Most Viewed Stories
Fourteeners group dedicated to preserving Colorado mountains, trails
MOUNT OF THE HOLY CROSS WILDERNESS AREA — Every few steps along the rocky, rooty Flat Creek trail up to Notch Mountain and Mount of the Holy Cross, Ben Hanus huddles over his GPS, studying and tapping the gizmo. In 3 miles, he has stopped 165 times.
He looks bafflingly lost.
"I get that a lot," he says, describing how hikers often wave, holler and point to the trail when they see him. "It's way easier to say thanks than explain."
The explanation involves Hanus taking waypoints of trail damage such as erosion and braiding, snapping photos, prescribing remedies to prevent further deterioration, estimating the hours required for those remedies and even noting the distance to nearby stones that trail builders in his wake could use to shore up shifting soil in the tender, above-treeline tundra.
"In a way, I guess I am a trail doctor," says the sustainable trails project coordinator for the Colorado Fourteeners Initiative (CFI).
If Colorado's beloved fourteeners are being loved to death by hordes of hikers — as former Gov. Richard Lamm once grimly warned — Hanus' data will quantify the impact of that loving embrace.
The CFI's new Sustainable Trails project is an ambitious program to document and inventory every step of the 24 heavily trafficked routes the group has rebuilt on 22 of the state's highest peaks. On the state's most hiked fourteener, Mount Bierstadt, Hanus documented more than 300 features that require repair in the first mile of the short trail to the peak.
That data, analyzed in the winter, support how donor dollars and various grants protect the state's most treasured trails. The project provides evidence showing how trails deteriorate under the waffle-treaded stomp of thousands of hikers and how much effort and money is required to maintain what essentially are Colorado's loftiest capital assets.