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Volunteers for Outdoor Colorado has busy year ahead following trail overuse, wildfires

Apex Trail
Posted at 5:08 PM, Apr 26, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-26 21:12:12-04

DENVER -- There's been no better way to take a break from the pandemic and its isolation than getting out and enjoying Colorado's outdoor beauty.

But nature can only give so much before it needs its own break.

"What the Fourth of July used to look like, a Memorial Day used to look like, when everybody went out for the weekend outside, that was ... every weekend and almost every day during the pandemic," Ann Baker Easley, CEO of Volunteers for Outdoor Colorado, said Monday.

Her group's ongoing goal is to keep our parks and trails in good shape. But it's been hard keeping up with trail overuse, not to mention the wildfires that damaged some of our favorite spots.

"Pre-pandemic, we were averaging about 5,000 volunteers a year. Last year, we only could really engage about 800 because of the pandemic," Easley said.

One of the biggest issues they'll tackle this year is erosion -- both from the fires and people. For example, many trails have widened because of people practicing social distancing.

Peter Ammons, a mountain biker who visits Colorado's trails at least three times a week, has noticed the changes.

"There maybe has been a bit of an uptick in some of the erosion I've seen on some of the trails, but the key there is just having people volunteering and getting out there helping maintain them," he said.

That's what Volunteers of Outdoor Colorado is gearing up to do. The group already has about 80 projects lined up this year, a similar amount to pre-pandemic years.

This past weekend, some of its volunteers were at the Shambhala Mountain Center, a victim of the Cameron Peak Fire.

Easley, who is retiring from VOC on Friday, says her group should operate this year the way it did before the pandemic.

"We have waitlists on our projects, so we know that people care about this and want to get involved," Easley said.

If you'd like to get involved, join the waitlist. Easley says people sometimes drop out of projects they've signed up for months in advance.