Summer of storytelling: Showcasing the diverse faces of the Continental Divide

by Andrea Kurth, Marketing, Communications, and Community Outreach Specialist, Continental Divide Trail Coalition

In 2018, the Continental Divide Trail Coalition (CDTC) celebrated the first 40 years of the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail. We applauded decades of progress toward completing the trail—there are fewer than 180 miles yet to be protected—and we marveled at the widespread community of individuals dedicated to its stewardship. We looked back at the amazing accomplishments of the men and women who have thru-hiked the Divide and we welcomed new CDT Gateway Communities into the network of cities and towns that recognize the unique economic and cultural value that the CDT brings.

However, as we looked back at the last 40 years, we noticed there were many people that were omitted from the story we told of the Continental Divide Trail. We realized that there were many voices missing from the effort to conserve this amazing national resource. So, we began to gather and tell the stories of people who have been traditionally left out of recreation and conservation spaces with our effort, Faces of the Continental Divide, made possible by a grant award from Hydro Flask’s Parks for All program and donations from REI Co-Op. 

Beginning at the start of Latino Conservation Week and ending on National Public Lands Day, Faces of the Continental Divide was envisioned as a summer of events and storytelling celebrating the diverse communities engaged in conserving the landscapes of the Continental Divide. From July 13 to September 28, we invited groups engaged in outdoor recreation and conservation in the Rocky Mountain West to host events that celebrated their relationship with public lands and we asked participants to share their unique stories with us. Our goal was to expand the narrative about the Continental Divide Trail and its surrounding landscapes, and to begin to tell a story about the CDT that includes indigenous nations, people of color, and other underrepresented communities.

Members of the Latino Outdoors Denver Colorado chapter review a map of Herman Gulch after their hike to Herman Lake. Latino Outdoors hosted an event called “Conchas y Cafe,” and shared pastries and coffee with members before their hike as part of the Faces of the Continental Divide effort. (Photo Credit: Janelle Paciencia)

During this effort, we’ve partnered with over 20 organizations—many of which we haven’t worked with before—to share the Continental Divide Trail and public lands with new audiences. We hosted events in conjunction with organizations working to diversify public lands, including Latino Outdoors, Denver Environmental Learning for Kids (ELK), Hispanic Access Foundation, Outdoor Afro, Outdoor Asian, Spirit of the Sun, Americas for Conservation + the Arts, as well as our traditional partners like the U.S. Forest Service and CDT Gateway Communities.

The events we’ve hosted in four CDT states are as diverse as the landscapes and people of the Continental Divide, serving people of differing backgrounds, ages, abilities, and knowledge of the trail. Events included a poetry workshop bringing the Continental Divide to the Denver metro area, group hikes with Latino Outdoors and Outdoor Afro, a family camp-out with indigenous and Latinx families in Rocky Mountain National Park, and a service project on National Public Lands Day in the Carson National Forest.

Each individual community has their own way to connect with the landscapes of the Rocky Mountains. Some have a long history with these lands, and others have never visited the Continental Divide, despite being intricately connected with the watersheds that begin on its ridgelines. Some communities want to hike fast, while others prefer to go slowly, intimately meeting each stream, rock, and knoll. We’ve learned that all the histories, knowledge, and uses of these landscapes are equally valuable, and each voice will be important to help us preserve them.

Now, we’re looking forward to the next 40 years of protecting the CDT and the challenges these years will bring. With shrinking land management budgets and changing policies, the protection of public lands is more important than ever. We at CDTC know that the best way to face these challenges is to continue to build a diverse community of people dedicated to the protection of the trail. 

We know that to complete, promote, and protect the CDT and serve all people, we must invite the folks who have traditionally been left out of conservation and public lands issues into our conversation. It’s our hope that with Faces of the Continental Divide, we have begun to do just that.

Share why you value the landscapes of the CDT by submitting a story through December 31, 2019. You can also view the CDTC’s new video, “Stories of the Gila,” that showcases why and how the people of southern New Mexico connect to the Gila National Forest:

Latino Outdoors, in collaboration with the Continental Divide Trail Coalition, hosted a hike in Herman Gulch in August to celebrate Faces of the Continental Divide. (Photo Credit: Janelle Paciencia)

Unless otherwise indicated, all material in Pathways Across America is public domain. All views expressed herein are perspectives of individuals working on behalf of the National Trails System and do not necessarily represent the viewpoint of the Federal agencies.

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