The Dirt Diaries Blog

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Knowledge Nook: Colorado Christmas Tree in Washington DC

It’s that time of year again; Christmas music is playing in the stores, the lights are up around town, and with white stuff on the ground and with cold morning temps, it finally feels like winter. On December 4th, the Capitol Christmas tree was lit in Washington D.C., a tree that originated from Colorado. The small town of Meeker, CO had the honor this year of providing the tree for the Capitol.  The tree comes from the Blanco Ranger District of the White River National Forest on the Western Slope.

The tradition of providing a tree from one of the nation’s National Forests began in 1970, after the live Douglas-fir tree that was decorated annually was destroyed following a storm. The Forest Service selects 8-10 trees from within the Ranger District and the superintendent of the capitol grounds makes the final decision.

This year’s tree is a 74 year old, 73-foot Englemann Spruce (Picea engelmannii). The tree was cut November 2nd and made stops in 28 different communities in just over 3 weeks along its 5,300 mile journey to the US Capitol’s West Front Lawn. Security not only followed the tree along its route to the Capitol, but 24-hour guards were stationed around the tree from the time it was selected until its removal from the forest. The tree was transported by former CO US Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell in a SmartWay-certified Mack PinnacleTM model.  The MP8 engine with MACK® ClearTech SCR technology found in this truck allowed for a nearly emission free journey across the nation.

Colorado Congressman Scott Tipton and Senators Mark Udall and Michael Bennet joined Speaker of the House, John Boehner during the lighting ceremony in DC this year.  The actual lighting of the tree was completed by a senior from Colorado Springs. In addition to 10,000 low-energy LED lights, nearly 5,000 Coloradan-made ornaments adorn the tree. Each ornament is a symbol of this year’s theme: “Celebrating Our Great Outdoors,” a fitting theme from Colorado!


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Knowledge Nook: Campsite Restoration 101

Wait… why would we ever close and restore a campsite?! Before you go on thinking we’re anti-camping fanatics, hear us out! For over 15 field seasons RMFI has been working in South Colony Lakes Basin, a beautiful alpine cirque basin and designated Wilderness Area home to Humboldt Peak, Crestone Needle, and Crestone Peak. We spent over a decade building a sustainable trail infrastructure within the basin and to the summits of its peaks, and are now focusing on creating a sustainable camping infrastructure.

Over Labor Day weekend RMFI hosted two Colorado College New Student Orientation groups in the basin for 2 days of rock-hauling, dirt-moving fun to restore one of the basin’s undesignated, unsustainable campsites. There are many reasons to close a campsite:

  • Too close to a water source
  • Too close to a trail
  • Poor drainage
  • Lack of solitude and privacy (especially important in Wilderness Areas)

STEP 1: Decompact the soil. This accomplishes two things—it aerates the soil and stimulates the seed bank.

STEP 2: Add supplemental soil. Additional soil is often needed to bring the area back to grade and provide additional nutrients. Depending on the area, we either bring in top soil or we harvest it on-site. It's important to make sure we're never creating a new erosion problem in a different area! A good ol’ bucket brigade will usually get the job done quickly.

STEP 3: Seed. In this area we used Poa alpina, alpine meadow-grass. Be sure to spread seed consistent with the manufacturers recommended seed density. A little usually goes a long way!

STEP 4: Erosion control matting. In the alpine we utilize a coconut-fiber matting that degrades in 7-10 years. In lower elevations we use an aspen-fiber matting that degrades more quickly. Erosion control matting (or “EC matting”) acts as a ground cover and protects seed. Be sure to stake matting so that it stays in place.

STEP 5: Transplant native vegetation as necessary. In the basin, we transplant bunchgrass from nearby areas to the restoration site. Cut holes in the matting, dig a hole in the soil, and insert the plant. As with all planting, make sure you pack the plant tightly in the soil to avoid air around the roots. Never take more than 20% of the vegetation from an area for transplanting. Again, you don't want to create a new problem spot!

STEP 6: Visitor deterrence. To make the campsite inhospitable, rocks and logs were added on top of the matting. The logs and rocks also create microclimates and stimulate the growth of the transplants.

STEP 7: Signage. Signs inform the public to respect the closure of the newly restored area.

In all, Colorado College students restored 2,000 square feet of ground and transplanted 370 bunch grasses. RMFI would like to give a big thank you to our Colorado College students and their student leaders, job well done!

