The Dirt Diaries Blog

Donnie Ferns's picture

DIRT CAMP: The Importance of Environmental Education

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alex Hladkyj's picture

The Challenges of Federal vs. State Land Ownership

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jennifer's picture

The Outdoor Recreation Industry and RMFI

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

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

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

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

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


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

Molly's picture

Colorado the First to Designate a State Public Lands Day

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

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

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

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

Joe's picture

RMFI and Public Lands

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


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

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

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

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

City of Manitou Springs
Wildcat Gulch: Flood Recovery Project

El Paso County
Black Forest Regional Park: Fire Restoration Project

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

Federal Level
Bureau of Land Management
Indian Creek Trail Improvement Project

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

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

Jennifer's picture

RMFI 2016: A Big Year in Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Beginning a new citizen science monitoring program.

Final volunteer and worker statistics:

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


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

Haley Leslie-Bole's picture

Trail FAQ's

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Liz's picture

The History and Future of Cheyenne Mountain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jennifer's picture

30 Days of Rock 'N' Roll

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jennifer's picture

RMFI's Office Space in the Old Midland School

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The old historic tin ceilings take you back in time. 

Jennifer's picture

RMFI's Legacy in the Sangre de Cristos

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Blanca Peak and Ellingwood Point. 

Kit Carson Peak.

Jennifer's picture

The Ecological Impact of Rogue Trails

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

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

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

  • Keeping visitors on designated trails and out of protected areas 

  • Reducing habitat fragmentation 

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

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

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

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


Jennifer's picture

Collaboration is Key to Environmental Conservation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Liz's picture

Searching for Roots - Julia Archibald Holmes

My great great great grandfather, Dennis Holmes, had a farm and mill in Holmesville, New York in the mid 19th century. I have his son John’s handwritten account of life on the farm. “We used oxen in most of our farm work. The mowing in early days was done by hand with cythes. I have spread out grass many and many a day after I had turned the cows to pasture.”

“You must remember there was no plumbing in the country houses in those days where I lived. When the dishes were washed the dish water was thrown out onto the grass in front of the house. The privy was nearly a Sabbath day’s journey back of the house—the pig pen was also in that neighborhood. In the winter you can imagine the pleasure it was to go to the toilet.”

“In the corner next to the pantry door was a shelf where the water pail rested. A dipper hung near or most of the time it rested on the water in the pail. Everybody drank from this dipper. Just outside the kitchen door was a large watering trough with running spring water brought by wooden pump logs about ½ mile away.”

I moved to Colorado Springs from the east coast, drawn to the mountains, and had not been here long before I learned that one Julie Archibald Holmes was the first white woman to climb Pikes Peak (that was one of the first things I did on arriving here, too). Julia’s husband, James Holmes, hailed from upstate New York. Surely a cousin of Dennis, making me a relative of the celebrated Julia!

Julia and James were both liberal activists who moved to Kansas to support it as a free state. Julia’s family farm was a meeting place of anti slavery sympathizers in the rough and tumble Lawrence where slavery was fiercely contested. Their home was a station on the Underground Railway. James became closely allied with abolitionist John Brown’s Free State Rangers, and was quite a rabble rouser.

Despite their dedication to the anti-slavery cause, they felt the pull of the west, and joined a Pikes-Peak-or-Bust party headed for the gold camps in Colorado. Julia, a staunch believer in women’s rights, would have none of the hooped skirts and corsets, the de rigueur fashion of the times. She adopted women’s liberation activist Amelia Bloomer’s recommended outfit, a short skirt worn over loose pants, which became known as “bloomers”. Thrilled to be on this grand adventure, and determined to pull her own weight, Julia walked most of the way, and demanded to take her turn at guard duty. Excited to befriend the only other woman of the party, she was disappointed to learn that Mrs. Robert Middleton was appalled by Julia’s ways. “I soon found that there could be no congeniality between us. She proved to be a woman unable to appreciate freedom or reform, affected that her sphere denied her the liberty to rove at pleasure, and confined herself the long days to feminine impotence in the hot covered wagon.”

