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Trail maintenance also good for the soul

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By Hank Alderfer

In addition to maintaining trails in the Clear Creek District of the Arapaho National Forest in the Upper Bear Creek Basin, I enjoyed working on the trails up Grays and Torreys Peaks.
In the summers of 1966 and 67, we waited for the snowpack to dissipate at the end of the season before we started to roll rocks around the two fourteeners. It was standard practice to end the workday by sitting on an Army-surplus poncho, hanging onto your hardhat and shovel, and sliding down one of the many snowfields that flank the two peaks upstream of Bakerville. A nice way to end a day of work or a summer vacation.
The “we” in this tale was Bob Buckley, whose family helped populate Georgetown and Silver Plume. Grandmother Buckley had 16 children, with many who have parented another two generations “in the Canyon.” Bob proved an ambassador or a cousin to most of Clear Creek and Gilpin counties.
Another local on our combined crew was Mike Chandler (EHS, ‘67) of North Turkey Creek, whose large stature and humor were a boon to our efforts.
Both summers included an extended stay at the Naylor Lake Fishing Club, which has the honor of being the oldest social club in Colorado. The club put us up in one of its cabins and provided us a rowboat for evening entertainment. In return, the Forest Service built a parking lot and trailhead that avoided the club property of 200 acres. The new trail climbed around and above Naylor until it reached Silver Dollar Lake tucked away in its 12,000-foot cirque.
I have, since junior high, maintained a list of the 10 most beautiful events that I have experienced, and a sunset at Silver Dollar Lake is high on that list. One of the district rangers had told me to have my crew finish the day’s work at the upper end of the trail so we could watch a plane stock Silver Dollar with trout. It was well into a spectular sunset when we heard the small plane coming up valley. The pilot circled us once, then carved a tight bank of a turn within the granite wall of the cirque that more than half surrounded the lake, while he released his cargo of shimmering rainbow trout encased in a waterfall of water droplets that were reflecting a waterfall of color powered by the setting of the sun over the Continental Divide. With a wave, the plane in a noiseless glide slipped down the valley, leaving the group of us speechless.
Earlier that summer I had the chance to see a young beaver transplanted by air into the ponds near the rest house. The little beaver, after leaving the plane, rolled up into a ball and fell like a cannonball, but after landing with a small splash swam away, appearing like he made the jump every day. The pilot had hit a bull’s-eye when he delivered his furry passenger right in the center of the pond. Another high point was locating and re-establishing the trail from Summit Lake down to the rest house and then closing the eroded trail to Roosevelt Lake.
Although I enjoyed every aspect of the work with the Forest Service, the first part of the summer was my favorite. That was when I would ride one horse, pack another and spend a week or two clearing the winter windfalls from the trails. There is a pleasure in the solitude of horses being your only companion, camping wherever sunset catches you, and getting paid well to boot.

Hank Alderfer, a local resident, was born and raised on a ranch in Buffalo Park. He served on the boards of the Jefferson County Historical Society and the Evergreen Park and Recreation District and is a founder of the Mountain Area Land Trust.