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Knowledge Nook: Sediment-Stopping Superheroes in the South Platte

South Platte Headcut Stabilization

In June 2002, the Hayman Fire burned over 130,000 acres and was the largest forest fire in Colorado history.  Through a partnership with the US Forest Service, National Forest Foundation and the Coalition for the Upper South Platte, RMFI staff and two dedicated, hardworking crews have been building erosion control structures in ephemeral draws on the site of the Hayman Burn, near West Creek, Colorado.

The fire burned in the headwaters of the Upper South Platte River, which provides drinking water for the Denver metropolitan area.  In many areas the fire burned the entire forest over-story and groundcover.  With no vegetation in the ephemeral drainages to hold back the soil, sediment build up in the South Platte drainage has increased dramatically, greatly impacting downstream water sources. It is estimated that sediment flow has increased 19,588 tons/year as a result of the fire.

RMFI, with crews from Mile High Youth Corps and AmeriCorps NCCC, have been combating this sediment deposition by stabilizing head cuts along Trail Creek, a tributary of the South Platte River.  Head cuts are an abrupt vertical drop in a stream or draw.  With no structure to stabilize the soil, head cuts will continue to erode uphill.  To treat the head cuts, the gully below the head cut is filled with logs from dead or downed trees.  Once the head cut is filled to within 90 percent of the bank height, the banks are broken down and drawn in to cover the log structure.  The final step is to seed the head cut with a native grass mix, transplant bunch grasses, and stake down erosion control matting.

The AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps crew is based out of the Denver campus.  The nine-member crew now heads up to Pikes Peak to spend three weeks working in the Severy Creek drainage.  The Mile High Youth Corps crew is based out of Colorado Springs.  We would like to extend a HUGE THANK YOU to the members of these crews and we wish them well in their next projects.

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Knowledge Nook: The Severy Creek Fen

High up on the northeastern flank of Pikes Peak there is a special place of which few people are aware. This place is the headwater area to Severy Creek and it has been recognized by the Colorado Natural Heritage Program for its outstanding biological diversity. Within Severy Creek resides a population of the threatened Colorado greenback cutthroat trout (Oncorhynchus clarki stomias), Colorado's state fish, as well as a slew of other sensitive flora and fauna. Part of what makes this area so biologically diverse is the presence of the largest fen on Pikes Peak.

So, what's a fen?! A fen is a special type of wetland (an area that is saturated with water, either permanently or seasonally). Fens are fed by mineral-rich surface water and/or groundwater. Because of the mineral-rich water, fens are generally more nutrient rich than typical wetlands allowing a greater variety of plants to establish. Another defining characteristic of fens is that they are rich in organic peat matter. Fens in the Southern Rocky Mountains can have a peat thickness of 3 feet to over 12 feet. This is incredible when you consider that on average it takes 1,000 years for 5 inches of peat to develop! The Severy Creek fen has peat deposits up to 4.5 feet deep. A sample of peat from the bottom of the fen was carbon dated and it showed the Severy Creek fen is almost 6,300 years old!

Unfortunately, the wetland area around the fen has been highly disturbed by both natural and human caused events which threaten the future of the fen. Old landslides have buried portions of the wetland and past fires have caused sediment debris flows into the wetland area. However, the most immediate threat to the fen's biological diversity is from the erosion and transport of sediments that have occurred in the area since the early 20th century. This is primarily due to the construction and maintenance of the Pikes Peak Highway in the Severy Creek drainage. Past practices of directing stormwater runoff into the drainage resulted in the formation of several large gullies over one-half mile long. The gullies have contributed to the deposition of approximately 1,147,726 cubic feet of sediment in the wetland area. If piled up, the sediment would form a cone 65 feet high with a radius of 131 feet!

The good news is that this summer we will take the first initial steps to address the threat to the Severy Creek fen. This July, RMFI will be partnering with an AmeriCorps team to begin work on stabilizing the sediments. This is just a small first step in what we hope will become a major effort during the summer of 2013 to protect this valuable natural resource. We'll keep you posted on our progress and let you know of any future volunteer events where you can help!

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Knowledge Nook: The Pulaski

Ed Pulaski

This month we highlight one of the most renowned tools for trail work.  Similar to the McLeod (featured in September 2011’s Knowledge Nook) the Pulaski has its roots in wildland firefighting.  Ed Pulaski was the inventor of this versatile tool.  He combined an ax head with an adze (hoe) to create the Pulaski.  The Pulaski is a favorite tool of firefighters for digging firebreaks, which involves removing vegetation and digging trenches.  The adze is used for grubbing and digging, and the ax is for chopping and clearing roots.

