Last Saturday was Make a Difference Day, a National Day of Service sponsored by USA Weekend. When I worked as a volunteer manager we debated the value of days of service. They often require a lot of organization and time on the part of the volunteer manager and often do not get a lot of meaningful work done that directly relates to the mission of the organization. This is especially true for organizations with a human services mission whose volunteer opportunities are often one on one or require weekly commitments. Now that we are on the road and looking for easy ways to get involved as we pass through a town, I love days of service! When I know there is a day of service coming up my job gets a whole lot easier and we are free to choose almost any route with the assurance that there will be something we can get involved with anywhere we land. For Make a Difference Day that meant that we changed our route and headed south from Denver to Colorado Springs and got connected to a project with the Rocky Mountain Field Institute at Garden of the Gods.
Garden of the Gods is a really special city park on the edge of Colorado Springs. There are these amazing red sandstone rock formations that seem to come out of nowhere. It is a very popular spot for rock climbers and that is why Rocky Mountain Field Institute (RMFI) is volunteering there. As they mentioned in the project introduction, this is a park with National recognition, but with city park level funding. They really depend on the work of dedicated volunteers led by organizations like RMFI. RMFI specializes in restoring natural areas that are special to rock and mountain climbers. On Saturday they were restoring meadows that had been trampled by park visitors as well as fixing an access trail for climbers. We ended up in the small group working on the access trail, which was great because I got to learn about rock work.
Building steps out of stone can be hard and tedious work. You are building trail that will stand the test of time and in this landscape of sandstone (i.e. stone that was made from sand and will turn back into sand pretty easily), it requires bringing in large rocks from a quarry and placing them just so. The rock has to be stable enough that it will not be dislodged by rain and wear. Building stone steps requires a lot of work up front finding just the right rock, digging just the right size hole, and positioning it just so. Once the rock is placed correctly you can start cobbling small rocks together behind and around it to keep it wedged in place and then backfill with dirt. It is a slow but rewarding process and after 7 hours with a group of 5 people we had built three steps.
Below is a fun video from RMFI that shows a similar project to what we were working on: