Trail Blazers

Conservationists and Volunteers Prepare Douglas County's Newest Trail System

On a blustery morning complete with snow and a 7 degree windchill, roughly 20 volunteers decked out in hiking boots and green jackets emblazoned with the Douglas County Parks & Recreation logo gathered together at the Prairie Canyon Ranch. They call themselves the OTC (Original Trail Crew), and they meet every “Trail Tuesday” to plan, develop, and maintain the trails that exist in Douglas County’s 68,037 acres (and counting) of preserved land.

Brian O’Malley was the first volunteer present at this particular meeting. A man with snow shoes in the back of his truck and a conclusive mental map of Colorado roads, parks, and trails, Brian’s affection for the outdoors has led him to volunteer with the Jefferson County, Denver County and Douglas County Open Space programs.

Brian grew up a city boy in Chicago, but a love for the outdoors was nurtured through a stint in the Boy Scouts and long fishing expeditions with his father in northern Ontario. He lives on 20 acres of land that he formerly used to raise cattle, though he stopped because, in his words, “It’s hard to get neighbors to watch your bison."

Brian’s infatuation with conservation began in 2013 when a flood ransacked his home. The destruction caused by the flooding prompted him to begin volunteering to rebuild the affected trails.

“I thought, heck, I hike their trails enough. I can go help them out and see what they do,” Brian says. 

The rest is history. As the vice-chair of the Douglas County Open Space Advisory Committee, Brian is astounded by the amount of volunteer support that Douglas County receives. With the help of 115 volunteers, in 2019 the Douglas County government received the economic equivalent of $275,000 — about 11,000 hours of free labor.

In the case of the Original Trail Crew, these volunteers have become pros. The senior park ranger, Amy Knopp, provides her volunteers with expertise workshops and certifications, including advanced trail building training and first aid.

Their most recent meeting focused on the construction of Douglas County’s newest open space and trail system, Sandstone Ranch. The crew designed a system that will contain roughly 10 miles of trails, diverse ecosystems, and three overlooks, all with a due-date goal of opening by Sept. 1.

“A good trail has to highlight all of your senses,” Amy explains. “You need to move in and out of the sun. It needs to have a fun rolling terrain. And, it needs to take you both toward and away from cool features to provide varying degrees of sensation.”

With all of these components in mind, Amy released volunteers with the mandate, “Hike where your heart calls you.” From that, the blueprints for Sandstone Ranch were born.

Brian’s sense of curiosity leads him to historically preserved sites all over the state. He thumbs over arrowheads, fossils, and petrified trees with the reverence of national treasure. As a conservationist, Brian works to monitor and maintain the history, wildlife, and recreation for the community at large.

“There’s a balance in everything we do,” Brian says.

Though Douglas County, and Colorado at large for that matter, is experiencing tremendous growth, Brian says environmental conservation is still thriving here. With 14 undeveloped open spaces and three state parks just within the county, plenty is being done to ensure that the balance between nature and human interaction is maintained.

“People bemoan the growth, but what they don’t realize that the growth has been planned for the last 10 to 15 years,” Brian says. 

That’s why volunteers like Brian commit their free time to conservation. Enjoying the outdoors, each others’ company, and preparing for future generations are all bonuses.

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