Building Community Trails and Outdoor Skills

IMG - Students in the Trail Design and Construction class at Colorado Mountain College Leadville

Leadville Trail Design and Construction Course

Trail Design and Construction class at Colorado Mountain College Leadville is an immersive two-week OUT course that introduces students to sustainable trail design and the construction process in and out of the classroom. Aspen Gau, a 19-year old Iowa native and second year student in the Outdoor Recreation Leadership program, was one of ten students who experienced this course first hand.

Students spent several days inside the classroom learning the fundamental principles of sustainable trail design and construction processes. They studied numerous eroding, unsustainable trails that were often built out of social necessity to understand why and how those trails have become less than ideal recreational routes.  By starting with a sound design, and then incorporating sustainable design principles and features into the plan, the initial trail construction should hold up for many years with minimal maintenance.

“The class started out with about three days of classroom learning,” Spoke Aspen of his time in the 10 day course, “but as the week progressed, the classroom time diminished and the course became extremely hands on and practical.”


Hitting the trails.

IMG: Outdoor Students in Trail Building and Construction course, working on campus trails in LeadvilleAspen and other outdoor students were eager to take what they learned in the classroom and apply it on the trails. The Cloud City Wheelers, Leadville’s very own bicycle club, had identified a number of trails in need of maintenance. The Cloud City Wheelers had also designed a new trail and were in need of a few willing volunteers to execute the plans. These Colorado Mountain College students were ready o get their hands – and tools – in the dirt.

“We spent a couple days learning how to make features on the trails on campus, like berms and rollers, which are designed to keep a riders speed low and tight corners safe.” remarks Aspen Grau of his work on Leadville trails. “From there we progressed into actual trail building, cutting about a half mile of new trail that had been previously designed by the Cloud City Wheelers, a local bike club.”

All trails were built by hand, using standard trail building tools and materials. A very different trail building experience from the Trail Dozer Operations pilot class held at Colorado Mountain College Leadville this past summer. “The entire time we would be working on the trails we would have to wear protective gear such as helmets, gloves and safety goggles. Many of the tools that we were using were familiar to us, however, the way that we were taught to use them in the course was new information to many of us.”


IMG: CMC Leadville students help build a new Leadville trail for class.
Local Trails, Universal Skills

Trail Design and Construction is taught by Cooper Malozzi, lead outdoor faculty at Colorado Mountain College in Leadville. Cooper is extremely passionate about the program and more specifically developing the outdoor program to match industry needs – matching students with employable skills and ultimately outdoor careers upon completion.

“Many communities are investing in recreation infrastructure, and trails for running, hiking, biking, and simple commuting are becoming a large part of that effort.” Says Cooper Malozzi of the up and coming trail building industry. “Outsourcing of trail crews has been a common practice for USFS and BLM offices, as well as private landowners, for decades, but now local governments and clubs/organizations are doing the same.”

Numerous organizations operate trail crews through the summer building season. Groups like the Student Conservation Association, Southwest Conservation Corp., Rocky Mountain Youth Corp., Colorado Fourteeners Initiative, among others.

“It’s is a very friendly entry-level position for which you need little experience, just a willingness to work hard and be part of a team. Getting some advanced training can help folks find somewhat higher paying or supervisory positions like trail crew leaders.” Says Cooper Malozzi.


Into the Mountains.

In high school, Aspen Gau had a general plan to leave Iowa, get into the mountains and join the guiding industry. The first two goals were easily accomplished, but the third piece required knowledge and industry connections. That’s when he discovered Colorado Mountain College Leadville and learned about the Outdoor Recreation Leadership program.

“CMC caught my attention simply because it offered a college education in my field of study. The program allows me to complete my gen-eds while perfecting skills in the field, opening up many doors to different career fields.”

It wasn’t just the program’s specific that drew Aspen to Leadville. It was the incredible location and recreational access that sealed the deal. As a teenager growing up in a comfortable small town atmosphere, he recognized a growing anxiety in crowd and cities, and knew he needed a mellow, low-key atmosphere to succeed.

“The fact that Leadville is a small town, not a big city, and that it is in the heart of the mountains drew me to choosing this campus in particular.” Aspen says of his new home in Leadville. “The fact that the class sizes are small and the town is generally quiet is really comforting to me.”

To learn more about the Outdoor Recreation Leadership program visit

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