Julia loved the journey, and after two months they made camp at the foot of Pikes Peak, near the Garden of the Gods. Gold, however, was not to be found, and partly to escape the boredom of camp, she and James set out to climb the peak. Wearing moccasins, and bloomers, of course, carrying a 17-pound pack full of bread, a quilt, and clothing, she spent three days en route and reached the summit on August 5, 1858. It was cold and snowy up there, so they stayed just long enough to write their names on a large rock and write a few letters. No doubt walking across the prairie from Kansas helped get her in shape.

The couple soon headed to New Mexico, and later settled in Washington DC. Julia continued to be a prominent supporter of abolition and women’s rights, organizing national conventions and holding professional positions in the city. No doubt she would be thrilled with our recently announced changes to the $20 bill featuring Harriet Tubman.

Pikes Peak, Garden of the Gods, New York, Washington, DC . . . I love sharing some of the same touchstones as my cousin Julia. Now to do some more research and confirm it is so.

Jennifer's picture

Can Transplanted Willows Help Restore Critical Riparian Areas in the Waldo Canyon Burn Scar?

In January 2016, RMFI began a new pilot project in partnership with the U.S. Forest Service to investigate the role that mature rooted willows can play in helping to restore critical riparian areas within the Waldo Canyon burn scar. In the summer of 2012, the Waldo Canyon Fire burned over 18,000 acres west of Colorado Springs, impacting four major watersheds within the region. Since that time, a tremendous amount of work has been completed within the burn scar by a variety of different groups and entities aimed at stabilizing steep slopes, protecting watershed health, improving drainage, minimizing post-fire storm flows, and catalyzing native vegetation recovery. RMFI has been instrumental in providing hand crew project planning and field crew training and supervision.

As a result of the Waldo Canyon Fire, a substantial amount of riparian vegetation was lost, which has significantly impacted erosion rates and watershed health. Resultant sediment deposition has inundated unburned riparian vegetation within portions of Queens and William Canyons. This residual plant cover is an important component of the mosaic vegetation communities associated with spotted owl breeding habitat. The Waldo Canyon Fire also resulted in a reduction in the extent and suitability of Preble’s Meadow Jumping Mouse habitat within several drainages. In addition, increased peak flows and decreased flow resistance from destroyed riparian vegetation have resulted in an increase in the headward expansion of associated drainage networks.

Riparian areas provide critical ecosystem services. Riparian vegetation including grasses, forbs, and woody plants growing along the edges of ephemeral and perennial drainages is critical for controlling erosion, improving water quality, and providing habitat. Willows are among the most common woody plants found in riparian areas. They are an important source of food and cover for wildlife and their roots help stabilize streambanks, minimizing wind and water erosion.

Willows are commonly used in a number of recovery and resiliency initiatives including post-fire conditions. They can grow rapidly and provide effective soil stabilization along streambanks or in other highly erodible areas. Willows can sprout new shoots from roots and root crowns readily, and their stems possess abundant adventitious buds that have the flexibility to form roots when in contact with saturated soils.

Traditional use of willows in post-fire recovery efforts involves strategic harvesting of dormant willow stems from vigorous healthy willows. Dormant cuttings are then driven into the ground, where they sprout shoots and roots during the growing season. Once established, willow cuttings form a web of fibrous roots that can provide highly effectively soil stabilization. This method is advantageous in that it is quick and relatively easy to accomplish, however, survival rates of cuttings can vary dramatically depending upon environmental conditions. Low survival rates of stakes are often observed in areas where the water table fluctuates resulting in poor soil moisture during the growing period. Monitoring of willow transplants in the Hayman and Waldo Canyon burn scars has revealed an estimated 10% survival rate.

