With recreation on Colorado’s trails predicted to reach record levels for the second year in a row, the need for dedicated stewardship is greater than ever before.

The National Forest Foundation (NFF) is proud to announce the fifth year of the collaborative stewardship program, Find Your Fourteener. Through partnerships with the USDA Forest Service, local non-profits and communities, Find Your Fourteener will continue to address much-needed trail stewardship and ecosystem restoration on Colorado’s peaks over 14,000 ft (“Fourteeners”).

Four years after the start of the Find Your Fourteener program, the COVID-19 pandemic halted the normal lives of Americans. In response, Americans turned to their public lands for respite, relaxation, and exercise. “An all-time high 415,000 hikers climbed a Colorado Fourteener last summer,” said Lloyd Athearn, executive director of the Colorado Fourteeners Initiative. “This was a 44 percent one-year increase and an 18 percent increase over the prior high season of 2018. With land managers already predicting another record-breaking recreation season in 2021, the need for stewardship and protection of Colorado’s Fourteeners is more urgent than ever.

Photo by Kellon Spencer

Crews working on Kit Carson and Challenger Peaks

Find Your Fourteener joins local stewardship non-profits, community volunteers, and businesses in protecting the trails and ecosystems of Colorado’s Fourteeners for generations to come. While Americans are increasingly turning to their public lands, Find Your Fourteener partners are working to ensure the increased recreation is met with lasting stewardship.

The NFF is pleased to report two new efforts are beginning this year, including trail work on Mt. Wilson in Southwest Colorado. After several years of careful design led by the USDA Forest Service's Colorado Fourteeners Program in partnership with the Colorado Fourteeners Initiative, the first year of work on the Mt. Wilson trail begins in 2021. Colorado Fourteeners Initiative in partnership with the Ancestral Lands Conservation Corps will lead on-the-ground work. The approach trail on Mt. Wilson was never planned or built and is purely the result of many hikers traveling the same route over time. This has resulted in a multitude of social trails covering the ridgeline, causing erosion and heavy impacts to the fragile and unique alpine ecosystem. The Mt. Wilson area also contains several rare plants, which are further endangered by meandering hikers.

“Partnerships with organizations like the Colorado Fourteeners Initiative and the National Forest Foundation provides for quality and sustainable recreation opportunities that might not otherwise be possible. By leveraging the resources available to agencies, the partners have increased agency capacity by engaging multiple partners to achieve a common goal.”

Derek Padilla, Dolores District Ranger, San Juan National Forest

Loretta McEllhiney, Colorado Fourteeners Program Manager, added, “All of the partners are excited to get this project underway. We are especially excited to be joined by the Ancestral Lands Conservation Corps as a new partner. This is a highly technical and logistically difficult multi-year project. The project focus in 2021 will be split between the lower portions of the North Slopes approach to Mount Wilson and a short reroute around Navajo Lake to protect the lakeshore and sensitive alpine wetlands. The climb to the Mount Wilson summit is a Class 4 technical route with considerable exposure and rockfall potential. The trail being addressed will not go to the summit. The goal of the project is to provide a single sustainable trail and protect sensitive alpine habitat on the lower portions of the mountain leading to the more technical sections of the summit approach.”

Thanks to support from the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Non-Motorized Trails Program, as well as several philanthropic foundations and individuals, including the Chrest Foundation, partners will make a multi-year effort to delineate the Mt Wilson trail, building a clear and stable route for hikers and thus discouraging social trails and the resulting damage.

Individuals who are interested in contributing to Fourteener stewardship can donate any amount at nationalforests.org/fourteener. Your contribution makes lasting Fourteener stewardship possible. Find your Fourteener to steward, to protect, and to sustain in 2021.

National Forest Foundation