Volunteering in the Great Outdoors 

Photo: courtesy Colorado Fourteeners Initiative

Photo: courtesy Colorado Fourteeners Initiative

Five Opportunities to Give Back While Enjoying the Colorado Sunshine

By Steve Graham

With springtime underway, you are probably planning your summer outings and adventures. And you might be thinking about how to spend your volunteer hours. Well, your summer outings can also be your volunteer hours. Get out in the Colorado sunshine and spend time this summer building trails, educating hikers and patrolling parks. Here are five great volunteer opportunities in the great outdoors.


Help elk and camp with the family

Volunteers for Outdoor Colorado (VOC) runs volunteer projects all over the state. The projects range widely in length and difficulty, but one of the first projects this year is a nice introduction to outdoor volunteering and trail work for the whole family.

Families are invited to camp in the Baca National Wildlife Refuge with VOC on May 18 and 19. Kids ages 6 to 11 will enjoy educational and fun activities led by the VOC and the Alpine Achievers Initiative. Children 12 and older will work with adults to build the first public trail in the refuge while also removing old barbed-wire fencing to help protect resident elk from injury.

Click here to sign up for the project, or check out dozens of other opportunities on the VOC website. Note that many weekend projects fill up early, especially those easily accessible from the Front Range. April, May and June projects are open for registration now. Registration opens June 1 for popular July and August projects.


Spend National Trails Day in Lost Creek

While VOC groups drop in wherever they are needed, the Colorado Trail Foundation (CTF) organizes volunteer trips on just one trail. Between April and August, the CTF works on various sections of the legendary cross-state hike, including a June 1 to 5 trip into the Lost Creek Wilderness. The project, which coincides with National Trails Day, is focused on improving drainage in an eroding trail segment. The campsite is about four miles from the Rolling Creek Trailhead, so it’s an unusual opportunity for a supported group backpacking experience. Another option for checking out the CTF is a one-day drainage project at Tramway Creek. 

There are also women-only CTF projects and projects ranging up to eight days long. Click here for more details on all the summer projects.


Photo: courtesy Colorado Fourteeners Initiative

Photo: courtesy Colorado Fourteeners Initiative

Adopt a piece of the Continental Divide Trail

For a more independent and sustained form of outdoor volunteer work, become a Continental Divide Trail Coalition adopter. These ongoing volunteers take responsibility for monitoring and maintaining a trail section at least twice a year. No trail maintenance experience is required, but adopters must be fit enough to hike long distances, lift rocks and perform other tasks. Adopters must also attend a one-day training session, with both classroom and field portions. Ongoing adopter tasks include building drainage, adding signs and markers, removing berms and clearing corridors.

Click here for more information on the program, and to see a map of available trail sections.


Be a fourteener steward

As the resident and tourist populations of Colorado grow, the summer crowds on our highest peaks have also grown very quickly. Plenty of Colorado residents and visitors are empowering themselves to climb Colorado’s 54 fourteeners — the mountains that reach above 14,000 feet. As a certain superhero said, with great power comes great responsibility. The Colorado Fourteeners Initiative (CFI) trains peak stewards to help hikers and teach them about Leave No Trace practices, so that all of the crowds minimize impacts on the beautiful mountains. Stewards also track visitor numbers and actions for the U.S. Forest Service.

Stewards must attend a one-day field training that includes information about alpine plants and animals, Forest Service regulations, Leave No Trace practices, specifically for the fourteeners, and visitor contact skills. Trainings are held early in the season on Mount Bierstadt, and stewards work all over the state. They must commit to at least four days per season on the mountains, and the biggest need is on Front Range peaks on busy summer weekends.

Click here for more information. The CFI also runs single-day and multi-day trail construction projects on the mountains. Because of the high alpine nature of the work, projects only run from mid-June through early October.


Collect data in parks

Data science is the hottest thing right now, and some parks agencies provide opportunities to become a type of data scientist. Jefferson County Open Space (JCOS), for example, has a volunteer data team to collect and analyze information about visitors and animals in JCOS parks. 

Data team volunteers conduct visitor surveys and help with trail camera field support and data analysis. With many urban and low-elevation parks in the JCOS system, volunteers can work on the data team year-round, and must work at least 30 hours per year.

The general JCOS volunteer application period closed on March 1, but the agency is still accepting applications for the data team. However, trainings are required and are only offered between March 21 and 28. Click herefor more information about the data team and a range of other JCOS volunteer opportunities.