Did you know that nearly 40 percent of Colorado state is comprised of federal public land, including four National Parks and 41 state parks, eight National Monuments, as well as hundreds of regional parks and open spaces? Public land is part of what makes Colorado’s landscape so breathtaking and lifestyle so rich offering outdoor recreation, wildlife habitats, clean air and water.
Outdoor recreation, much of which takes place on public lands, accounts for more than $13 billion in economic activity in Colorado and supports some 125,000 jobs, according to the Boulder-based Outdoor Industry Association. All of our mountain towns embrace and promote their public lands for outdoor recreation activities. They also work with outdoor-oriented non-profits such as the Colorado Fourteeners Initiative and Volunteers for Outdoor Colorado to help keep their open spaces pristine and environments clean. There are a variety of ways to get involved in celebrating Colorado’s outdoors for everyone to enjoy.
Here Are Some Ideas to Give Back With Colorado Voluntourism Opportunities:
Colorado Public Lands Day (May 19, 2018). Colorado was the first state in the nation to designate a state holiday celebrating public lands, Colorado Public Lands Day. Passed by bipartisan margins in the state legislature in 2016, the holiday will take place on May 19 this year. The state holiday is intended to encourage all Coloradans and visitors to the state to get outside and enjoy Colorado’s unparalleled public lands. Several voluntourism events take place across the state in celebration of the day including river cleanup, trash pickup and more.
Colorado Fourteeners Initiative (Golden). Colorado boasts 58 peaks towering above 14,000 feet, and these mountains are popular for locals and visitors to climb. In an effort to preserve and protect the natural integrity of the state’s fourteeners, the Colorado Fourteeners Initiative began in 1994. Visitors wanting to explore these peaks while also giving back can get involved with the initiative by volunteering on trail construction, maintenance and restoration projects from mid-June through early October.
Trails 2000 (Durango). Trails 2000 is a non-profit that plans builds and maintains Durango’s more than 300 miles of trails. In the San Juan Mountains of southwest Colorado, trails are the number one access point to public lands, offering hundreds of miles of trails within minutes of town. Offerings available to visitors include volunteering at maintenance projects, helping remove deadfall and trail education along with a host of ongoing Public Land Trailwork days occurring throughout the season, which runs March through October.
Vail Nature Center (Vail). Operated by the Walking Mountains Science Center, the Vail Nature Center is a 1940s homestead perched between a mountain meadow and the forested banks of Gore Creek. On top of offering programs such as nature walks and hikes, wildflower walks, art in nature and more, Vail Nature Center hosts a weekly outdoor volunteer project. These projects include invasive species removal, planting native vegetation, trail restoration and more.
Volunteers for Outdoor Colorado (Denver). Established in 1984, Volunteers for Outdoor Colorado (VOC) has been active in motivating thousands of people annually to provide volunteer work for their outdoor stewardship projects from April through October. These projects take place across Colorado and include trail restoration, gardening, ecological restoration, invasive species management and more.
Unique Ways to Experience Colorado’s Public Lands:
Experience a canyoneering adventure in the Uncompahgre National Forest. Local outfitter, Canyoning Colorado, offers canyoning/canyoneering descents and training in the quaint mountain town of Ouray, which has been frequented by seasoned canyoners for years due to its abundance of canyons and waterfalls. Adventurers have the chance to explore eight canyons in the Uncompahgre National Forest outside of Ouray on these expeditions. The tours and training are available to persons with no prior experience. Experienced climbers can take on more challenging tours or join a course to learn to canyoneer on their own.
Catch a glimpse of wildlife on the Colorado Birding Trail. The Colorado Birding Trail is comprised of outdoor recreation sites, hiking or walking paths, both public and private, along a designated driving route across the state. Each driving route offers unique trail names and is composed of several watchable wildlife sites including the Bobolink Trailhead in Boulder, a reliable nesting site for species along the Front Range or the Prairie Canyons Trail just south of La Junta, where visitors can see horned lizards, Cassin’s Kingbirds, roadrunners and more.
