Colorado outdoor organizations work together to address mounting trail needs on Fourteeners

In 2017, the National Forest Foundation (NFF) invested nearly $500,000 on three Colorado 14,000-foot-peaks (“Fourteeners”) in desperate need of sustainable trails – Mount Elbert, Pikes Peak and Quandary Peak. 

The investments are part of a new campaign, Find Your Fourteener, which launched earlier this year to improve sustainable recreation by fixing the damage from eroded, gullied, and braided trails, improving and restoring fragile alpine habitat, and creating trail systems to enhance outdoor experiences for hikers and other outdoor enthusiasts. 

In 2018, the campaign will continue to improve sustainable recreation opportunities on Colorado’s Fourteeners through the development of new partnerships and capacity in order to increase the pace and scale of on-the-ground trail improvement projects. 

In 2015, the Colorado Fourteeners Initiative (CFI) released peak report cards for Fourteeners based on extensive foot-by-foot trail surveys. Mount Elbert’s East Slopes route received an overall “F” grade and was among the three worst routes in the state. Based on the documented trail damage, surging visitation and opportunities to address needs through creative trail building approaches, the NFF, U.S. Forest Service and partners chose Mount Elbert as one of three initial statewide priorities for the Find Your Fourteener campaign. Quandary Peak’s East Ridge trail and the Devil’s Playground trail to Pikes Peak received similar low grades – yet visitation continues to increase.

Trail Crew working on Mt. Elbert in 2017.

Groups, including the CFI, the Rocky Mountain Field Institute, Colorado-based youth corps, and many other conservation and volunteer organizations, are collaborating in new ways to leverage organizational strengths and more strategically address the needs of Fourteeners across Colorado. 

This collaborative partnership between the NFF, Forest Service, and Colorado outdoor organizations is a new model that will do more to keep Colorado’s beloved Fourteeners healthy and accessible as year-round popularity and use continues to increase dramatically.

"The newly established ‘Find Your Fourteener’ campaign demonstrates our shared values to protect and preserve Colorado’s iconic 14,000-foot mountains. The ongoing partnership will allow us to enhance visitors’ access by creating sustainable trails that are well-suited for the fragile alpine environment."

Forest Service Fourteener Program Manager Loretta McEllhiney

“The first year of the Find Your Fourteener campaign injected needed funding, fostered new approaches and generated considerable enthusiasm that allowed Colorado Fourteeners Initiative to significantly boost project work on two of Colorado’s highest-use 14ers—Mount Elbert and Quandary Peak,” said Executive Director Lloyd Athearn. 

“CFI and youth corps crews cut more than two miles of trail on Elbert and opened the first of three bypasses on the route. That allowed volunteers to begin the long, but necessary process of closing, stabilizing and restoring a particularly steep section of the old, user-trampled trail. The Quandary Peak trail benefitted from extensive work from trailhead to summit. And, new ways of engaging long-time partners and the enhanced enthusiasm about the project boosted CFI statewide volunteer trail stewardship days by 25 percent—much of which occurred on Elbert and Quandary—from what had been a previous all-time-record for the organization.”

Jennifer Peterson, Executive Director of the Rocky Mountain Field Institute, noted, “Colorado’s 14,000 foot peaks continue to see increased use from visitors across the globe desperate to stand atop the summits of these iconic mountains. With this increased use comes increased degradation to the surrounding natural resources. Balancing outdoor recreation and resource protection is critical in these fragile areas, and can be achieved through the construction of sustainable summit routes that avoid sensitive areas and effectively define the usage corridor." 

"Support from the NFF through the Find Your Fourteener campaign has not only increased the pace and scale of Fourteener work being done across the state, but has also provided the platform to support increased collaboration among several outdoor stewardship groups working together toward common goals.”

New steps constructed on the Quandary Peak Trail.

Rebecca Davidson, Director, Southern Rockies Field Program, shared the National Forest Foundation’s enthusiasm: “We are inspired by the collaborative and innovative ways that our partners have come together to increase accomplishments on Colorado’s Fourteeners. The Find Your Fourteener campaign is testing a new stewardship approach, where the outcome is added miles of sustainable trail maintained or constructed, increased capacity to restore degraded fragile alpine habitats, and getting more boots on the ground through volunteerism and collaborative efforts. The National Forest Foundation is proud to be a part of this monumental effort, and excited about the 2018 field season.”

National Forest Foundation