The tool’s namesake was Ed Pulaski, a ranger with the United States Forest Service.  Pulaski is credited with saving 45 of the 50 men on his firefighting crew in the summer of 1910.  During the forest fire known as the Big Blowup, Pulaski and his crew were forced to seek refuge in an abandoned mine.  Due to Pulaski’s quick thinking and knowledge of the surrounding area, all but five men from Pulaski’s crew survived the fire.

The adze of the Pulaski can be used to dig in soft soil, rebuild a trail bench, clear uphill vegetation, or to remove bark from a log.  The ax head is handy for clearing roots.  The Pulaski should not be used in rocky soil or used to pry rocks; a pick mattock is the preferred option for rockwork.   RMFI’s trail projects involve lots of rockwork; hence the Pulaski is rarely used.  The Pulaski is more popular in areas where the soil is less rocky and there are more trees like the Pacific Northwest.

When using a Pulaski, keep your back straight and knees flexed.  Never swing a Pulaski above your shoulder and always wear eye protection to protect against flying objects.  When carrying the Pulaski, hold it with the ax head facing down and away.

Run for RMFI

Thomas and Kalee Ricks courtesy of their website

The father daughter running team of Kalee Ricks and Thomas Ricks are planning to embark on a running challenge this May of truly inspiring nature.  They are going to run/hike the first 1000 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail in 40 days, which means they are moving at least the distance of a marathon each and every day.  To add to the prowess of this physical feat these Colorado Springs locals are running for a cause. They are collecting money through donations on their website to give back to their favorite trail-building non-profit, yours truly, RMFI!!

Those of us here at RMFI rarely get paid compliments on the order of this one and we would like to profusely thank Kalee and Thomas for what they are doing! According to their video, see below, this team has decided to run for RMFI because they have been appreciative of our hard work in the front range for years. If you like what you see here go check out their web-page and maybe even throw a few bucks their way to support their goal.

For more information check out Kalee's training blog.


Blanca Peak: a history and etc.

RMFI began reconstructing the popular summit trail from Lake Como Basin to Blanca Peak (14,345') in 2011. Our goal has been to mitigate environmental degradation associated with the ample foot traffic on this mountain. This  work includes rerouting a trail away from an alpine wetland near crater lake and restoring the many social trails of the area. The work should be completed this year and is part of our Earth Corps program (more details).

RMFI's trail work is simply the latest chapter in the long history of this mountain. The first “recorded” ascent was part of the Wheeler survey. This survey was an expedition lead by First Lieutenant George Wheeler from 1872-1879 with the goal of mapping the SW united states west of the 100th meridian. His team members Gilbert Thompson and Frank Carpenter summited Blanca on August 14th, 1874. Surprisingly, they found a man made structure on the summit.

They were beat to the top, but by whom is still a mystery. Most think that native peoples were first. Either the Ute to use the mountain as a lookout or the Navajo given that this mountain is one of their most sacred peaks. Some even wonder if Spanish explorers may have made the treck.

The Navajo call this mountain Sisnaajini, or sacred mountain of the east. It marks the eastern boundary of the Dinetah, the traditional Navajo homeland. This mountain forms a corner of the third or yellow world and makes in the Navajo “Story of the People”, Dine Bahane, their creation myth.

Our modern world has sidelined such mythical tales but Blanca Peak still holds some wonder. This mountain is the 4th tallest peak in Colorado and the 8th tallest in the contiguous United States. This mountain gets its name as the tallest member of the Sierra Blanca (spanish for “white sawtooth mountains”) a subgroup of the Sangre de Cristo range. This group includes Blanca, Ellingwood Point, Little Bear and Mt. Lindsey and was undoubtedly named due to their year round snow caps. To the west of this peak lies the Great Sand Dunes National Monument.

This mountain is a great summer day climb but takes a couple days and lots of experience in the winter. There are three access points one from Lake Como, one from the Huerfano River Valley and one from Blanca US route 160, for more climbing information visit ( or

This mountain is largely made up of a granitic batholith dated to 1.7 billion years old, or during the late Proterozoic. This rock has been metamorphosed into metagabbro and gneiss. There is some younger Miocene and Oligocene (~25 millions years old) felsic dikes that run through the older rock. This metamorphic character excites prospectors and the remnants of cabins on the mountain speak of the areas mining history.

RMFI is happy to be working on Blanca for another year and hopes to see you all out in the alpine treading lightly this summer.

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Knowledge Nook: Aldo Leopold... Father of Restoration?

As we all know, restoration is a big part of what RMFI does with our sweat equity. We’ve led the push to restore social trails and gullies in places such as Garden of the Gods, and played a big role in large-scale restoration projects in the Hayman Burn Area and on Pikes Peak. We all know it makes sense now, but when did this idea of restoring wild places back to their pre-human conditions first come about?

