Blazing Trails: Bratton man behind Green Mountain Falls trails system
By Anthony Welch
Dick Bratton wasn’t exactly sure where he was going when he decided to relocate from Colorado Springs 35 years ago after retiring from a 21-year career in the Air Force, so he just started driving west.
“I wanted to get out of the city,” he said. “I drove up (Highway) 24 and took every side road I could take. I got to Green Mountain Falls and said, ‘This is it. I found the promised land.’”
Bratton immediately fell in love with the small community tucked away in the pines in the mountains west of Colorado Springs. An avid outdoorsman, he relished the idea of hiking there. That passion for hiking also inspired him to form the Green Mountain Falls Trails Committee.
“I moved here because it’s a small mountain town with lots of trails. There wasn’t a trails committee.” he said. “Three of us got together and said we were going to improve some of these trails. They were in terrible shape – heavily eroded and not well marked. I thought there’s great potential for hiking here. Now, we have about 65 volunteers on the committee.”
Through the years, the committee has built more than 20 miles of trails around Green Mountain Falls, Bratton said. The committee hosts six to eight work days each summer starting in May. What started as a tiny group of people pitching in, now usually involves 25 to 30 spread out in eight crews.
“We car pool up the mountain, work until about 1 p.m. and then come down for a nice, free meal for all the workers in The Pantry garden,” Bratton said. “It’s a real social group. Everyone knows everybody, and we have a lot of fun.”
Bratton worked as a civil engineer in the Air Force, or in simpler terms as he puts it, an architect. Those skills definitely came in handy in building trails.
“You have to have imagination to be able to visualize where a trail should be,” he said. “After a while you get to where you can actually see a 15 percent grade.”
Of the 20 miles of trail, more than half are brand new, according to Bratton. The committee also maintains and repairs older trails.
“If you don’t maintain a trail, Mother Nature will take it back,” Bratton said.
Each trail is designed just 18 to 24 inches wide, in order to minimize the environmental impact, Bratton added.
“Native Americans would always hike single file. There’s no holding hands and that crap,” Bratton joked. “But let the lady lead, so she can set the pace.”
All the trails in the system are fairly easy hikes, Bratton said. All trails are designed with just a 15 percent grade. The lengthier Crystal Trail does include 130 switchbacks and took the committee four years to build.
“But it also provides the most dramatic views,” volunteer Mike Lohman, who also designed the trail maps, mentioned.
Bratton said the majority of hikers he sees are over the age of 50. But, of course, he encourages everyone he meets to not only hike a trail or two but get involved and volunteer for a work day.
“Seniors are retired and some of them have a lot of time on their hands; others don’t,” he said. “They’re looking for something to do and it’s back to nature. They can hike at their own pace.”
Green Mountain Falls trails are the ideal escape for a peaceful hike because no bicycles or horses are allowed on any of the trails, with the exception of the American Discovery Trail, which is an 8,000 mile coast-to-coast trail that passes through town, Bratton said.
Bratton’s favorite trail is, by far, the Catamount Trail, which the committee built from scratch. Though these days, he doesn’t hike as often but still leads the volunteers during work days.
“My knees are shot now,” he mentioned.
“Of course, in honor of all the work he’s done, we have the Bratton Trail,” Lohman added.
“Someone else started that, because I’m not that kind of guy,” Bratton said.
You can catch Bratton enjoying breakfast at his favorite eating spot – The Pantry. Just be prepared to be recruited for a trails committee work day. But there are rewards that come with moving a little dirt.
“Being outdoors, seeing Mother Nature’s beauty, companionship with fellow workers, a sense of achievement … When someone comes for the first time and builds a piece of trail, you tell them to look back and see what they did,” he said. “Then they bring their friends to see what they helped build.”