Volunteer Workday This Saturday
RIDGWAY – Top of the Pines (TOP) used to be the coolest Girl Scout Camp. My daughters slept out under the stars there, beneath the big, sweet-smelling ponderosa pines, in the 1980s. After the Scouts moved on, the county took over the property, and for the last few years, the non-profit TOP, Inc., has run the 175 acres at 8,580 feet on Miller Mesa as an “open-space preserve/living-classroom retreat.”
At least that is the intent, as stated on the TOP webpage.
A lot of work has been done to spruce the place up. But a lot of work remains, before the grand vision can be realized.
For the time being – and for the winter season upcoming – TOP will be best known to local Nordic skiers as the superb, if underappreciated, trail system just five miles from town up CR 5.
This coming Saturday, Nov. 17, TOP is asking for volunteers to gather for a workday. There’s not enough snow to groom skate lanes yet, according to TOP board member and volunteer groomer Chris Haaland. But he did walk the trails last weekend during the most recent storm to place flags to guide him, and his Polaris snow machine, when the snowpack is deep enough.
The workday is planned, according to Paula James of Transition OurWay, to remove construction debris left over from the Girl Scouts’ ruined tent platforms and from the remodeling of the pavilion, the property’s central lodge/gathering place, which was begun with help from a Great Outdoors Colorado grant.
“Let’s put our heads, hands and shoulders together to help fashion this dream,” James wrote in an email to Transition volunteers. “With many hands, we should be able to do it all in a day.”
James imagines endless possibilities for the property in future. Everything from a “place to experiment with alternative energy and building methods,” a “retreat for meditation, think tanks, youth programs and education seminars,” to “an outdoor camp and wildlife habitat,” and “a cross-country ski center,” incarnations it is and has been.
In summer the property is an ecologically rich example of the ponderosa zone. Blue lupine dot the forest floor between carpets of pine needles. Seasonal West Lake fills and becomes a sky-reflecting, frog-croaking, cool-dip pond. The big trees sigh in the wind and give off their warm-vanilla scent.
In winter West Lake is the beginners’ loop, or a great warm-up for more adventurous touring. Haaland regularly grooms about 6k of track, both skate lanes and classic grooves. (Snowshoers are also welcome.) It’s a labor of love for Haaland, a civic contribution. Although, as an elite athlete himself, he admits there is nothing finer than getting first tracks on the corduroy he has just laid down.
In past years, TOP’s Miller Mesa neighbor John Kuijenhoven has volunteered his snowcat to groom the open track in the lake and meadow areas. This equipment leaves a beautiful, wide track in a single pass. But it’s not possible in the fascinating, and more challenging, terrain known as the North Forty. The big cat won’t fit between the trees. So Haaland grooms the rollercoaster, ridge-and-gully North Forty with his Polaris, giving it two swipes where he can. It’s still skatable, but narrower than the tracks out in the open.
Haaland is happy to do the work. He and other volunteers do summer trail work and even hand shovel snow onto bare spots during lean years, like last winter.
He’s happy to do it. He just requests users add what they can to the contribution box (an old metal toolbox with a slit in the top fixed to a fence post at the trailhead). “Gas money. For the Polaris.”
Haaland said he hopes the cleanup crew this weekend will leave at least some of the scrap lumber behind. He’d like to pile it up in one place out in the open. “It’d be nice to have a big community bonfire up there this winter,” he said.