the allocated resources were $81.9 million, while the estimated amount required to fully address trail maintenance needs totaled $523.7 million.

According to Forest Service reports, the allocation for trails generally goes to basic maintenance of existing trails rather than upgrades or new trail construction. Volunteers and outside partners remain an essential means of maintaining and expanding existing facilities, and the advocacy work of out-door clubs and environmental groups, as well as local citizens and businesses, continue as important force in calling for more funding for trail construction and maintenance. Because of recurring budget constraints the Forest Service has continued to rely on the help of volunteers and outside partners for maintenance and enhancements to the national trail system.

Additional information on hiking and trail building in the national forests can be found using the Forest History Society Research Portal as well as additional webpages on recreation in the national forests, hiking, backpacking, the national trail system, and the long trails.

Written by: Nancy C. Nye, special projects, Forest History Society.

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Volunteering Game Changer: Millennials

A new study released by State Farm® reveals key insights into what motivates people to volunteer. While the survey included all generations, the most surprising results came from Millennials (ages 18-34).

A deep dive into this generation finds two distinct groups: those who are starting out (younger Millennials) and those who are married, have kids, or own a home (older Millennials). According to the study, only 23 percent of younger Millennials currently volunteer, compared to 46 percent of older Millennials.

These findings are noteworthy when considering national trends. Millennials now surpass Baby Boomers as the largest generation in the United States.* As a result, they have the biggest potential to influence volunteerism.

Here’s what motivates Millennials to volunteer:

  • Get social: According to the study, digital communication is key. Fifty-eight percent of Millennials surveyed visited a website to learn about volunteering, (a rate that declined significantly with each preceding generation).
  • Opportunities nearby: Forty-four percent of older Millennials and 34% of younger Millennials agree, they’re more likely to get involved if the organization or non-profit is close to their home or job.
  • Show the impact: People want to know their work was worth it. Forty-three percent of older Millennials and 34% of younger Millennials say seeing the impact of their time and talent reaffirms their commitment to give back.
  • Career development: Forty percent of older Millennials and 35% of younger Millennials said offering opportunities to help their career or job search would boost their willingness to volunteer.
  • Knowledge is power: The prospect of gaining expertise in a certain area or learning a new skill inspires more people to get involved. Forty percent of older Millennials and 31% of younger Millennials say this opportunity would make them more likely to volunteer.
  • The more the merrier: Both groups agree, being able to participate with friends (44% older Millennials, 35% younger Millennials) or meet new people (28% older Millennials, 22% younger Millennials) plays a large role in their decision to volunteer. In fact, one in five Millennials reported finding a significant other through volunteering!

About the Survey

In November of 2017, State Farm conducted a study on volunteerism to identify those most likely to volunteer as well as the conditions or situations where volunteerism rates are highest. State Farm surveyed approximately 3,100 U.S. adults aged 18 and older and weighted the data to match proportions in the U.S. by generation: Millennials (18-34), Generation X (35-50), Baby Boomers (51-70) and the Mature Generations (71+). This study follows a survey conducted the previous year that provided insights on how to inspire and cultivate volunteerism.

To read the full article, please click here.

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Congressional-Level Outdoor Recreation Economy Reports Released by OIA

Outdoor Industry Association (OIA) has released congressional-level Outdoor Recreation Economy reports for all 435 congressional districts. These reports are the first of their kind that captures the power of a vast multi-billion dollar economic engine in our local communities and across the nation.

Use the tool here to find your congressional district report and download the PDF.

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Report: Locals spend $2.14 billion every year on trail, open spaces and water activity


Long considered a nice backdrop, the area’s outdoors is now bringing in the green.

During its second annual State of the Outdoors event, the Pikes Peak Outdoor Recreation Alliance revealed that locals spend $2.14 billion every year on their activities on trails, open spaces and waters. That’s according to the Outdoor Industry Association report that will be released in its entirety next month, showing spending across the nation’s congressional districts.

The 5th Congressional District, including Colorado Springs, is “an economic powerhouse” for outdoor recreation, said Alex Boian, the association’s vice president of government affairs. “Really, one of the strongest outdoor recreation economies in the entire country.”

In an economy better known for the military, Boian said many might forget the number of servicemen and women, both active and retired, who love the mountains. Local interest in outdoor recreation is likely in line with the 71 percent of Coloradans who participate, the Outdoor Industry Association found, based on an independent firm’s survey of 1,100 people.

