Medicine Wheel Trail Advocates, responsible for the maintenance and upkeep of many of the hiking and biking trails scattered through Manitou Springs and along the West Side of Colorado Springs, faced a tough decision when COVID-19 hit Colorado last spring.
Officials wondered if they should put their work on hold or continue their mission with proper guidelines.
Executive Director Cory Sutela realized the work the organization does in building, sharing and protecting the trail system was more important than ever during the pandemic. Trails are places where people can safely visit and get exercise in the midst of lockdowns, social distancing and restricted movements, he stated.
Anyone who has ever hiked, biked, run, rode horse or walked a pet anywhere in Manitou Springs or Colorado Springs has probably enjoyed the efforts of Medicine Wheel Trail Advocates.
Members of the group are avid mountain bikers but recognize the need to get along well with everyone who uses the trails for other activities and they recognize everyone’s perspective, Sutela stated. To help with their mission, the group has created a trail etiquette video to help users understand how to get along well with others using the trails.
During 2019, the group raised $20,000 through the Give! Campaign and matching grants, which helps with improvement efforts. Throughout 2020, the organization has brought in a new board of directors that has allowed many members to take a much-needed break.
One long-time member, Mike Rigney, has been instrumental in the evolution of the organization, Sutela said. Rigney joined in 2015 after being involved in a mountain bike organization in Arizona. Since he has joined, he has helped enroll the organization in the International Mountain Bicycling Association, which has greatly helped the group with advocacy power and organizationally support. He also wrote the grant that helped the group complete work on Lake Moraine Trail, which connects Barr Trail across the Cog railway and through Colorado Springs Utilities land and into Jones Park.
“That was the culmination of an epic 20-year project,” Sutela said.
After all that effort, Rigney is stepping down from the board of directors, but will remain involved with the committee and will work to keep the group engaged with the Ring the Peak project, a massive effort that connects all the trails in the region to the slopes of Pikes Peak.
By the end of 2020, the group has secured $17,500 in matching grants through its dedicated supporters. The group is also targeting the Young Donor competition, and with the help of Revel Bikes, will give away a set of Revel RW 30 wheels to a donor under the age of 25.
The funds raised this year will help the group expand its trail maintenance efforts through the Trail Agent program and boost its Trail Love work days, which are always open to volunteers, as health restrictions permit.
Medicine Wheel Group Expanding Its Focus
Current needs of the organization include a tool trailer, work truck and funds to purchase packable tools for trail maintenance in areas that are difficult to reach. They are also seeking content creators for social media outlets and writers for the newsletter. And, as always, the group is seeking people with experience in building trails. Sutela said the group is also seeking people who are passionate about the trails and those who are connected to groups, land managers, schools and anyone who cares about the usage of trails for biking, hiking, pet walking and horse riding.
The organization makes use of 20 highly engaged volunteers who work behind the scenes and 50 volunteers who work on the trails themselves. Those volunteers combined have logged 10 work days totaling 550 hours in 2020.
The list of goals for 2021 is extensive, including Increasing the group’s diversity and inclusion.
The board of directors is already divided half and half between men and women, but Sutela wants to expand the focus of the group to include projects on the southeast side of Colorado Springs. He would also like to connect with the Open Space Advisory Committee and increase the group’s presence in the Manitou Springs community.
The pandemic has made it difficult for many non-profit agencies to connect with donors and supporters, but that has helped motivate the committee to focus on online events in creative ways, Sutela said.
“The challenges of 202 have manifested in many ways,” he said. “What has become more obvious than ever to us is the importance of trails to the physical, mental and emotional well-being of the residents of the Pikes Peak region.”