Laying the Groundwork for Protecting Hidden Gems in the West End

/ / Stewardship

By Corbin Reiter

With Moab two hours to the northwest, Telluride an hour to the southeast, and Durango several hours further south, the West End is easily accessible to many recreationists seeking new terrain, but it remains off the beaten path for now.

“The West End” refers to a collection of communities in close proximity along the western slope of the rockies and includes Norwood, Redvale, Naturita, Nucla and Paradox. Telluride is by far, the most recognizable community in the West End. Most people that visit the area don’t look much farther than this well-known, long-standing, highly developed recreation hub.

The desert trails and climate found around the West End presents a unique recreation opportunity for the area, and is an area that has a growing community of recreators that are invested in a more remote and high-skill recreation environment. With temperatures getting colder, the warmer climate of the West End means longer access to trail systems for biking, hiking, and off-roading after the more mountainous areas to the east are restricted by snow. It also means that residents of the West End have more opportunities to get out and do some stewardship and education programs that ensure that this part of Colorado can remains protected and well-managed even as more people find their way to the area.

Serving as San Juan Mountains Association’s community outreach specialist this summer in the West End, I have had the opportunity to put together events to help improve some of the public spaces in the area. In August, SJMA partnered with the Norwood ranger district to host a planting cone pickup event that removed plastic waste from the forest. This event included Forest Service and SJMA staff as well as volunteers from the area that chose to spend time contributing to the health of local public lands. Together, those present filled dozens of garbage bags with plastic planting cones that had outlived their usefulness and were polluting the Forest.

As the Community Outreach Specialist for the SJMA in the West End, my goal has been to connect with the organizations and people that are already invested in the West End. This has presented a range of opportunities from creating volunteer opportunities to expanding the reach of Forest Service programming.

The Norwood Ranger district office and SJMA have worked together in the West End to put together youth education opportunities through local libraries. Throughout the summer, the Forest Service hosted five youth education events that introduced concepts regarding sustainable stewardship, using public lands, and education about public lands in the area. The Wilkinson Library in Telluride provided the first venue for this series, hosting four separate youth education events. Norwood’s Lone Cone library also hosted a youth education event and had the second highest attendance out of any library education event hosted this summer.

Going into the fall, the Norwood Ranger district office is continuing its youth education programs. As the school year starts, we are engaging with Fourth Grade classes to continue to engage local kids in outdoor education. As part of this program, students will attend a series of events that are sponsored by the Forest Service, and once the students attend enough sessions, they will receive a parks pass and a
free Christmas tree.

The West End is an area that has been quietly nestled among other recreation powerhouses. It has massive potential to be a local hotspot that serves high-skill recreators looking to push their skills in a new area, but SJMA is helping to ensure that the next generation of residents understands the value and importance of caring for those public lands well even as it becomes discovered.