Many people believe that Aldo Leopold was one of the first to consider restoration a land management tactic. Best known for his classic book A Sand County Almanac, Leopold took a landscape approach to land management, linking conservation science, policy, and ethics in an effort to ensure the future health of land and water. An avid hunter, Leopold utilized A Sand County Almanac to communicate the true connection between people and the natural world, knowing the only way to protect the land is to foster an ethic for it.

Though at the time ‘restoration ecology’ was not part of land management jargon, it can be argued that Leopold was thinking that way before most. In one proving example, Leopold oversaw the Coon Valley erosion control project run by the Soil Erosion Service, whose goal was “not just to save soil, but to reverse the tradition of disintegrative land use that wasted it in the first place.” He also led the creation of the University of Wisconsin Arboretum “… to reconstruct … a sample of what [Wisconsin] looked like when our ancestors arrived …”

Though he might have been cutting edge in realizing the need for restoration, Leopold first and foremost believed in protecting the land and said, “there [are] no miracle cures for the symptoms of ‘land pathology’… [That] the only effective treatment was preventative.” This is a lesson that we can all learn from, knowing that while restoration is necessary, it’s easier on the body and on the land to not harm it in the first place.

From A Sand County Almanac:

"This sounds simple: do we not already sing our love for and obligation to the land of the free and the home of the brave? Yes, but just what and whom do we love? Certainly not the soil, which we are sending helter-skelter down river. Certainly not the waters, which we assume have no function except to turn turbines, float barges, and carry off sewage. Certainly not the plants, of which we exterminate whole communities without batting an eye. Certainly not the animals, of which we have already extirpated many of the largest and most beautiful species. A land ethic of course cannot prevent the alteration, management, and use of these ‘resources,’ but it does affirm their right to continued existence, and, at least in spots, their continued existence in a natural state. In short, a land ethic changes the role of Homo sapiens from conqueror of the land-community to plain member and citizen of it. It implies respect for his fellow-members, and also respect for the community as such."

Kellogg-Ahlberg Desert Adventure Program

Some Stunning scenery from the 2011 Trip. Cedar Mesa, Utah

Since 2001, RMFI has partnered with Colorado College students to offer a 5 day service learning opportunity that involves trail and restoration work in the magnificent Canyonlands region of Utah. In 2008 this program added an adventure driven back-country experience with 5 days of canyoneering and backpacking. This all happens over spring break and this year RMFI is embarking on the 11th annual expedition.

This program provides an educational experience that inspires outdoor appreciation and stewardship. These goals are central to the RMFI doctrine and are accomplished by RMFI staff and Colorado College students through several steps. First we “put our backs into it” through trail maintenance and construction. We then give the students a chance to serve as crew leaders with students from Montrose High School. And, during the 5 day backpacking trip, RMFI staff teaches map and compass and leave no trace techniques while educating on the challenges facing federal and private conservation initiatives.

2011 program alumni Karen Ritland had the following to say about her experience,  “I think that any person who enjoys hard work and good company would have a great time on this trip. It's also not the typical spring break option, it is a great outreach program that combines new opportunities with volunteering and is a model that should absolutely be considered by more non-profits. I would absolutely suggest this trip to others, after Spring Break I felt great about how much I accomplished.”

Over the years this program has provided an estimated 80% of the labor for our work in Indian Creek climbing area Utah. This work, as is our druthers, focuses on making popular climbing areas sustainably accessible through the construction of built-to-last trails and staircases and the closing of social trails.

RMFI is proud of our continued commitment to education and outdoor stewardship and would like to thank Colorado College, The Ritt Kellogg Memorial Fund, Jerry Ahlberg Outdoor Education Fund, the Bureau of Land Management and the CC Outdoor Recreation Club (ORC) all for their continued support regarding this program.

RMFI partners with Sunflower Market for tasty Saturday Afternoon Event

This upcoming Saturday, the 28th of January, RMFI and the local branch of the Sunflower Farmer's Market ( are partnering to offer you, the incredible public, the perfect winter lunch. What is that you ask? Well, grilled cheese and tomato soup of course! (for only $3). Eager RMFI volunteers will be cooking and serving you the food at Sunflower's 1730 Dublin Boulevard location.

So, if combining some Saturday shopping with lunch sounds good stop by from 11:30am to 2pm. While you dine make sure to pick up a RMFI brochure, chat with the volunteers about why RMFI is so great, about what this organization is all about or about anything that pops into your head. Three Colorado College students will be manning and womaning the event along with one community volunteer and are all (including myself) looking forward to meeting, serving and talking to you.

