Trails enthusiasts and supporters of the Women’s Resource Center filled the Durango Arts Center on Tuesday night to hear Gudy Gaskill, the “Mother of the Colorado Trail,” talk about building the 576-mile trail connecting Denver to Durango.
Beth Drum, senior vice president of Alpine Bank, which sponsored several events during Women’s History Month, asked the packed house how many people had hiked to Gudy’s Rest, a well-known spot at our end of the trail. The room was full of raised hands.
“How many of you have done it at 90?” Drum asked, and Gaskill’s lone hand went up. “She said she had to hike up there today to check out the bench. Apparently, we really like to sit on that bench a lot because we’ve gone through three of them.”
Gaskill started by clearing up one fact for the record.
“I’m only 89,” she said.
Speaking without notes about the early days, Gaskill remembered when the trail was originally conceived in 1973. They completely missed the first deadline of 1976, Colorado’s Centennial, when the trail was supposed to be dedicated.
“There was no one on the ground, and an article was written calling it the ‘Trail to Nowhere,’” she said, getting big laugh from a crowd familiar with its own ‘Bridge to Nowhere.’ “I think one of my real accomplishments was being the first woman elected president of the Colorado Mountain Club. It was founded in 1899, and had 5,000 members, and for the first four or five years, I recruited members from there to build the Colorado Trail.”
Her son Steven Gaskill had assembled a slideshow of photographs of the crews working during the decade it took to actually connect old roads, trails and newly constructed portions. The process was hard work, she said, in primitive conditions, but they had fun and great camaraderie.
“I say it was linked in 1986,” Gaskill said, “but it wasn’t really complete until 2000, when all the signage was up, so people could stay on the trail. I took a group once, and we ran into a section with a big tree blowdown, and we had to walk around. I found a trail, and I thought it was the trail – we ended up in a woodcutter’s camp, and it was two days until we found the Colorado Trail again.”
These days, the Colorado Trail counts on volunteers from organizations such as Trails 2000, which maintains 19.1 miles of the two Colorado Trail segments linked by Gudy’s Rest. A trail isn’t static and requires maintenance, she said, whether it’s trails sloughing off the side of a mountain, rockslides or the aforementioned blowdowns. The organization has added almost 80 miles of new trail, including the Colorado Trail’s first loop, so people can return to where they parked their car seeing new terrain all the way. There are also some goals to revise routes to get a couple of sections closer to water.
“I hope you realize here in Durango there’s some pretty nice country in the rest of the state,” Gaskill said. “Although, you’ve got the best.”
During the question-and-answer period at the end of the talk, Gaskill was asked if she is writing or has considered writing a book.
“People keep asking me that,” she said. “But life is so short, and there are so many interesting things to do, so many things to accomplish, I don’t have time for that.”
Visit www.coloradotrail.org to learn more about the Colorado Trail and the foundation that supports it.
Visit www.trails2000.org to learn more about Trails 2000, whose volunteers maintain more than 19 miles of the Colorado Trail and countless other trails in the area.
Visit www.cogreatwomen.org to learn more about the Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame and how to nominate a candidate.
Visit www.wrcdurango.org to learn more about the Women’s Resource Center and its programs of resource and referral, scholarships, low pro bono legal assistance and transition programs for fifth- and eighth-grade girls.