RMFI’s new project seeks to pilot a willow propagation program in high priority riparian areas identified within the Waldo Canyon burn scar where post-fire vegetation recovery using traditional willow staking and other methods have not been successful to improve watershed health and stream function.

In January 2016, RMFI and U.S. Forest Service personnel spent some time in the field harvesting several species of willows off the Pikes Peak Highway. Species included narrowleaf willow (Salix exigua), scouler willow (Salix scouleriana), bebb willow (Salix bebbiana), and Rocky Mountain willow (Salix monticola Bebb). The cuttings were overnighted to the Bessey Nursery in Halsey, Nebraska where they will grow in pots for approximately 4 months. Around the end of May or early June, the plants will be trucked back to Colorado Springs for transplanting in priority riparian areas in the burn scar identified by the U.S. Forest Service. With the help of youth corps crews and volunteers, RMFI will use power augers to plant the willows as soon as the ground has thawed and the spring high water period has passed. The cuttings will be planted to a depth that will allow their bases to be at or near the level of the normal water table.

Two additional components of the project are monitoring the survivability rates of the willow transplants as well as completing complementary hillslope stabilization and erosion control treatments started by RMFI in other portions of the burn scar. Overall, this project will help increase the composition of native riparian plants, vegetative cover, structural diversity, and promote bank and channel stability.

We are very excited about this project and will continue to provide updates through social media and other outlets. We'll also be needing volunteer help and will post those announcements as soon as we can! Finallly, we'd like to send a big thank you to the Colorado Water Conservation Board and the Pikes Peak Community Foundation for funding this important work!

Joe's picture

2015 Retrospective

With each passing year here at RMFI, we accomplish another 'banner year' in the scope of our reach in environmental stewardship. Here is a re-cap of just a few of our achievements from the 2015 field season:

Mount Muscoco Trail: RMFI spent more than 2 weeks working with the Friends of Cheyenne Canon to construct the new Mount Muscoco Trail. The re-route of what was a user-created trail is now easier to follow and less damaging to the mixed-conifer landscape. Topping out at 8,020 feet, the summit of Muscoco is the highest point on City of Colorado Springs property.

Pistol Whipped Trail: After three seasons of work on the new Pistol Whipped Trail, RMFI completed the project to this popular crag at the world-renowned Indian Creek Canyon in southern Utah. This project was old-school RMFI. Climbers, students, and volunteers came from across the desert to rally this project to completion.

Top of the Mountain Trail: The much-anticipated access to the top of Cheyenne Mountain is a step closer to completion after RMFI completed the 3.1-mile Top of the Mountain trail circuit. RMFI will turn its attention to the Dixon Trail in 2016. The Dixon will connect the 'bottom' of the state park to the Top of the Mountain, eventually providing access to the recently completed trail circuit.

Kit Carson-Challenger Ridge Summit Trail: 2015 marked the official start to the multi-year Kit Carson-Challenger Ridge Trail Improvement Project. RMFI ran its trademark Earth Corps program and partnered with the Southwest Conservation Corps for a total of 8 weeks of work on the project. The work RMFI oversees on Colorado's highest peaks is impressive in its scale and ambition.

Garden of the Gods: The decades-long stewardship of the iconic Colorado Springs landscape continued in a big way in 2015. Over the course of 50-plus workdays in the park, community volunteers rallied together to protect the natural amenities of the multi-use east side, as well as providing better access to the classic New Era climbing route on Gray Rock.

Red Rock Canyon Open Space: May of 2015 was the wettest month on record in Colorado Springs. The deluge of rain caused dams to breach in Red Rock Open Space, resulting in damage to trails and meadows. RMFI rallied its dedicated volunteer base to improve the Quarry Pass Trail and Sand Canyon dam breach site. This project was exemplary of RMFI's dedication to the protection of public lands in the region and helped lead to the re-opening of the Open Space in July.

