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The Mueller State Park Visitor Center entry garden, pictured on Sept. 7. Friends of Mueller State Park volunteers completed two years of landscaping with native plants, a walkway and a bench where people can contemplate the view and a full-size statue of an elk.

Over the years, I’ve shared stories about many of the region’s amazing Friends groups.

These volunteers help maintain parks, trails and open spaces in and around Colorado Springs. They cheerfully repair and close trails, remove invasive weeds, pick up trash (including dog waste) and paint picnic tables.

According to the Independent Sector, volunteer help is valued at $28.54/hour — a big number. But that reflects the incredible range of tasks performed. Volunteers assist in medical and dental clinics in underserved neighborhoods. They build houses, provide tutoring, drive buses and offer career counseling. When you consider the overall breadth of what gets accomplished, it is staggering.

Specifically, Friends groups combine to save local taxpayers thousands of dollars each year. Fact is, some of the work they do might never be done without their contributions.

So it’s cause for concern that some of the region’s Friends groups are having a hard time recruiting new volunteers. Perhaps it’s because so many rarely left their homes for 15 months and are making up for lost time with travel and adventure. Or maybe it’s because, with so many people using the trails, the amount of trash and dog waste is scaring would-be volunteers away.

Whatever the reason, some groups are only seeing a handful of folks show up on workdays.

Consider this: The notion of tithing is as old as the Old Testament. If each of us would commit to giving back to the trails in some way, then the problem would be solved. Say, for every 10 or 20 hours spent on the trail or in a park, users give back one hour as a volunteer. Maybe that’s a few hours a month.

Not into trail maintenance? No problem. There are Friends groups such as Friends of Garden of the Gods that lead hikes and provide information to residents and visitors.

I’d also ask you to thank park staff and Friends groups when you see them working. The last time I worked on a trail, I was so impressed by the number of people expressing gratitude. It’s what keeps volunteers coming back.

The Trails and Open Space Coalition maintains a calendar of workdays for Friends groups from the Springs to the Florissant Fossil Beds on its website, trailsandopenspaces.org. You’ll find workdays at Mueller and Cheyenne Mountain state parks. There are close to 25 Friends groups in the region. The quantity and quality of those Friends groups are truly unique. You can help keep this tradition alive.

Susan Davies is executive director of the Trails and Open Space Coalition.

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