If Sunflower is a common shopping stop for you then you already know all about the excellent prices and selection, if not then this is the perfect opportunity to check it out. Sunflower market has found financial success by following their motto “Better-than-supermarket quality at better-than-supermarket prices”. Sunflower keeps overhead costs down by following better business practices that eliminate the cost of the middle man creating savings that they pass onto you. On top of all that Sunflower also hosts awesome events like this one.

Hope to see you there this Saturday!

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Knowledge Nook: RMFI turns the big 3-0

Early work at Indian Creek Canyon, Utah

2012 marks RMFI's 30th anniversary. We've come a long way in our 30 years. Throughout 2012, we'll chat about our history and key projects over the years. Pull up a chair, pour yourself some coffee, and settle in to hear our coming of age tale:

Founded in 1982 as the American Mountain Foundation, the Rocky Mountain Field Institute was originally established to provide funding for international climbing expeditions. During the mid-1980s, AMF Executive Director, and climber and mountaineer, Mark Hesse began to notice the environmentally degrading impacts of climbers and other recreationists. He observed that these beautiful and treasured landscapes were quickly at risk of losing the very characteristics that drew people to them.

In 1989, Mark catalyzed a group of friends and fellow climbers and began building trails and restoring impacted areas in Indian Creek Canyon, an internationally renowned climbing mecca in the dramatic desert landscape of Utah. Over the next decade, Mark and volunteers protected acres of sensitive terrain by closing roads leading into side canyons, establishing a sustainable trail and camping infrastructure, and raising the awareness of climbers and land owners in the area.

In addition to Indian Creek, Mark focused his early efforts on climbing areas in Colorado, such as Eldorado Canyon, Shelf Road, and Fourteener summit trails including Mt. Huron, Mt. Belford, Humboldt Peak, and Crestone Needle. In 1997, acknowledging that the organization's priorities were now fully focused on environmental stewardship, the board changed the name to Rocky Mountain Field Institute, or as insiders call it, RMFI (pronounced "Rim-fee").

Mark is still involved with RMFI and currently sits on our board. He can often be found on the trail as well, especially at some of his favorite project sites including Indian Creek Canyon and Shelf Road, moving rocks and building impressive rock staircases. 

Photo: Early work at Indian Creek Canyon, Utah

Trust Yourself to Follow LNT practices

A long long time ago on a mountain a stones throw away. (Circa 1890)

Winter is a dark time for RMFI. Imagine the first scene of “The Empire Strikes Back”, the Imperial Walkers are coming and our Ton-Tons are about to freeze, along with out hands and shovels and any drive to do trail maintenance, let alone request the help of volunteers (playing the Jedis of course).  The rebels are about to give up the fight against imperial erosion, I mean everything is covered in snow anyways, we can walk as our snowshoes and skis see fit, freedom like the Old Republic!

This freedom is, however, just never complete (shake fist at sky). In the winter footprints may be illusory, melting away with the spring, but that does not mean that Leave No Trace codes do not apply. In fact the winter has many special aspects to take into consideration.

  • Avalanche Danger: Make sure you know the avalanche conditions of where you are going and how to assess and deal with those conditions as they arise and change. Leaving yourself and all your gear buried in the snow is far from LNT. It costs others time, money and stress and is not worth the risk of whinging it.
  • Animal Sensitivity: Animals are much more stressed in the winter in terms of food and shelter. Harassing and surprising animals, forcing them to use precious calories, can have serious negative effects. Show your love and leave 'em be.
  • Trail Disappearance: Perhaps we can't leave footprints in the winter but that also means that trails disappear - making it easier to get lost. Bring a map and know where you are going. Don't make some cozy ranger leave his post to organize a rescue.
  • Fires: Dead, dry, downed and burnable wood is particularly hard to come by in the wet winter, upping the temptation to cut or break limbs of deadwood. Remember this is NOT considered LNT. The importance of bringing a stove for cooking is particularly important. As is bringing plenty of warm layers.
  • Be polite to others: Sound carries extra well over the stark winter landscape, so keep those voices down. Also, don't camp right next to the trail just because there is a flat spot, move away a respectable distance.

Maybe those of us here at RMFI must struggle with purpose during the winter but for all of you skiers, snowboarders, ice-climbers, fishers, snowmobilers and other winter enthusiasts there is still the LNT ideal to live by. It's nice to see a springs free of trash and human waste so, as always, pack it out if you pack it in (or if biodegradable, hide really well). And when Spring 2012 roles around we will join the cause once again, wield our shovels and buckets with pride and start the yearly cycle of sustainable enjoyment of the outdoors once again.