What's in store for 2016? We are busy planning projects and already we are slated for more than 400 field days for the season. That's an increase of more than 67%. We will maintain our presence at legacy sites like Garden of the Gods and Kit Carson, as well as venturing into new public lands like Palmer Park and Ute Valley Open Space. Partnerships with local Friends groups will strengthen, and we are excited to continue to partner with youth corps organizations like Mile High Youth Corps and Southwest Conservation Corps.

For more information about past and present RMFI projects, visit the RMFI projects page on our website.

Jennifer's picture


Thursday, December 17, 2015 began as any other day in the RMFI office. We were all buckling down to finalize and submit the last of our final project reports, and excitedly anticipating the holiday break, time with friends and family, too much food, and some well-deserved rest and relaxation. What began as a normal day became anything but by mid-afternoon when an inconspicuous FedEx package was delivered to our office. Inside the FedEx box was a green and red gift box with a perfectly wrapped bow around it. Inside the gift box was a stack of envelopes. On the top envelope were the following words:

“A Present for your Presence in Our Community. You may not know me, but I know you – and I’m aware of the good work you do. Please accept this check, no strings attached, to move the needle on your stated task. These special funds are yours to spend…for you from me, your mystery friend. Spread the joy and let me know, how you use this dough.”

Grinning from ear to ear and admittedly shaking a bit, we opened the envelope to see a $10,000 check written out to the Rocky Mountain Field Institute. If that weren’t enough, also included in the package were ten $50 gift certificates for each of the RMFI staff that read:

“You don’t know me, but I know you. I see the good work you do. You make our community brighter, oh boy! Please accept this gift and #COSSpreadJoy.”

The final touch was a beautifully written cover letter printed on silver paper that read:

“Why all the mystery? Because I’m not looking for notoriety or attention – I’m just looking for a way to say happy holidays and thank you for a job well done…I hope you will accept these gifts as a token of my appreciation for the tireless work (which oftentimes goes unnoticed) that you and your colleagues do to make our community a better place.”

Nearly 3 weeks have passed since we received the gift box and our overwhelming sense of gratitude, appreciation, and amazement haven’t diminished in the least. In fact, there hasn’t been a day that we haven’t discussed it in the office, the conversation inevitably ending with big smiles on our faces, and our heads shaking in pure disbelief that RMFI was one of the lucky recipients of this remarkable gift.

As a nonprofit, we operate in a unique environment with regard to funding and support. We are dependent upon the generosity of donors, grant makers, volunteers, and others passionate about our mission to make the work we do possible. Our staff works tirelessly every single day because we firmly believe the work we are doing is positively impacting our community and the world in which we live. The simple fact is that this works costs, and without the generous support from those who also believe in our mission and in giving back, our community and our natural landscapes would suffer.

The words “thank you” simply do not seem to fully convey our feelings of immense gratitude and appreciation, but they’re all we know to say. So, to our “mystery friend” – from the bottom of our hearts, we say THANK YOU. Your gift has become a part of our legacy and your story a part of our history. We take your words to heart and will do our part to keep spreading joy in the wonderful City of Colorado Springs and beyond.

Kat's picture

Contextualizing Environmental Management

My name is Katherine Guerrero, acting media intern at RMFI for 2015-2016 and junior at Colorado College. Colorado College functions on the block plan, allocating 3 ½ weeks for one topic, an opportunity for students to fully immerse themselves into respective class topics. My 1st block class was titled ‘Environmental Management,” which allowed an in-depth look into common management strategies and the complicated networks that directly correlate to RMFI’s work with the Waldo Canyon Fire.  Below are my reflections from a site visit to the Flying W Ranch in relation to management and mitigation strategies learned from the course and my time at RMFI.

