Local author updates family trail guide

JIM HAUG/Durango Herald

The trail to Potato Lake is popular among families with young children because it is only a mile long and leads to a lake with beach. Kids also like the lily pond near the parking area. It’s one of the trails featured in Best Hikes With Kids: Colorado.

By Jim Haug Herald staff writer

Maureen Keilty gave birth to her son Niko the day after she completed writing the manuscript for Best Hikes with Children: Colorado.

Niko is now 21 but still is exerting an influence over a book now in its fourth edition and slightly retitled as Best Hikes with Kids: Colorado, published by Mountaineers Books.

Her son is a kayaker. Not coincidentally, Keilty included a new section on river trails.

As she traveled across the state with her husband, Dan Peha, the book photographer, she noticed many cities have developed trails much like the Animas River Trail in Durango, often with amenities such as interpretive signs, picnic areas and put-in spots for kayaks.

It might seem “preposterous” that river trails are a new development, but it’s as if cities are awakening to the recreational opportunities of their rivers after viewing them mainly for industrial and transportation purposes.

“Every city is embracing their waterway,” she said.

The trade-off is that Keilty worries about her son kayaking through the rapids: “Every mother’s nightmare,” said Keilty, who is based in Durango.

As a guide, Keilty has a lot to say about the common missteps that can turn a pleasant Sunday afternoon hike into any parent’s worst nightmare of unhappy and petulant children.

Not that family disasters are all bad because they often make for good stories and bonding moments, but Keilty encourages parents to think of their children first when planning the family outing.

“Make it fun,’ she said. “Too often, parents think ‘Oh good, I can get a workout and get the kids outside.’ Sorry, it doesn’t work that way.”

The parent has to put the child first, always encouraging and finding entertaining activities along the trail. Inviting a child’s friend along is a subtle way to encourage good behavior because a child won’t want to whine in front of his or her peers.

Because her trails are aimed at kids 12 and younger, Keilty prefers short-distance trails without steep climbs. They usually are well-established.

“I’m not out to expose any secret getaways,” she said.

In the course of updating her book, Keilty said she and her husband “clocked 2,000 miles on our tires and 200 miles on our feet.”

She found some trails by asking around at local coffee shops.

“We were like hunters on an expedition. We came back with some real trophy trails,” Keilty said.

Many are conveniently near cities, so parents won’t have to hear kids asking, “Are we there yet?”

She recommends the Rocky Mountain Arsenal Wildlife Refuge outside Denver for the great fishing, such as “pole-bending catfish,” as well as its exhibits on its past as a Cold War-era arsenal.

She likes to pick trails with names that play to children’s imaginations, such as Sharkstooth near Mancos.

Interviewed recently on the Potato Lake Trail, Ben Ziercher and his 4-year-old son Bennett and 2-year-old daughter Callie were living up to the lifestyle of Hikes with Kids.

True to the book’s recognition of river recreation, they spent a Saturday floating on a raft on the Animas River and then went on a Sunday hike on the mile-long Potato Lake Trail, also known as Spud Lake.

“It’s not too long and not too steep, and not too far of a drive from town,” said Ben Ziercher, who was carrying Callie in a pack.

The trail is about 28 miles north of Durango on U.S. Highway 550, followed by a right turn on Lime Creek Road for another 3˝ miles.

Be advised, however, that Lime Creek Road is an unpaved, rocky road that would make a difficult ride for any vehicle other than a four-wheel drive.

Hikers park near a lily pond at the trailhead, which is an attraction in itself. Ziercher’s kids wanted to take pictures of it for their mom, who was taking a class.

Keilty recommends the trail for the sightseeing such as the beaver dams. It’s also destination hiking because the trail leads to a picturesque lake with beach-style wading for swimming.

“I know the kids like water,” Ziercher said. “It makes it nice to have a goal to get to.”

jhaug@durangoherald.com

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