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Laying the groundwork to protect hidden gems in the West End

With Moab two hours to the northwest, Telluride an hour to the southeast and Durango several hours farther south, the West End is easily accessible to many recreationists seeking new terrain, but it remains off the beaten path for now.

Corbin Reiter

“The West End” refers to a collection of communities in close proximity along the western slope of the Rockies and includes Norwood, Redvale, Naturita, Nucla and Paradox.

Telluride is by far, the most recognizable community in the West End. Most people who visit the area don’t look much farther than this well-known, long-standing, highly developed recreation hub.

The desert trails and climate found around the West End presents a unique recreation opportunity for the area, which has a growing community of recreators who are invested in a more remote and high-skill recreation environment.

The warmer climate of the West End means longer access to trail systems for biking, hiking and off-roading after the more mountainous areas to the east are restricted by snow.

It also means that residents of the West End have more opportunities to get out and do stewardship and education programs that ensure this part of Colorado can remain protected and well-managed even as more people find their way to the area.

Volunteers pick up waste planting cones from a planted area of forest at Dead Horse Point. (Courtesy of Corbin Reiter)

Serving as San Juan Mountains Association’s community outreach specialist this summer in the West End, I have had the opportunity to put together events to help improve some of the public spaces in the area. In August, SJMA partnered with the Norwood Ranger District to host a planting-cone pickup event that removed plastic waste from the forest.

This event included Forest Service and SJMA staff members as well as volunteers from the area who chose to spend time contributing to the health of local public lands. Together, those present filled dozens of garbage bags with plastic planting cones that had outlived their usefulness and were polluting the forest.

As the community outreach specialist for the SJMA in the West End, my goal has been to connect with the organizations and people who are already invested in the West End. This has presented a range of opportunities from creating volunteer opportunities to expanding the reach of Forest Service programming.

The Norwood Ranger District and SJMA have worked together in the West End to put together youth education opportunities through local libraries. Throughout the summer, the Forest Service hosted five youth education events that introduced concepts regarding sustainable stewardship, using public lands and education about public lands in the area.

Volunteers pick up waste planting cones from a planted area of forest at Dead Horse Point. (Courtesy of Corbin Reiter)

The Wilkinson Library in Telluride provided the first venue for this series, hosting four separate youth education events. Norwood’s Lone Cone Library also hosted a youth education event and had the second highest attendance of any library education event hosted this summer.

Going into the fall, the Norwood Ranger District is continuing its youth education programs. As the school year starts, we are engaging with fourth grade classes about outdoor education.

As part of this program, students will attend a series of events sponsored by the Forest Service, and once the students attend enough sessions, they will receive a parks pass and a free Christmas tree.

The West End is an area that has been quietly nestled among other recreation powerhouses. It has massive potential to be a local hot spot that serves high-skill recreators looking to push themselves, but SJMA is helping to ensure that the next generation of residents understands the value and importance of caring for those public lands even as they are discovered.

Corbin Reiter joined the San Juan Mountains Association in 2022 as a community outreach specialist in Norwood. Contact him at creiter@sjma.org.