2012 brought the Waldo Canyon Fire, a forest fire that spread throughout the west side of Colorado Springs, resulting in the evacuation of over 32,000 residents, the ecological disruption of multiple landscapes, and a label as the 2nd most destructive fire in Colorado state history.  The Flying W Ranch, a western entertainment venue, fell victim to the Waldo Canyon Fire, burning to the ground, becoming a site prone to flash floods and in need of intensive mitigation to prevent further environmental disruption. 

My ‘Environmental Management’ course emphasized that management works best as a holistic process yielding to multiple interests and actors, preferring a collective end goal between all parties involved through collaborative management. Collaboration can be defined as “a form of participation where stakeholders are jointly involved in the planning, implementation, and evaluation stages of the process,” encouraging diverse stakeholders to resolve conflict together while understanding the mutual benefits of involved and long-term projects. (Davies 2012).

Management depends on trust and network building to eventually benefit all invested parties. In context with the Flying W Ranch, the landscapes’ transition to a sensitive floodplain with the potential to cause issues in irrigation systems invited community interest. RMFI has stepped in to host collaborative Fire Restoration Skill Trainings for volunteers at the ranch. These collaborations have been hosted by RMFI, the Coalition for the Upper South Platte (CUSP), the Flying W Foundation, and Volunteers for Outdoor Colorado (VOC) with the end goal of restoring burned landscapes in order to keep separate work consistent, current with the latest restoration research, and most effective while building the skills of volunteers who work with all organizations. Regardless of the private label on the ranch land, said irrigation issues could affect the city through sediment backup, flooding, and overall environmental degradation, thus become a larger community interest. Without proper mitigation strategies, the post-fire Flying W Ranch is somewhat of a threat to the surrounding area, highlighting the need for mitigation and restoration of the area. Since the burn, community members have volunteered in conjunction with the Ranch to slowly restore the ranch to its prior glory. Common mitigation methods in the ranch area include braiding, utilizing already available resources as logs for erosion barriers, and creating sediment detention ponds.

As natural with college courses, a majority of our learning revolved around academic articles assessing the weaknesses and strengths of management – in particular, an article authored by Carina Wyborn introduced the idea of scale of an area as a difficult but crucial barrier in collaborative conservation, relevant to Flying W Ranch because of the previously mentioned interconnectivity between direct private land and surrounding communities. Cross-collaboration is crucial to ensure that projects such as the Flying W Ranch are able to expand their reach outside their private land barrier. Organizations such as RMFI help provide the expertise needed for management/restoration in conjunction with government funding/support and an invested community. Without the interconnectivity of public, private and environmental agencies, RMFI included, large-scale projects so deeply integrated to surrounding communities would not be as holistically successful.

If interested in the ideas of ‘collaborative conservation’ and the importance of interconnectivity in management, I invite you to delve into the academic readings cited above:

Wyborn, Carina, and R. Patrick Bixler. "Collaboration and Nested Environmental Governance: Scale Dependency, Scale Framing, and Cross-scale Interactions in Collaborative Conservation." Journal of Environmental Management 123 (2013): 58-67. Web.

Davies, Althea L., and Rehema M. White. "Collaboration in Natural Resource Governance: Reconciling Stakeholder Expectations in Deer Management in Scotland." Journal of Environmental Management 112 (2012): 160-69. Web.

Andy's picture

Fall 2015 Work Making the Incline – Barr Connector Trail More Durable.

Building the “New” Incline Connector Trail in October 2014 was a great project for many, including volunteers hosted by the City of Colorado Springs, Friends of the Peak, Incline Friends, and RMFI. Over the past year many thousands of Manitou Incline hikers have had their chance to wind their way down the connector and have probably noticed recent trail updates as RMFI volunteers and partners, including Mile High Youth Corps and Incline Friends, completed 4 weeks of work in the vicinity this fall. Probably the most apparent update was the installation of 550 linear feet of cedar post and rail fencing along select stretches of the Connector Trail. Other work, such as restoration of many foot-worn areas off-trail and seeding and installation of 2,000 square feet of erosion-control materials, while less visible, was just as important to ensure that the trail does not degrade to the condition Incline users will remember of the rogue “Old” Connector Trail (and calling that a “trail” was probably a stretch!). Special thanks to both Cities of Manitou Springs and Colorado Springs for their support of this project!