Brrrr....but never fear Shelf is Here

The weather, it seems, has finally turned to winter on us. The speed at which 60 degrees switched to 20 makes the head spin more than a doubly exposed belay. And in a not so clarifying prospect this wintery weather is also bringing an end to the climbing season in our snowy state. Well, an end to lot of our climbing. But as many of you know some of the best sport climbing around is accessible and bearable (temperature wise) year round. I am talking about the Shelf Road Recreation Area outside of Canon City, one of RMFI's long time projects.

We started working there in 1991 and have continued our efforts over the last 20 years at making this stellar series of limestone cliffs accessible and sustainable. As a location where climbers of all skill levels can have fun this locality receives lots of traffic, with more and more numbers every year. Curious climbers wander off trail and up slopes to get at that new crimpers and that, on top of shear numbers, means the battle with local erosion is a continuous one.

This year RMFI spent four days working on the Gallery Wall, Mural Wall and Cactus Cliff trails as well as the Sand Gulch Campground. We anticipate spending even more time here in 2012. We work at Shelf Road to make sure that climbers and the environment can exist sustainably together and feel confident that visitors appreciate our services. Our work makes the access easier, the day more fun and the conscience cleaner. Climbers help out by volunteering their time, by staying on trails and by donating money. So, if you climb at Shelf, have some bum nephew that climbs at Shelf (bum in a lovable way) or feel this area postively impacts your life in some other way, go check out to shoot some money our way so we can continue up-keep of this great area.

The weather for this weekend looks less than stellar but if you are aching for some sport climbing action head down to Shelf sometime this winter and remember RMFI's work. Mountain Project ( has weather, climbing and guidebook information for the rookie. We hope to see you there and thanks for any donations!

Happy Thanksgiving!!

This might seem slightly melodramatic but in this day of fast cars and video games, of TV and the internet the great outdoors is beginning to feel more like a lost family member every year. The outdoors is a force for peace in many of our lives because of beautiful climbs, calming hikes and that feeling you get when the last sigh leaves your body and it is just you and the woods, or the desert, or the mountains. That feeling is what RMFI is dedicated to preserving and we could never do it without help. This blog is a bit of a list to show off all the great work our volunteers and donors have done this year. It is the thanks we would like to give on this day.

In the 2011 work season RMFI enjoyed the help of 1,197 volunteers who worked 197 days on trail and erosion maintenance in 10 locations donating a total of 18,758 hours. A condensed list of accomplishments  is as follows.... 

  • 5,394” of trail made and improved, including...
    • 2,419” of summit trail up Blanca peak, Colorado's 4th highest
    • 1,500” of trail to 4x4 wall in Indian Creek
    • 500” at both Shelf Road and Fountain Creek,  250” at Garden of the Gods (Upper Loop Trail), 150” at Beaver Creek WSA and 75” at Signal Butte
  • 11 acres of restored area, including
    • much of Central Garden, with help from the City who made fences to make the work enduring
    • large scale alpine restoration on Pikes Peak at ~13,000” after the brand new paved road was built

That is the boots on the ground, shovels in the dirt accomplishments of our volunteers. We thank you and we know that your friends, family and fellow outdoorsmen, and women, do as well. But this thank you note would be far from complete without a shout out to some of our new and old donors and supporters.

So thanks to the Fountain Valley Youth Philanthropy Program ( for choosing RMFI as the recipient of $1000, to Craft Lager Fest ( for our brand new partnership and to Mountain Chalet ( for their continued support including all the proceeds from the Banff Film Festival. We would also like to thank the Access Fund ( for their collaboration with out hands-on trail workshop, funding for the restoration of the Garden, their help with RMFI's Adopt-a-Crag event at Shelf and for letting RMFI present at their conference.

Thank you to everyone for all your help and we sincerely wish you an excellent winter of skiing, snowboarding, ice climbing and snowshoeing, of enjoying the stark beauty of snow, naked trees and strong winds.

Green Toolbox brings up issue of Institutional Memory

"Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”  ---- Brundtland Commision

The wisdom of the above ideal is central to the current dogma of the conservation movement. Four separate yet overlapping strategies for achieving this goal locally, with emphasis on public access and experience in our beautiful outdoors, made up the panel discussion entitled “The Green Toolbox: Strategies for Conservation, Restoration, and Sustainability in the Pikes Peak Region”. This took place Tuesday evening on the Colorado College Campus. The panel featured representatives from the Trails and Open Space Coalition (, the Rocky Mountain Field Institute, the Catamount Institute ( and the Palmer Land Trust (

From lobbying for the creation and upkeep of parks and open spaces, to educating the youth and public, to doing the work needed to ensure sustainable trails these four conservation non-profits approach the issue of sustainability from very different angles (check out their websites for details). However, the solution to the challenge in the above quote consistently included, but was not limited to, you, me and us. The people who want to ensure beautiful parks and open spaces for future generations should give time and money to organizations dedicated to just that while pressuring their politicians to do the same.

