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Our View: Service as simple as picking up a shovel

No need to look far to lend a hand

Talk about hands-on community service, we so appreciate Jim Shadell shoveling the Sky Steps, as reported in The Durango Herald on Jan. 5. We all have our favorite volunteer efforts. Some are regularly scheduled gigs. Others are spur of the moment, like Shadell’s. Doing something in our own neighborhood – Shadell lives near the steps – that benefits one person or a bunch of them is especially inspiring. It proves we don’t have to look far to lend a hand. Sometimes it’s as simple as picking up a shovel.

Note, we said simple, not easy.

Shadell is 77. He’s obviously fit but has back problems. Walking the Sky Steps from the downtown neighborhood to Fort Lewis College is a nice workout. Shoveling them is a whole other category.

Shadell has been shoveling the steps for about four years. Previously, he volunteered with Trails 2000 – now Durango Trails – so he already has that muscle memory, work ethic, and volunteer and community spirit. Shadell said this kind of task is “kind of in my blood.” Still, the fact that he’s putting his might into this effort – partly out of need, partly concern for public safety – serves walkers, runners, tourists, commuters and students without vehicles, just trying to get where they need to be.

We can’t minimize this fact. Many students have to choose between paying for housing or a car – they can’t do both. They rely on the Sky Steps as a veritable roadway of sorts. For many locals, the steps are an asset of importance.

So many, in fact, we were curious about the actual number. According to Durango Trails, there is no trail counter. When the Sky Steps opened in June 2017, the organization estimated 100 users a day. On a nice day, we’d bet good money the number is much higher.

On a wintry day, as Shadell walks with his shovel toward the steps, he experiences twinges of trepidation. Can he get the job done? Some days are easier than others, depending on how many users have already packed down the snow. He has different tools for the job – a snow shovel, an ice chipper, a broom – depending on conditions.

“I used to do the steps all in one day,” he said. “Now, I get a third or a half of them done. Any steps can be pretty dangerous. I get a little exercise. It helps me out as well as the community.”

The news story about him has garnered some attention, maybe more than Shadell would like. “People are making a big deal of this,” he said.

He’s quick to note, he’s not the only person shoveling the steps. He doesn’t know fellow shovelers’ last names, but they are united in their purpose. “Other people have the same attitude,” he said. “They see a job and it needs to be done.”

We’re wondering whether they need sponsors to bankroll shovels, brooms and thermoses of hot tea, and provide work jackets with something like “Steps in the Right Direction” across their backs.

Shadell and his cohorts’ efforts inspire us to take a closer look around us. What needs to be done in any given moment?

Americans are historically a generous lot. Case in point, the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Multiple faith-based groups from around the U.S. – including Colorado – traveled down and were at the ready to rebuild and help out where necessary, while government agencies fumbled and tumbled. Right now, Southwest nonprofits and their supporters are wide reaching in assisting those who need it. And many health care providers at the Southern border are working under wretched conditions because they answered a calling.

Efforts don’t have to be grand. They just have to amount to something.

We’ve all heard about the benefits of community service – the sense of purpose and new likeminded friends. But sometimes the work is quiet and backbreaking. The goodwill it generates, though, is infectious.

Thanks to Shadell shoveling the Sky Steps, maybe one person will make her way to her job easily and on time. At the top of the stairs, maybe she will take in that view, stunning and sweeping, that orients us to this place and why we live here, and, possibly, be moved to also notice some work that needs doing.

Jim Shadell clearing Durango’s Sky Steps of ice and snow. (Garret Jaros/The Durango Herald)