“These numbers tell me A, it’s not being paid attention to close enough and B, it’s an underutilized resource,” Luis Benitez, head of the Colorado Outdoor Recreation Industry Office, said after Thursday night’s gathering of outfitters and nonprofits in City Auditorium. “With everything that’s unique around this region, the numbers are a clear indicator there’s more to do.”

He used the example of the Ring the Peak Trail, designated by Gov. John Hickenlooper two years ago as a high-profile project to finish. The loop around America's Mountain is mired in land disputes, but, Benitez said, maybe advocates can make a stronger push with the economic evidence released Thursday.

The Outdoor Industry Association's upcoming district-by-district report will be the most comprehensive yet from the trade group, which continues to demand attention of lawmakers. Outdoor recreation was first recognized in the nation's growth domestic report in 2016 as a $375 billion engine. The Centennial State is a mighty contributor to that, boasting an industry that generates $28 billion in consumer spending every year and creates 229,000 jobs.

Local data could serve as another political tool for the industry, Boian said. The report will come as the association lobbies for the reauthorization of lottery funds to Great Outdoors Colorado, which distributes tens of millions of dollars around the state for initiatives such as Ring the Peak.

Speakers Thursday, including Mayor John Suthers, credited the outdoors for the Springs' nation-leading rise in millennial residents and the population projected to surpass Denver in 2045.

"The state of the outdoors is most definitely strong," Suthers said, "and it's our job to keep it that way."

That will be from a city government that better funds its parks department and a federal government that better funds the U.S. Forest Service, said David Leinweber with the Pikes Peak Outdoor Recreation Alliance. The nonprofit on Thursday launched a website,, aimed at promoting volunteer opportunities and lesser known places.

"The primary goal is to spread people out so we're not all focused on a few trails or a few areas, so that we can actually broaden our reach," Leinweber said.



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USDA Secretary Announces Infrastructure Improvements for Forest System Trails

WASHINGTON, FEB 16, 2018 – U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue today announced the selection of 15 priority areas to help address the more than $300 million trail maintenance backlog on national forests and grasslands.

Focused trail work in these areas, bolstered by partners and volunteers, is expected to help address needed infrastructure work so that trails managed by USDA Forest Service can be accessed and safely enjoyed by a wide variety of trails enthusiasts.  About 25 percent of agency trails fit those standards while the condition of other trails lag behind.

“Our nation’s trails are a vital part of the American landscape and rural economies, and these priority areas are a major first step in USDA’s on-the-ground responsibility to make trails better and safer,” Secretary Perdue said. “The trail maintenance backlog was years in the making with a combination of factors contributing to the problem, including an outdated funding mechanism that routinely borrows money from programs, such as trails, to combat ongoing wildfires.

“This borrowing from within the agency interferes with other vital work, including ensuring that our more than 158,000 miles of well-loved trails provide access to public lands, do not harm natural resources, and, most importantly, provide safe passage for our users.”

This year the nation celebrates the 50th anniversary of the National Trails Systems Act which established America’s system of national scenic, historic, and recreation trails. A year focused on trails presents a pivotal opportunity for the Forest Service and partners to lead a shift toward a system of sustainable trails that are maintained through even broader shared stewardship.

The priority areas focus on trails that meet the requirements of the National Forest System Trails Stewardship Act of 2016, which calls for the designation of up to 15 high priority areas where a lack of maintenance has led to reduced access to public land; increased risk of harm to natural resources; public safety hazards; impassable trails; or increased future trail maintenance costs. The act also requires the Forest Service to “significantly increase the role of volunteers and partners in trail maintenance” and to aim to double trail maintenance accomplished by volunteers and partners.

Shared stewardship to achieve on-the-ground results has long been core to Forest Service’s approach to trail maintenance, as demonstrated by partner groups such as the Pacific Crest Trail Association and the Appalachian Trail Conservancy.

“Our communities, volunteers and partners know that trails play an important role in the health of local economies and of millions of people nationwide, which means the enormity of our trail maintenance backlog must be adequately addressed now,” said USDA Forest Service Chief Tony Tooke. “The agency has a commitment to be a good neighbor, recognizing that people and communities rely on these trails to connect with each other and with nature.”

Each year, more than 84 million people get outside to explore, exercise and play on trails across national forests and grasslands and visits to these places help to generate 143,000 jobs annually through the recreation economy and more than $9 million in visitor spending.