Instead of focusing on the details of the discussion, this blog will begin to address a question that was asked as the event wound down. What about Institutional Memory? Without a knowledge of how our parks have been shaped and about past legal issues surrounding this shaping current conservation efforts are missing a piece of their own story. This blog will start with “deep history” (deep is relative here) and just give some foundational background.

Our first parks benefactor was, of course, General Palmer. This Quaker raised prohibitionist and philanthropist eventually donated over 2,000 acres of land as parks to this budding city. Which is a substantial chunk of the original 10, 000 acres of land he acquired to found the city in 1871. Acacia Park, Monument Valley Park and Cheyenne Canyon (to name a few) all have some land courtesy of William Jackson Palmer.

The theme of giving was continued by the family of railroad tycoon Charles E. Perkins, who was a personal friend to General Palmer. After purchasing the Garden of the Gods as a summer home in 1879 Perkins instead opened it to the public. Upon his death in 1907 he had not explicitly expressed his desire to make the sandstone icons a public park. (In fact his ownership stymied efforts to make the area a National park in 1866). However, his children ensured the ultimate fruition of his wish and Garden of the Gods has been officially free to the public since 1909. Congrats to the Perkins for starting a legacy that was named one of 10 “Great Public Spaces” of 2011 by the American Planning Association (

Over the course of the winter we hope to publish a series of blogs that will tell the full tale of Colorado Springs Parks. If you know of an interesting story or theme or simple anecdote related to this issue please contact Sam at [email protected] or 425-681-7592 so we can include it on the website.

Sources (Check 'em out for More information) (General William Jackson Palmer)

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Successful Fall Social

Last night (November 10th) the third Annual Rocky Mountain Field Institute Fall Social went off without a hitch thanks to your attendance and good spirits! This event is designed to bring together and thank all the volunteers, funders, partners and field staff that made 2011 such a success.

We'd also like to give special thanks to Garden of the Gods Visitors Center for providing the venue (, La'au's Tacos for providing food (, Picnic Basket Catering for desert (, Coaltrain Wine and Spirits for a keg (, Craft Lager Fest for some great Warning Sign Beer ( and some killer bluegrass by the Mitgaurds ( Without your help the Social would just have not been the same.

After an hour and a half or so of socialization, eating, drinking and listening to music the collection of volunteers, RMFI community partners, board members, employees, friends and family were shepherded into the theater. Those in attendance heard from Executive Director Becky Reed, Program Director Joe Lavorini and Board President Ian Kalmanowitz about the goings on of this successful year.

Honors were given to two 'super' superstar volunteers, Travis Clawson, who works at the Air Force Academy, and Terry Deaton, a member of Trout Unlimited, for their strong positive influence on RMFI as volunteers. Bob and Elly Hostetler, president Ian Kalmanowitz and Kurt Schroeder, the Parks Operations and Development Manager for the City of Colorado Springs, were also awarded honors for their continuing support and philanthropy concerning RMFI. The presentation was followed by a lively five minute slide show of photos from the past year.

Other event highlights included an Indy Give station that earned RMFI a whopping $650 on the night, bumping us from 5th to 3rd in the Environmental Category. Several pictures from the year that were just begging for humorous captions. As well as advertisement for the upcoming Environmental Symposium entitled “The Greed Toolbox” that will be held at the CC campus this coming Tuesday (see calender for details).

An extra special thanks goes out to Sydney Leichliter, one of our CC work study interns, for her tireless work getting donations and planning the event. Thanks to all those who came and helped out we hope to see you again next year!

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Knowledge Nook: Storing Your Tools For Winter

Shovels in storage

Just as you should properly store your skis for summer and your tent after a big backpacking trip, your hand tools need attention too! Keeping your shovels, picks, and rakes clean and properly maintained ensures they have a long and healthy life. Follow these tips as you get ready to hibernate your tools for winter.

1. Clean Me: Get all the dirt, dust, and mud off your tools, paying special attention to the "business end" (e.g. the head of a shovel, the tines of a rake, or the pick or adz of a pick mattock). Spraying the tools down with a hose works well. Be sure to fully dry any tools before storing, or risk cultivating a layer of rust.

2. Oil Me: Any wood-handled tools should be oiled before storage. This moisturizes the wood and prevents cracking or splitting. RMFI recommends linseed oil.