It’s common for trail designers and trail-builders to re-visit their new trail after a period of significant use and weather to see how the trail “wears-in” and to evaluate areas that require tweaking or changes as they see how trail users navigate along the trail and how water flows near and on the trail. Often hiker patterns such as “braiding” of the trail can occur where standing water forms or where the intended route is not clearly delineated. Trail crews may install a well-placed drain, improve the tread surface or change the route through braided areas to encourage hiking along a defined path. At times, unanticipated things happen, perhaps the outside shoulder or “critical edge” of the trail may give way under regular use and require installation of a retaining structure to hold tread material in place. RMFI crews constructed three retaining walls these past few weeks in such places.

Other patterns may emerge more as a function of users who are unaware of hiking etiquette or of outright disregard of best practices. The practice of “cutting” switchbacks can be particularly damaging in our region where vegetation along the trail may be stressed by our drier climate and erosive soils. Fortunately, most trail users in our area are quite aware of hiking best practices and are stewards of their favorite trails, even in small thoughtful acts such as obscuring switchback cuts with natural materials or kindly reminding persons in their party to stay on the trail. In areas subject to persistent off-trail cutting, installation of fencing may be required; and this was the reason significant fencing was required on sections of the Connector Trail this fall.

And yet more trail update requirements may be indicated by soil erosion patterns that, sometimes unforeseen, manifest themselves over time and especially around large new structures, such as switchbacks and long staircases. For example, it was not easy to anticipate erosion alongside the very nice long timber staircase the Friends of the Peak had constructed to top-off the new Connector Trail last year. Now that water flow around the steps can be seen, it was possible for RMFI to install small rock checks and to seed and place erosion control matting to protect this structure.

As with many things, time and trial will show where improvements are necessary if we want to keep something in good condition, we just want to get there in time. We are fortunate to have friends and neighbors here ready to help with the necessary improvements and to care for our region’s natural places. Thanks to all the partners who work day in and day out stewarding our treasured parks and open spaces. 

Molly's picture

RMFI Staffer Travels to the NOLS 50th Anniversary Party

This month, on October 8th through 10th, the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) will celebrate its 50th Anniversary with an alumni reunion full of events and merry-making. The celebration will take place in Lander, Wyoming, the school’s home base. In attendance will be Liz Nichol, RMFI’s Office Manager, who completed her first NOLS course as a student in 1967 and went on to work as an instructor with both NOLS and Outward Bound in the 1960s and '70s.  

Introduced to hiking by her father, Liz spent much of her childhood exploring the mountains of Switzerland and England. She attended high school on the east coast of the United States, during which time she was a founding member of the “Walt Whitman Rock Climbing Club” and would go climbing most weekends at Carderock and Great Falls along the Potomac River. It was from a fellow club member that Liz first heard about the brand new NOLS program in Wyoming.

NOLS was founded by Paul Petzoldt, “an Idaho ranch kid who climbed the Grand Teton on a dare, in jeans and cowboy boots, and went on to become one of the first climbing guides in Jackson Hole, was a trainer for the 10th Mountain Division, and helped found the first Outward Bound School in the U.S.” writes Liz about the influential man with whom she worked. Motivated by the challenge he faced in finding experienced leaders for Outward Bound, Petzoldt founded NOLS in 1965 in order to fill this need by offering a well-rounded experiential education program for future wilderness guides and trip leaders. Additionally, with the birth of the Wilderness Act, signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson the year before, Petzoldt knew that the influx of people into wilderness areas would make education in wilderness immersion and conservation essential in preserving pristine wildlands in the face of increased human visitation.

