A Life Supremely Well Lived: Gudy Gaskill, Mother of the Colorado Trail

Gudy Gaskill, 1926-2016.  Photo from the  Colorado Women's Hall of Fame  .

Gudy Gaskill, 1926-2016. Photo from the Colorado Women's Hall of Fame.

Today's Denver Post carried this news: Gudy Gaskill, the "mother of the Colorado Trail," has passed away. She is such an important figure in Colorado conservation, that anyone who enjoys hiking, biking or running in nature should know about her work, and appreciate her legacy.

Born on the Illinois plains, Gudy moved as a young girl to Rocky Mountain National Park, where her father worked as a ranger. He would drop Gudy and her siblings off at a different trailhead each day, then fetch them when he was done with work -- meaning all the kids became very strong hikers and skiers. Gudy's love of the mountains continued to grow, and by 1952, Gudy and her husband, Dave, were actively involved with the Colorado Mountain Club, a group dedicated to conservation and outdoor education, which she would later serve as President.

All the while, as she worked and raised four children, she dreamed of a long-distance trail through the Colorado mountains that would allow hikers to enjoy days of solitude in nature and experience all that the Colorado Rockies have to offer. It took more than 25 years of tireless advocacy, and many volunteer hours, but ultimately Gudy was successful. The Colorado Trail now runs more than 500 miles between Durango and Denver, crossing through eight mountain ranges and six wilderness areas along the way.

The Post article is pasted in below; it offers a lovely tribute to this important Colorado hero. I encourage anyone who is grateful for Gudy's efforts to make a gift to the Gudy Gaskill Endowment Fund, which supports maintenance on the Colorado Trail.

Thank you, Gudy. All good things are yours. See you on the trail.

Gudy Gaskill, mother of the Colorado Trail, dies at 89

Photo courtesy of Eric Wunrow, Colorado Trail Foundation.

Photo courtesy of Eric Wunrow, Colorado Trail Foundation.

Mother of four spent 30 years cajoling support, donations and volunteers to build the 567-mile trail from Denver to Durango.

By Jason Blevins
July 18, 2016

As 27 volunteers labored last week to replace a bridge connecting two sections of the Colorado Trail, Gudy Gaskill, the visionary matriarch of the 567-mile path between Denver and Durango, breathed her last, reaching the end of an extraordinary life that was anchored in an abiding love for the Rocky Mountains. Gaskill was 89 and surrounded by family when she died peacefully at a Denver hospital last week following a stroke.

“She had such a bright spirit,” said Bill Manning, the executive director of the Colorado Trail Foundation. “It’s not a stretch by any means to say the Colorado Trail is here because of Gudy.”

The oasis of singletrack that winds from Denver to Durango is Gaskill’s legacy. From that first planning meeting in 1973 to today, Gaskill served a vital role in not just dreaming up the lonely path through the woods, but inspiring thousands of volunteers to join her in building it.

“One of her favorite memories was hosting 32 trail crews in one year. That was one summer. She spent the whole summer cooking food and assembling supplies and visiting each crew of Colorado Trail volunteers,” Manning said. “She had a real sparkle. She inspired us all and she set so much in motion. The trail foundation works every day to keep it going, in large part to honor Gudy.”

Born Gudrun Timmerhaus in 1927 in Illinois, her love for the mountains was born a few years later, when her dad started working as a summer ranger at Rocky Mountain National Park. She attended Western State College of Colorado — now Western State Colorado University — in Gunnison, teaching German to pay her tuition. She married Dave Gaskill and they eventually had four kids: Steve, Robin, Polly and Craig. Gudy and Dave, a geologist, tended sheep in Kansas in the winter and ran a backcountry program for kids in the summer.

The Gaskills joined the Colorado Mountain Club in 1952 and by the 1970s, they were leading club trips around the world. In 1977, Gudy became the first female president of the 5,000-member club. Gudy also worked in real estate. In 1966, she sold a house to the Watt family in Mount Vernon above Lookout Mountain, where she was a fixture in the community, even creating a small ski hill for local kids.

“Gudy was a force of nature. Even as a fourth-grader, I figured that out,” said Joe Watt. “If she wasn’t taking a carload of kids to 4-H, she was organizing ski lessons on a neighborhood hill or leading us on an overnight trip to a ski hut on Berthoud Pass. Next thing you knew, she was trekking in the Alps, helping to plan the July Fourth picnic or leading construction of the Colorado Trail. Always with a big smile on her deeply tanned face.”

All stories about Gaskill return to the Colorado Trail. She spent more than three decades nurturing the trail from idea to reality. As executive director of the Colorado Trail Foundation, she negotiated with a variety of Forest Service district rangers, sketching routes along old mining paths, scraping up donations and cajoling the support of a host of bureaucrats. She weathered budget woes and herded more than 10,000 volunteers into building the trail.

Today, about 150 hikers a year complete the entire trail, taking four to six weeks. Thousands more hike, bike and horseback ride on sections of the trail. President Ronald Reagan honored Gaskill as part of his “Take Pride In America” campaign. President George H. W. Bush included her in his “One Thousand Points of Light” program.

“No person, man or woman has ever single-handedly had a greater impact on the successful completion of a national treasure as Gudy has with the creation of the Colorado Trail,” said Colorado Trail Foundation former president Merle McDonald when Gaskill was inducted into the Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame in 2002.

In between raising four children, running a real estate business and building the Colorado Trail, Gaskill climbed. She scaled many of the world’s most popular peaks and all 54 of Colorado’s fourteeners, making more than 35 trips up Longs Peak.

“Gudy Gaskill was outstanding in every way,” her children wrote in a statement announcing her death. “She was the best mother we children could have ever had, who along with Dave, taught us to love wandering in the mountains, the beauty of wildflowers, the chill of a waterfall shower. She was a painter, sculptor, artist and always a leader. She was a leader who we all followed because she inspired everyone she met.”

Gaskill is survived by her husband; their children and their spouses; and eight grandkids. The family asked that donations in memory of Gaskill be directed toward the Gudy Gaskill Endowment Fund, which was established in 1998 to support Colorado Trail maintenance.

A public celebration of Gaskill’s life, in cooperation with the Colorado Trail Foundation and the Colorado Mountain Club, will be held at a yet-to-be-determined date. The Gaskill family’s statement opened with a favorite quote of Gaskill’s, a Swedish aphorism:

“Fear less, hope more. Eat less, chew more. Whine less, breathe more. Talk less, say more. Hate less, love more. And all good things are yours.”