3. Sharpen Me: During the course of a busy field season, shovels, picks, and rakes become dull and can form burrs in the metal. For heavy duty tools (pick mattocks), RMFI uses a bench grinder to get them back to top notch shape. For lighter duty tools (shovels, rakes), RMFI uses hand files to remove any burrs or deformities that may have formed during the season.

4. Tighten Me: Loose heads on shovels, rakes, or picks should be tightened. This extends the life of the tool and ensures the safety of the tool user.

5. Replace Me: Sometimes you just have to say goodbye. While we hate getting rid of an old or broken tool, if you have a shovel, pick, rock bar, or bucket that is grossly deformed (one too many 200 lb rocks moved) or broken, it might be time to part ways. Safety should always be your top priority, so if you have a tool that compromises your safety, GET RID OF IT!

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IndyGive Starts Today: RMFI Goal = $5000

The Independent newspaper of Colorado Springs has invited RMFI back to participate in their annual IndyGive with 48 other local nonprofits ( This outreach program is designed to provide locals an easy way to give money, stuff and time to these organizations. The Independent feels that it is only fair for the people to give back to the organizations that play such important roles in the community. This program runs from November 1st through December 31st, 2011.

IndyGive has not only streamlined the giving process with a user friendly interface but they have partnered with local businesses so that those of you feeling generous enough to donate at least $33 can GET COOL REWARDS ( RMFI also has been rewarded a generous $1000 matching grant from Bob and Elly Hostetler if we reach our modest goal of $5000. Throughout the course of the charity drive “Friendly Competitions” between organizations will be going on. Right now through November, 27th is the Early Bird Competition, with up to $1500 on the line, which encourages out of the gate donations.

RMFI is a non-profit that moves a lot of dirt and lots of rocks in the area in order to assure the sustainability of some of your favorite outdoor locations such as Garden of the Gods, Fountain Creek and Shelf Road. If you appreciate the work of RMFI and their ~1000 yearly volunteers and can spare the money head to the website and click on “make a Donation” and under the subheading of “Environment” give to RMFI. We will use your money to to sustain our beautiful, local outdoors.

Whether you want to give to RMFI or another organization this drive is supporting our community in a grassroots way that allows you to decide where your money deserves to go. Check out!!

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Knowledge Nook: Erosion Control 101

A heavily-eroded trail in Garden of the Gods

You may be wondering is erosion really that bad?! It's a natural process, right? RMFI's trail and restoration work at sites throughout Southern Colorado focuses on mitigating and controlling erosion. Erosion control is the effort of preventing soil loss by erosional forces such as wind, water, and recreational use. Erosion causes all variety of environmental outcomes including vegetation loss, vegetation inundation, water pollution, soil loss and gullying. While erosion is a natural process (eg the Grand Canyon), accelerated erosion caused by human impacts can result in the degradation of environmental resources.

Common human-caused sources of erosion that we see include the proliferation of undesignated social trails, poorly constructed designated trails, and poorly engineered drainage structures which inadequately address water runoff. So what's the big deal? It's all about the vegetation. Vegetation provides critical soil stabilization with its roots. Once plants die by boots, soil loss, or sediment inundation, there is no longer a root structure to keep the surrounding soil in place.

We mitigate erosion by building structures (check dams and other detention structures) to stop the movement of soil, restoring gullies and social trails by bringing them back to grade, and revegetating bare areas with seed and transplants.

Moral of the story? Stay on designated trails! Don't cut switchbacks! Build only sustainable and well-designed trails! And don't crush the vegetation! Remember, erosion doesn't need any help.

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Knowledge Nook: McLeod Rake

No, it's not a "McCloud." Yes, we will give you extra points for saying the name with a Scottish accent during our workdays. The McLeod was originally intended as a fire fighting tool for raking fire lines. Now, it is a common tool for trail and restoration work in mountainous areas in the American West. It is a heavy duty rake with large metal teeth on one end of the head, and a hoe-like edge on the other.

When do we use it? All. The. Time. Commonly referred to as a "grubbing" tool, we use it for decompacting soil, smoothly out tread, and raking debris. It is also super useful for tamping and compacting soil. Some think it's an awkward tool to transport. However, our love of this multi-purpose tool has overridden any complaints of its transit issues. Just remember to NOT carry it on your shoulder. Keep it at hip level, tines down all the time.

So, what's with the name?! It is named after Malcolm McLeod, a US Forest Service ranger for the Sierra National Forest, who invented it in the early 1900s. Around the same time, Edward C. Pulaski is credited with inventing another significant fire fighting tool, the pulaski.


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