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Volunteers the ‘backbone’ of Durango Trails, director says

Trail awareness, stewardship education efforts increased since 2020
Mary Monroe, executive director of Durango Trails, said “trails connect us in profound ways” and its partnership with the city of Durango goes back farther than the city has had a parks and recreation department. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald file)

When the COVID-19 pandemic befell the world, people took to the great outdoors for relief and much-needed fresh air. Durango was no exception.

According to 14ers, the online resource all about Colorado peaks exceeding 14,000 feet in height, approximately 415,000 people hiked Colorado’s 14ers in 2020, a 44% increase in activity in one year’s time.

In a brief update to Durango City Council on Tuesday, Durango Trails Executive Director Mary Monroe said trail use in Durango has continued to increase since the pandemic.

With more trail use comes the need for more educational efforts, which Durango Trails has bolstered in the form of television public service announcements and print ads in partnership with Visit Durango, the area tourism office, she said.

In the summer of 2021, Durango Trails launched its Durango Trail Love campaign, a seasonal endeavor to encourage “share the trail” and “leave no trace” ethics, according to Durango Trails’ website.

“We’ve hired trail ambassadors to be present at trail heads to help welcome and educate trail users and provide interactive maps and social media updates about seasonal wildlife closures, updated connections and shared trail and leave no trace ethics,” Monroe said.

The nonprofit works every year with Fort Lewis College, Durango Devo, businesses and other groups to promote trail projects and stewardship.

Durango Trails has aided in securing easements on Durango Mesa with the Pautsky family and built trails such as the Telegraph, Sendit and Crites trails in Horse Gulch over two decades ago, Monroe said.

The nonprofit raised $55,000 to help the city acquire its first open space at Overend Mountain Park, she said.

It helped the city put together its first bike-to-work day, created the initial SMART 160 Trail plan and helped negotiate an easement with Jack Dalla for access to Extended Ridge, among just a few projects.

In 2023, Durango Trails was involved in every major open space network project, Monroe said. That includes the demonstration trails built in Horse Gulch and the Telegraph connector trail to Durango Mesa Park, where a bike park is scheduled to be built this year.

“Volunteers are the backbone of our organization,” Monroe said. “And Durango Trails manages over 500-plus volunteers each season with over 40-plus volunteer projects. In addition, we have a volunteer coordinator and work with the city to manage public volunteer requests.”

She said trails are “an economic engine, providing quality of life for residents” and part of what makes Durango home.

“It’s placemaking. The trails are a major draw for those who value the outdoors and active lifestyles,” she said. “As an extension of placemaking, it’s community and connection. And we find ourselves and others and make lifelong friendships. It’s (an) adventure, taking in views and marveling at wildlife.”

The nonprofit started in 1990 as Trails 2000. It rebranded itself as Durango Trails in 2020, the same year COVID broke onto the scene, to celebrate its 30th anniversary, Monroe said.


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