Cool off in the brisk water at Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve. Medano Creek in Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve is something of a mystery. Each spring it emerges from the mountains behind the sand dunes to form a wide, shallow and gently flowing stream. Visitors wade into it to cool hot feet after tromping around the dunes, build sandcastles, boogie board and splash around in its rhythmic waves before it retreats back into the mountains just as quickly. The ideal combination of sultry desert and refreshing water is not the Alamosa-area park’s only charm — the dunes themselves are quite bewitching as well.
Marvel at the masonry of Colorado’s ancient people at Canyons of the Ancients National Monument. So adept were the construction skills of the ancient Ancestral Puebloans who lived in southwest Colorado, that parts of their structures still stand more than 700 years later. Those who tour the area’s mesas and canyons today are left to speculate about the purpose of the multistory brick towers. Archeologists think they could have been homes, storage silos for crops, defensive forts or ceremonial structures. Canyons of the Ancients National Monument near Cortez, contains the highest known archaeological site density in the United States, with rich, well-preserved evidence of native cultures.
Utilize new tech toolkits from Colorado Parks & Wildlife. Colorado Parks & Wildlife has launched a fishing App for smart phones that enables anglers to check out mapping information for over 2,000 locations in the state, along with the most up-to-date regulations, details on fish species, seasonal flies, weather and more. A new State Park Pass Online Purchasing System allows travelers to purchase state park passes, make state park camping reservations and buy wildlife licenses online and with their mobile devices.
Raft the tumbling rapids of the Cache la Poudre River. Colorado’s only nationally designated Wild and Scenic River, the Cache la Poudre carves down Poudre Canyon through narrow sections flanked by alpine mountainsides and natural rock cliffs west of Fort Collins. The triumph of paddling over a rapid named Devil’s Staircase is second only to the views and the chance to spot bighorn sheep and deer scampering along its rocky hills. Rafting outfitters guide groups to rapids of all difficulty levels, so everyone gets just the right amount of adventure.
Walk in dinosaur footprints in Comanche National Grassland. Standing in Picketwire Canyon with your foot swallowed by a three-toed impression left in the bedrock by a brontosaurus 150 million years ago, one’s imagination runs wild picturing what it might have looked like when dinosaurs inhabited the area. The canyon was home to a lake during the Jurassic period, and the brontosaurus you’re tracking now used to frolic along its shores. The footprints are reached after a flat five-mile hike, bike or horse ride. Stop at the Comanche National Grassland Office in La Junta for directions to the tracks and to get tips for safely navigating this remote area.
Public Land Community Initiatives:
Palisade Plunge (Grand Valley). Slated to begin construction in 2019 in the Grand Valley’s east end as part of Governor John Hickenlooper’s Colorado the Beautiful Initiative, the Palisade Plunge Trail will allow visitors to mountain bike down a 32-mile trail that starts atop Grand Mesa in alpine tundra and ends up in the high-desert town of Palisade known for its wine and peaches, an elevation drop of 6,000 feet.
Trail Maintenance Endowment Fund (Steamboat Springs). Resident riders and trail-focused guests to Steamboat Springs continue to benefit from new trails created using public funding from initiative 2A. Another notable result is the Trail Maintenance Endowment Fund. This permanent funding source supports specific non-motorized trail and trailhead maintenance projects on public lands within Routt and Moffat Counties. A diverse board determines trail maintenance priorities annually, and land managers use funds to fuel projects.
Whitewater Park (Buena Vista). With the Arkansas River flowing right through the heart of Buena Vista, the quaint mountain town is a hotbed for water sports and boasts one of the finest whitewater parks in Colorado. A brother and sister, who donated the land to the city of Buena Vista as permanent public parkland, saved the property that now holds the Whitewater Park from development. Through state grants, construction began on five water features from 2005 to the present. The park now draws recreational boaters and professional whitewater athletes from around the country.