Monument trails receive improvements, more safety for visitors

More than 1,500 feet up from the valley floor, the sound of metal meeting rock ricochets off canyon walls in Colorado National Monument.

Clink, clink, clink.

Some of the national park’s most well-loved overlooks now are receiving the kind of labor-intensive, rock-sculpting and trail-building work last done here during the New Deal era. Back then, Civilian Conservation Corps workers built Rim Rock Road, some park trails and buildings.

Now, thanks to emergency government funding secured by park officials, the ranks of     Colorado National Monument’s trail builders have swelled, at least temporarily, to include specialized workers from Grand Teton National Park. By the time crews are done, the public can expect to take a gander down a path from Artists Point overlook and navigate a route to Ute Canyon Overlook. Improvements also are slated for Fruita Canyon Overlook.

In addition, local trail builders have been busy this summer improving trails on sections of Monument Canyon Trail, Ute Canyon Trail, No Thoroughfare Trail and CCC Trail. Work on those trails benefited from $228,000 in government stimulus funds.

“It’s amazing what you can do with simple tools,” trail builder Angela Timby said while working Thursday. “Just the fact that something you do is going to outlive you is pretty gratifying.”

Artists Point overlook has long been confusing for visitors. Without a clear trail, visitors often scrambled down rock ledges to a fenced area with sweeping views of Monument Canyon. Trail builders are using existing rock to create a winding staircase, and they’re covering it with soil to create a smooth transition and mitigate erosion. The work should be complete in about a week.

Eventually a fence may be extended on the overlook to keep visitors from an abrupt rock face.

An informational sign there and at other overlooks will be added to describe the canyon’s landmarks that span out in front of visitors. Spruced-up signs now grace the entrances of many of the park’s overlooks, and new, low-profile, wooden fences alert visitors of pull-out areas.

“I can’t wait until it’s done,” Colorado National Monument Superintendent Joan Anzelmo said of Artists Point. “It will be an overlook that people can actually physically get to.”

Park officials have steadily worked to spruce up the park in anticipation of a centennial celebration in 2011. By the middle of next week, the visitors center should reopen after workers finish adding insulation and new electrical conduits in the center’s ceiling. The improvements will allow the center to expand electrical capacity to its exhibits. Also, bathrooms located in a historic building in the park’s camping area have been updated to include flush toilets and running water.

Colorado National Monument hosts 43 miles of front country trails, and an estimated 160,000 people hiked its trails last year. The park’s budget is $1.5 million this year, but special projects are paid for through grants and user fees, Anzelmo said.

“We want to continue to improve the trails,” she said. “The trails are our greatest resource for our community. You can get away from it all up here and gain some peace of mind.”


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