Liz enrolled into a NOLS course in the summer of 1967, following her first year of college, and went back the next two summers to work for NOLS. Liz shared with us her memories of these first few years:

“I felt like I had found my place in the world. Those early days were pretty informal. Paul led one big group into the Wind River Wilderness. We were divided into patrols, and mine was the one girls’ patrol with three boys’ patrols. I think that summer was the first year girls were included at all. We carried old army surplus pack frames to which were strapped three large stuff bags: a polypro sleeping bag on the bottom, clothes & stuff in the center, and food in the top. We would carry about 10 days worth of food, mostly things available in the average grocery store, macaroni, rice, dried potatoes, margarine, cheese, beans, nuts, dried fruit and veggies, “fruit crystals”, Jello, two pounds per person per day. We slept under tarps (no tents, and lots of mosquitos), cooked over fires in a billy can, eating out of an insulating double beer can. Surplus wool army pants and double sweaters (the bottom of one sweater sewed onto the bottom of another sweater to eliminate that midriff gap) were our uniform.

A classic NOLS course is 30 days on a backpack trip in wilderness. Never coming out to civilization, we learned well how to not only survive, but to be competent and comfortable (except for the mosquitoes) out there. Camping, cooking, climbing, fishing, flora, fauna, geology, first aid . . . One of Paul’s great teachings in an emergency situation?  “Sit down and smoke a cigarette” (and take the time to calm down, think things over, don’t act impulsively).

The first course I worked was as an unpaid assistant. The second I worked for my choice of a piece of equipment, and I chose a fishing rod. I think the next course I actually got paid $300."

From 1970 to 1973, Liz took a brief hiatus from NOLS while living in Europe and traveling overland to Nepal. She returned in 1974 when she took the brand new NOLS Instructors Course, and rejoined the NOLS team of instructors. The next several years Liz worked NOLS courses in the Uintah Mountains of Utah, Prince William Sound, and courses with both NOLS and Outward Bound in Baja California and the Gila Wilderness of New Mexico. It was during these years that Liz got to know fellow instructors Scott Fischer and Wes Kraus, which led to her outfitting the food for one of their Mountain Madness trips to Denali, and then to being a member of Fischer’s famous 1987 American Everest North Face Expedition. While on the 1987 Expedition, Liz witnessed first-hand an unfortunate result of increased visitation to the Earth’s highest peak: the accumulation of trash on the mountain. Motivated to take action, Liz organized the Everest Environmental Expedition of 1990, a trip to clean up trash where climbers would camp, and later formed the Everest Environmental Project, a nonprofit organization that ran several subsequent trips to continue this work.

A friend of RMFI’s late founder, mountaineer and environmental champion, Mark Hesse, Liz has been involved with our organization since its early years and has been a staff member since 2003. She currently serves as Office Manager, handling our daily administrative tasks, our financials and bookkeeping, and being the all-around “rock” of the office, holding everything together. Much more than your average office manager, Liz’s early wilderness leadership experience continues to benefit RMFI in a number of ways. Our program staff regularly garners her insight and consultation when we consider taking on new projects, working with land managers and funders, and navigating the logistical challenges associated with our work. Additionally, her passion and enthusiasm to collaborate with others in the land conservation field makes her a magnet for forming beneficial partnerships with interested community members and leaders in the environmental field. 

Although we will miss her warm and magnanimous presence while she is away at the NOLS 50th, we can’t wait to hear all about her trip to see old friends and colleagues back in Lander, Wyoming, the place where it all began. As Liz shared with us, “NOLS was certainly my foremost formative experience, where I met the lifelong friends that many find in high school and college, and where I learned skills and a comfort being out for extended periods in the back country. It is exciting to be heading back to Lander this week to celebrate NOLS 50th anniversary. We old timers will bemoan our surgeries and arthritis, and pass some good stories on to the younger generation.”


Subscribe to The Dirt Diaries Blog