The 15 national trail maintenance priority areas encompass large areas of land and each have committed partners to help get the work accomplished. The areas are:

  1. Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex and Adjacent Lands, Montana: The area includes the Bob Marshall, Scapegoat, and Great Bear Wilderness Areas and most of the Hungry Horse, Glacier View, and Swan Lake Ranger Districts on the Flathead National Forest in northwest Montana on both sides of the Continental Divide. There are more than 3,200 miles of trails within the area, including about 1,700 wilderness miles.
  2. Methow Valley Ranger District, Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest, Washington: Methow Valley is a rural recreation-based community surrounded by more than 1.3 million acres of managed by the Forest Service. The area includes trails through the Pasayten and Lake Chelan-Sawtooth Wilderness Areas and more than 130 miles of National Pacific Crest and Pacific Northwest National Scenic Trails.
  3. Hells Canyon National Recreation Area and Eagle Cap Wilderness, Idaho and Oregon: This area includes more than 1,200 miles of trail and the deepest river canyon in North America as well as the remote alpine terrain of the Seven Devil’s mountain range. The area also has 350,000 acres in the Eagle Cap Wilderness, the largest in Oregon.
  4. Central Idaho Wilderness Complex, Idaho and Montana: The area includes about 9,600 miles of trails through the Frank Church River of No Return; Gospel Hump; most of the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness areas; portions of the Payette, Salmon-Challis, Nez Perce and Clearwater national forests; and most of the surrounding lands. The trails inside and outside of wilderness form a network of routes that give access into some of the most remote country in the Lower 48.
  5. Continental Divide National Scenic Trail, Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado and New Mexico: The trail’s 3,100 continuous miles follows the spine of the Rocky Mountains from Mexico to Canada, including more than 1,900 miles of trails across 20 national forests. The trail runs a diverse route with some sections in designated wilderness areas and others running through towns, providing those communities with the opportunity to boost the local economy with tourism dollars.
  6. Wyoming Forest Gateway Communities: Nearly 1,000 miles of trail stretch across the almost 10 million acres of agency-managed lands in Wyoming, which include six national forests and one national grassland. The contribution to the state’s outdoor recreation economy is therefore extremely important in the state.
  7. Northern California Wilderness, Marble Mountain and Trinity Alps: There are more than 700 miles of trails through these wilderness areas, which are characterized by very steep mountain terrain in fire-dependent ecosystems that are subject to heavy winter rainfall and/or snow. As such, they are subject to threat from flooding, washout, landslide and other erosion type events which, combined with wildfires, wash out trails and obstruct passage.
  8. Angeles National Forest, California: The area, which includes nearly 1,000 miles of trails, is immediately adjacent to the greater Los Angeles area where 15 million people live within 90 minutes and more than 3 million visit. Many of those visitors are young people from disadvantaged communities without local parks.
  9. Greater Prescott Trail System, Arizona: This 300-mile system of trails is a demonstration of work between the Forest Service and multiple partners. The system is integrated with all public lands at the federal, state and local level to generate a community-based trail system.
  10. Sedona Red Rock Ranger District Trail System, Coconino National Forest, Arizona: About 400 miles of trail provide a wide diversity of experiences with year-round trail opportunities, including world-class mountain biking in cooler months and streamside hiking in the heat of the summer.
  11. Colorado Fourteeners: Each year, hundreds of thousands of hikers trek along over 200 miles of trail to access Colorado’s mountains that are higher than 14,000 feet. The Forest Service manages 48 of the 54 fourteeners, as they are commonly called.
  12. Superior National Forest, Minnesota: The more than 2,300 miles of trail on this forest have faced many catastrophic events, including large fires and a major wind storm downed millions of trees in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in 1999. A similar storm in 2016 reached winds up to 85 mph and toppled trees on several thousand acres and made the western 13 miles of Kekekabic Trail impassible.
  13. White Mountain National Forest Partner Complex, Maine and New Hampshire: Approximately 600 miles of non-motorized trails are maintained by partners. Another 600 miles of motorized snowmobile trails are adopted and maintained by several clubs. Much of that work centers on providing safe public access to the mountain and valleys of New Hampshire and Maine.
  14. Southern Appalachians Capacity Enhancement Model, Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia: The more than 6,300 miles of trails in this sub region include some of the most heavily used trails in the country yet only 28 percent meet or exceed agency standards. The work required to bring these trails to standard will require every tool available from partner and volunteer skills to contracts with professional trail builders.
  15. Iditarod National Historic Trail Southern Trek, Alaska: In southcentral Alaska, the Southern Trek is in close proximity to more than half the state’s population and connects with one of the most heavily traveled highways in the state. The Chugach National Forest and partners are restoring and developing more than 180 miles of the trail system, connecting the communities of Seward, Moose Pass, Whittier, and Girdwood.

For more information about the USDA Forest Service visit


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