Small, pink flags lined the faint path through the towering lodgepole pines, where the final portion of the Galena Ditch Trail will connect users from Breckenridge to the Colorado Trail. On Saturday, 128 volunteers worked all day, hammering together bridges, moving large stones, chopping at old stumps and scraping away spongy layers of fallen pine needles.
“It’s all brand new,” crew leader Lyn Formaneck said. “They just stake it out and we start building on top of it. It’ll be great to get this trail made.”
The 3,000-foot segment of trail meanders through a dense forest on a steep slope, overlooking towering piles of tailings from the mining days of the past.
“It’s like playing dot-to-dot, right?” volunteer Billy Goldrick laughed as he scraped a path between the flags. “It goes by fast,” he added. “It’s social. You don’t realize how hard you’re working.”
The crew, helping with Denver-based nonprofit Volunteers for Outdoor Colorado (VOC), is animated despite the tough work and afternoon heat. Many old friends from across the state return on an annual basis, trading jokes and old stories from past projects as they chip away at the trail.
“We have a lot of volunteers year after year,” VOC marketing and communications manager Jessica Frazier said. “It’s their thing.”
Every fall, VOC accepts project applications from managers across Colorado, putting together a plan considering the scope of work and the need for volunteers. The Galena Ditch Trail was selected for this summer’s project, completing a connection between the town and the White River National Forest to the east.
The new singletrack trail will be 18-inches wide, and must be carefully cut into the hillside so it doesn’t wash away.
“The key is putting structural material in and keep water off the trail; that’s our whole goal,” Breckenridge Open Space and Trails specialist Tony Overlock said. “The worst problem is when the water hits the trail and continues to run down the trail. We make a little roof pitch, so when the water hits the trail, it runs off.”
Before the volunteers get their hands dirty, engineers and planners scout the area and pick the best route through the trees.
“You try to keep mellow grades — something that’s going to be enjoyable for all users,” Overlock said. “A lot of the process is walking in and out of the woods and trying to find interesting spots.”
THE ROAD TO GOLD
Though the multi-use trail is relatively new to the town of Breckenridge, miners constructed the flume ditch a century ago to collect water for hydraulic mining in the valley below. Near the base of the trail, the remnants of the Tiger Dredge still float in a small pond.
“We use a lot of that ditch on this trail,” Overlock said. “It’s been there 100 years so it’s gonna last.”
The final section is all new trail cut into the slope, but the existing three-mile singletrack is popular with hikers and mountain bikers. Running along several types of mining remains, Overlock said old artifacts, including cabins, flume gates and mine shafts can be spotted from the trail.
“We’ve been working for over 10 years to make this happen,” he added. “It’s just been a vision of our Open Space program, connecting the town to our national forest.”
Work began in 2012, with a crew from Volunteers for Outdoor Colorado (VOC) cutting the first segment of trail. On Friday, they returned to complete the work they started four years ago.
“It’s a really cool project in the sense that it’s a family friendly overnight,” Frazier said.
The volunteers pitched their tents at the base of the trail, where they would regroup for dinner and music that evening. Throughout the afternoon, Keystone Science School instructors gave kids a tour of the Swan River basin, with a lesson on the environmental effects of mining.
VOC has hosted more than 100,000 volunteers since it was created in 1984. This year, the nonprofit received the El Pomar Foundation’s Award for Excellence.
By the time the volunteers broke for lunch, a bridge had been built, a trail had been cleared and several large flagstones had been hauled up the slope, ready for use.
“It’s amazing, at the end of the day, walking out,” Overlock said.