The first volunteers to arrive at the Cheyenne Mountain Trail Race beat the sun to the job. Their day would be long, but the purpose of their work motivated them.
They remained in the backcountry for eight hours, providing food and water to exhausted ultra runners. Those volunteers, folks from our community, formed the backbone of an event that created a sizable donation for Achilles Pikes Peak, a nonprofit that helps disabled folks live active lives.
The volunteers made it happen. I know this because I served as co-race director for that April event, and I watched 35 people, kids and adults, work for eight hours. They cooperated, solved problems on the fly, laughed together, and cheered for the racers. I thanked them at day's end, but could tell they didn't need my gratitude. They had become inspired by their own efforts, and I realized the event had been successful in ways I had not predicted.
Last week, runners, cyclists, hikers and climbers responded to a question I posed on Facebook and in an email: How do we make the outdoor community better? The No. 1 response was volunteering.
Good answer. Across the Pikes Peak region, volunteers build trails, collect garbage, direct traffic, design event T-shirts, time races, and work to educate others about the stewardship of our open spaces.
So let's dig a little deeper: How do we make volunteering better?
If you wanted to volunteer for an outdoor event, would you know who to call, what website to check? Unless you've volunteered before, or work directly with nonprofits, clubs or event organizers, the answer is probably no. We have dozens of great organizations and a handful of good event calendars. And the Trails and Open Space Coalition manages a lively volunteer calendar, no easy task. (Thank you, TOSC.) But there is no central entity to harness the energy.
It's time to create a volunteer organization with all of the area's outdoor organizations participating and, ultimately, benefiting. It's time for a new nonprofit with an active board of outdoor leaders — including bright young professionals — who want to make a meaningful and lasting impact.
Our community is full of brilliant people who live here for the incredible outdoor recreation the Front Range provides. The numbers for a thriving volunteer base are available. Look at Manitou Incline participation. The counter installed by the city of Colorado Springs clicked off 2,914 Incline trips — a record — on March 28. There are surely many potential volunteers among those Incline users, folks who want to help, but don't know how. And they represent only a fraction of our active population.
A volunteer organization would provide a rallying point, a central location that attracts, trains and then places volunteers. With a humble and inclusive mission it could create a sense of pride among those who give their time, folks who then recruit their friends to join them.
A central volunteer organization would also create an arena where the area's outdoor organizations can meet to share ideas, find their common ground, and discover solutions to common problems. What would happen if representatives from the Medicine Wheel Trail Advocates, the Pikes Peak Marathon, the Women's Mountain Biking Association, the Pikes Peak Triathlon Club and others sat at one table, tapped their beer mugs together, and promised to work toward a common cause?
The initial question, how to make us better, garnered other brilliant responses. Some pointed to trail etiquette, showing courtesy and respect for fellow trail users — whether we're on foot, pedaling, or horseback — when we meet on a 20-inch-wide sliver of singletrack.
Others pointed to trail care: Protect wet trails. Stay on the trail and preserve our fragile environments. View, but don't harass, wildlife.
"Care for the outdoors as if it's yours," says Tim Barry.
Another suggestion by Michelle Larkins rang with clarity. "We need to be outdoor ambassadors," she said. "The more affinity for our trails, open spaces, and wilderness we can inspire in Colorado Springs residents, the greater our collective voices — at the polls and everywhere else."
All of these suggestions, time-tested policies and unwritten rules can find a foothold in a volunteer organization, where pride in our outdoor community begins with our time and our sweat.
It can happen. We can be better. Do we have any volunteers?