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Working Towards a Trash-Free Colorado Trail

Written by Grounds Keeper Leland Kolson

After leaving the Appalachian trail in early July, I was lucky enough to have a little extra time and money to hit the Colorado trail. It made sense, the northern terminus is practically in my back yard. I worked through the month of July to avoid the monsoon season and hit the trail first week of August. It was my hope that the trail would be spotless but this is far from a perfect world.

My first campsite had about 5ish lbs of trash. A piled up fleece blanket caught my attention so I went and grabbed it and noticed a campsite down a small hill, completely trashed. Tuna packets, snack wrappers, egg shells, cigarette butts, dispensary containers, dog shit, human shit, so on and so forth. They left a container full of toiletries and electronics as well. By the time it was clean night had fallen so I called it a day. Over the next 100 miles on the way to Breckenridge, I collected 16.3 lbs of trash, most of which I believe was from the same folks that trashed my first campsite. Lots of old rusty cans, bullet casings and glass as well.

After leaving Breckenridge the trail was really clean until I got within a day of copper mountain ski resort. In one day I picked up something like 12.3 lbs of beer bottles littered along side a bike path and a road crossing. Luckily it was all within a few miles of trash cans.

Since that last large of hoard of trash, the trail has been absolutely beautiful and clean. After leaving copper the big alpine passes have become more and more regular. So much wildlife running around. Bull moose feasting in swampy areas, marmots and pika getting ready for the winter up in the alpine, elk bugling every night to the glowing moon.

Before arriving in twin lakes for a few days off with some family, I ran into the tail end of the Leadville 100 races. Along the flagged route that paralleled mie, I must have picked up 300 of the little energy goo tabs that the runners prolly lost along the run. Understandable but still.  The day after I met an old trail runner out picking up all the flagging tape and glow sticks along the route. I stopped and talked to him and offered to snag anything he might have missed.

Three days after arriving in twin lakes, I got back on trail feeling strong and rested after some really nice time off. Walked around twin lakes and headed into the collegiate peaks wilderness on the west side of the collegiate loop. While I was up there I did not see a single piece of trash in 80 miles! I did find an old poncho that I thought was lost but ended up belonging to a nobo hiker who was pooping just feet off the trail. I'll spare you the details but it was the strangest interaction I've had with anyone on trail.

The high passes gave way to rolling hills and isolated dirt roads, that were nowhere near as clean as the wilderness I just walked out of. Little pieces of stuff everywhere but nothing super substantial. Along several of the roads, Native American artifacts were littered everywhere, small pieces of tooled stone. Modern hunters and still hunting elk in the same places native Americans used thousands of years ago.

Thankfully, the dirt roads ended and the mountains resumed again. I'm nearing the end of the trip, only about 120 miles left. It's starting to get cold, I've been snowed on several times, waking up covered in frost some mornings. I'm don't want the trip to be over but at the same time I'm tired of being cold and wet. A few zero days here in lake city and I'll be ready to push for the finish line. Maybe a few more, the draw of an upcoming wine and music festival is starting to suck me in. Wish me luck.

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