The Highest Calling, Colorado's Fourteeners
The Colorado Fourteeners Initiative takes care of our peaksby Amy Masching
With 54 mountains rising over 14,000 feet in elevation, Colorado is home to more summits above 14,000 feet than any other state in the nation. More than just scenic, these mountains represent a significant percentage of the alpine ecosystems found in the U.S., and they provide an important watershed for the region. As word of the beauty and recreational opportunities offered by Colorado’s “Fourteeners” has spread, their popularity has grown exponentially over the past few decades. These peaks now host an estimated 500,000 hikers and climbers each year— that’s one million hiking boots!
People who venture up the Fourteeners usually are hiking on a “social trail”— a user-created trail that formed over time from people hiking in the same place. Because the alpine tundra above treeline is so fragile, it doesn’t take much to create a social trail on these peaks. Five footfalls can be enough to kill certain species of alpine plants, which then can take centuries to recover. Most social trails on the Fourteeners follow the fall line, taking the most direct route to the summit; this allows water to flow down the newly-denuded area, creating erosion gullies that can be up to 100 feet wide. Once extensive trail braiding and large erosion gullies develop, the mountain’s ecosystems and habitat have been severely damaged.
That’s where the Colorado Fourteeners Initiative (CFI) comes in. Since 1994, CFI has been working to protect and preserve the natural integrity of Colorado’s Fourteeners through active stewardship and public education. CFI’s mission can be divided into three main components:
- Sustainable trail construction – Together with the land manager (usually the U.S. Forest Service), CFI will delineate a trail that can handle heavy foot traffic and shed water without eroding.
- Restoration – CFI attempts to mitigate areas that have been damaged by erosion and vegetation loss through various restoration techniques—such as re-seeding with native seeds, planting tundra plugs, or placing willow wattle check dams—as approved by the land manager.
- Education – Through clinics, presentations, trailhead kiosks, a Peak Stewards volunteer program, CFI’s website, and publications, CFI informs the public about how they can minimize their impacts and help preserve Colorado’s highest mountains.
To accomplish all of this work, CFI relies heavily on volunteers. Individuals or groups who are interested in giving something back to the Fourteeners are encouraged to check out CFI’s website at www.14ers.org for information on the five volunteer programs offered by the organization; the website also contains route updates, recommended routes, and other information about CFI. You can also get in touch with them by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org or calling 303-278-7525. They’d be happy to hear from you!