Face caked in dirt and glistening from sweat, Sarah turns to me and says “this is the best milkshake I’ve ever had.” She, Dom, and I laugh and let out a synchronized sigh of sweet relief. We have just completed 4 days of new trail construction on Camp Elevation in the Midland Hills of Buena Vista. We decided that our drive home to Salida required a stop for frozen treats at infamous Kay’s on Highway 24. Nothing tastes better than ice cream after a week of summertime trail work.
Many moons ago, during my crew member season with Southwest Conservation Corps, Colorado Mountain Club’s trail designers, Todd Loubsky and Brinkley Messick lined my team out with the task of building the first half of the Camp Elevation trail. It was my first time doing trail work and I remember being so excited to not only be on my first project, but to also have it be on a trail that I was looking forward to riding in my free time. Now here I was, two years later having completing the second half of Camp Elevation. This time while being employed by the designers of the trails themselves.
The two years in between these sessions at Midland Hills have treated me and my trail building career well. I have learned better techniques for swinging a double jack, how to effectively manipulate boulders with a rock bar (or two or three) and have bulked up the muscle and stamina to do all of the above more efficiently. Something that has stayed exactly the same during this interim however, is my passion and excitement for this trail system and for field work in general.
Completing Camp Elevation this week was such a great reminder for me of just how important and appreciated this work is within Chaffee County, the state of Colorado, and America as a whole. Every single day that my crew was working hard, dripping in sweat and covered in dust, we saw curious members of the public stop and ask us what we were up to. Everyone was so excited over the opening of a new trail to enjoy. We saw hikers, runners, mountain bike riders, and horseback riders. All users alike were ecstatic to have a new trail to explore, to learn, and to love. In an area with no shortage of recreation enthusiasts, the release of miles of new fun seemed to be news worth buzzing about.
Our final day on trail was immensely satisfying. As we punched through the last few hundred feet of trail to connect both ends to existing trails and trailheads, the public swarmed by to get their first look at wicked rock features, beautiful winding trail, and humbling panoramas of the Collegiate Peaks. We received countless fist bumps, high fives, “thank yous!” and snippets of feedback. To put your blood sweat and tears into a project and then watch your community reap the benefits and appreciate your work is incredibly satisfying. Perhaps equally as satisfying as hopping on my bike after work to shred the trails myself.
I meandered through Fist Full of Dollars, laughed through our new and old sections of Camp Elevation, and then smiled the whole way down Bridge to Bridge into town to grab a milkshake with my coworkers. With a day, week, month, and two years worth of personal progress and hard work behind me, I couldn’t help but feel lucky to have had a tiny part to play in what was and will continue to be a hugely impactful, joyful experience for many Chaffee County residents to come. Cheers to all that made this project come to life, and cheers again to all who will enjoy it.