Long Awaited Dixon Trail - Part 2
Q & A with Volunteer Kevin Mallek
By: Amber Inthavong
Photos: Kevin Mallek
What motivated you to get involved in the trail build?
“Convenience with a similar intensity of the Manitou Springs Incline. I enjoy hiking the Manitou Springs Incline, but, it's about a 30-minute commute from my home whereas the Dixon Trail is only a 5-minute drive. When I heard about the Dixon Trail being 10 years in the making, I was eager for it to open. Instead of waiting and complaining, I researched what I could do to help speed up the completion. It was sort of a rabbit hole trying to find a point of contact, but I eventually was put in contact with Molly Mazel from RMFI (Rocky Mountain Field Institute), and she was extremely helpful! Molly provided a report and a lot of background about the trail and introduced me to their website where I could complete a volunteer application and calendar where I could register for the days I was interested in volunteering.”
What did it take to figure out how to get involved?
“It was difficult, but I was new to this kind of thing; hence other newbies might not know of these opportunities with better marketing like apps and blogs. After reading an article found while doing an extensive Google search on the Dixon Trail in February 2018 and shotgunning out emails to several organizations, I reached out www.trailsandopenspaces.org, and they wrote back to me within a week or so stating "We can not do construction until spring and our private property easement purchase is complete. If you want to volunteer on the trail crew, please fill out the application that you can find on our website by clicking on the volunteer icon." I also received a response from Volunteers for Outdoor Colorado who recommended the best way for me to assist would be to contact Cheyenne Mountain State Park or Rocky Mountain Field Institute, as they will be hosting volunteer workdays to finish up the Dixon Trail. When I reached out to RMFI, they wrote me back in March 2018.”
At his point, Kevin was advised by Molly Mazel, that she was unsure when or if they had opportunities for volunteers to join the project yet. So she added Kevin to a receiving list for email newsletters to ensure he would be informed when an opportunity might arise. Kevin took the initiative as a Colorado Springs resident ready and willing to get involved. He adds that shortly after being added to the newsletter list,
“I read an article on March 8th, which stated the easement was finally purchased for $12,000, so I emailed Molly about the great news, and she responded within a few days that she’d finalize the schedule of volunteer workdays to finish the trail and stated it would occur on weekends in August and/or September.”
Clearly, finding out how to get involved took a lot of patience, research, and communication. But once schedules were finalized, Molly communicated at this point that volunteers were able to choose from 2 single day projects or 1 weekend overnight, in August.
What did you learn during the trail build?
“Various trail tools and how to use them along with the steps involved with building a sustainable trail. We were building a 24-inch trail.
You use the pickaxe to create your "inside edge" and the mcleod to rake up the pine needles or soften the ground, then the shovel to broadcast what is raked up, down the trail.
Then you come back with the flat edge of the pickaxe to level out the path and make the sloping side. It's also essential not to step on the critical edge (downslope edge).
We also built a step trail element consisting of three of boulders found in the surrounding area that were pried out of the ground and transported manually by four people using an austin (a net made out of chain and rope, the boulder is rolled onto, in which two rock bars are woven through and used as handles to grab on to and lift).
Once the boulders are in place, we used a sledge hammer to crush stone to think in between the voids after setting the steps. These boulders can weigh several hundred pounds, so it becomes exhausting when you are working at around 8,000 feet in elevation.
A not so pleasant thing to discuss, but arguably just as important to share...when you are part of a multi-day trail building project, camping in a remote wilderness area with many people, one of the first questions people ask is: where do you go to the bathroom? And what is the responsible way to dispose of all the human waste? Our team leader taught us that you can go #1 basically anywhere, but for #2, the proper etiquette is to use what is called a Waste Alleviation and Gelling (WAG) bag. So what's a WAG Bag? A WAG Bag kit contains an outer zip-close disposal bag, a waste collection bag preloaded with waste treatment powder, toilet paper, and a hand sanitizer towelette. The WAG Bag contains enough gelling powder for 3-4 uses. The double bag system is made from a puncture resistant material. The WAG bag is placed in a 5-gallon bucket that has a toilet seat on it. In addition to that 5 gallon bucket, there are two more buckets with waterproof hand screwed lids: one for good toilet paper and new WAG bags in a garbage bag and the other bucket for used toilet paper and used WAG bags, etc. in a garbage bag. There were three sets of these buckets, and they were placed in three separate and private areas in the woods.
A crumb trail (different colored strips of tape), led you to the bucket and three hall passes (stored where everyone hung out) wrapped with the corresponding colored tape used for that trail were made so you knew which set of buckets were unoccupied. The protocol for changing out the WAG bag was simple. After each use, we were instructed to place one small rock on the top of the good toilet paper bucket. The fifth person to use the bucket was responsible for sealing the used WAG bag and placing it in the used toilet paper bucket, then open a new WAG bag and insert on the bucket with the toilet seat. I always chose the longest trail that most of the volunteers wouldn't take and luckily, I was never that fifth person!
One of the coolest things about volunteering is you meet some of the most interesting people that you would never meet otherwise. The demographics were aged, the late twenties to mid-80s. Both men and women.
One individual just arrived from the state of Georgia two weeks ago. I met others that worked with the same organization I work for and others from Loveland and Fort Collins. There were also other non-profits, helping out. Colorado Addicted Trailbuilders Society (CATS) and the Trail Dogs.
What I found so impressive was the endurance the older volunteers had. This was a very difficult trail build, carrying tools and hiking down to our section of trail for construction that descended roughly 2,000 vertical feet over about two miles, working all day, then hiking back up to base camp with our tools.
One lesson I think we all learned was always to bring more water than you think you need. None of us thought it would be so strenuous and we ran out of water on the way back up the trail on day one. Luckily the team leaders knew this in advance and had water brought down for the group, and we were able to power through.”
What can you update us on, after your weekend?
“Three 6-person crews were working on constructing the main trail and two 5-person crews working specifically on building rock walls, resulting in all the volunteers constructing over 900 feet of new Dixon trail this past weekend (Aug 24-26). While this was significant progress, about two miles of trail still needs to be--at a minimum-- roughed in before the trail can open. RMFI mentioned they have additional volunteers planned over the next month with the goal of being completely finished before the Cheyenne Mountain Run, scheduled to take place on October 20, 2018. However, personally knowing how difficult this trail is to build, and assuming there may be weather delays to construct the new trail, in my opinion, RMFI will need all the volunteer help they can get to meet the October 20th goal.”
As mentioned, race to the top of Cheyenne Mountain for the half marathon run scheduled to take place on Saturday, October 20th this year! Don't forget to register and reserve your spot, for the Cheyenne Mountain Run, to try out the new Dixon Trail!
By: Amber Inthavong