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Gudy Gaskill

Gudy Gaskill, Mother of The Colorado Trail, Dies

Gudy Timmerhaus Gaskill died on July 14, 2016 from stroke complications. She was 89 and active until her stroke just days before, including with The Colorado Trail Foundation as President Emeritus.

Gudy is credited with being the Mother of The Colorado Trail, now 567 miles between Denver and Durango.

The idea for The Colorado Trail gained its footing in 1974 when Gudy Gaskill, then chairwoman of the Colorado Mountain Club's Huts and Trails Committee, was asked to lead the organizing effort.

Two years later, the Forest Service and Colorado Mountain Trails Foundation, predecessor of The Colorado Trail Foundation, signed a partnership agreement to build The Colorado Trail. By then, a route had been roughed out, connecting existing trail and forest roads with new trail to be built mostly by volunteer and Forest Service crews.

By building on existing trail systems, organizers believed they could complete the Trail as early as 1978; 1980 at the latest. It was not to be. Due to a variety of factors, interest flagged, progress stalled, money ran out, and the Colorado Mountain Trails Foundation board stopped meeting.

By 1984, an article by Ed Quillen in the Denver Post's Empire Magazine, referred to the project as the "Trail to Nowhere." After describing the problems that had dogged trail builders, he noted that "If there ever is a Colorado Trail, it will likely be because Gudy Gaskill hasn't given up."

Often working on pure grit alone, she and a group of loyal associates righted the ship, sending out volunteer trail crews over the next three years to complete unfinished sections.

"One year, pushing to connect the trail, we had 32 weeklong trail crews," she said.  "We received free food from a number of wholesale companies. I visited each camp every week, hiking in in the mornings, staying for a day or two, and driving at night to the next crew. We completed 32 miles of trail that summer. The work was hard, but the mind, body and spirit were in top shape."

For her tireless work to make the Trail a reality, Gaskill has been deservedly dubbed "The Mother of the Colorado Trail."

On Sept. 4, 1987, "golden spike" ceremonies were held at Molas Pass, Camp Hale and Mount Princeton to commemorate the linking of The Colorado Trail from Denver to Durango. That same year, the nonprofit Colorado Trail Foundation was established, with Gaskill as its first president, to oversee the continued improvement and upkeep of the Trail.

In 1988, Gaskill led the first supported trek along the new trail, which ended on July 23 with a dedication ceremony in Durango. A day later, a similar ceremony was held at Waterton Canyon, the Trail's eastern terminus south of Denver.

Today, thanks in no small part to Gudy, the Colorado Trail Foundation is strong with an active board of directors that oversees all aspects of the Trail from maintenance to rerouting to trail crew and trekking programs. A full-time staff of three – Executive Director Bill Manning, Office Manager Amy Nelson and Field Operations Manager Brent Adams – handle the daily operations, interacting with hundreds of volunteers and Trail users each year from their office at the American Mountaineering Center in Golden.

Manning marvels at the tremendous legacy left by Gudy Gaskill and the many beneficiaries. "Countless outdoor enthusiasts enjoy The Colorado Trail as they hike, bike or ride horses along it. Others volunteer as trail stewards and many contribute to sustain the legacy. Gudy's bright smile and determined spirit remains with us."

Gudy encouraged making a donation to The Colorado Trail Foundation, www.ColoradoTrail.org.


Gudy Gaskill, "Mother of the Colorado Trail"

Fear less, hope more; eat less, chew more;
Whine less, breathe more; talk less, say more;
Love more and all good things will be yours.
Swedish proverb sent by Gudy to her great friend Nora

It is with great sadness we must tell you that Gudy Gaskill died peacefully Thursday, July 14 at age 89, following a stroke about a week ago.  Though Gudy had some health issues during the past two years, she most certainly never let them get in the way of the life style and activities she loved, embraced, and shared with so many of us.  Our loss is immense, as will be that of the wide community she embraced.

She remained alive and vibrant, living independently and fully to the end of her days. Just two weeks before her death from a stroke she had driven with family to Flagstaff, Arizona to attend the wedding of one of her granddaughters.

Gudy Gaskill was outstanding in every way.  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, sculpture, artist and always a leader.  She was a leader who we all followed because she inspired everyone she met.  As we were growing up she kept us continually engaged.  She started a 4-H program in the Lookout area and taught many of the classes, stated a ski program at Mt. Vernon after getting a ski hill built and she was the adult sponsor for many CMC Denver Junior trips, leading large groups of youth around the Colorado and North American mountains.

Born Gudrun E. Timmerhaus in 1927 in Palatine, IL, to Elsa and Paul Timmerhaus, Gudy's love for the Rocky Mountains began in the early 1930s when her father started working in Rocky Mountain National Park as a summer ranger, bringing the family to Colorado each year. Gudy attended Western State College in Gunnison, CO, where she taught German to help finance her education. In one of her classes she met Dave Gaskill. The two married and became parents to four children: Steve, Robin, Polly and Craig. Dave went on to become a geologist with the U.S. Geological Survey and Gudy completed a master's degree in industrial recreation from the University of New Mexico.

Gudy and Dave herded sheep together during winters in Kansas and they ran a Colorado backcountry youth summer program for a number of years to get by.  They then spent a few years in Albuquerque to finish graduate school, then moving to Los Angeles for Dave's first geology job with the USGS before finally returning to Colorado.   Gudy worked in real estate and eventually opened her own business. 

For Gudy any challenge was simply an opportunity.  Son Steve remembers finishing the 120+ foot free rappel off of the Maiden, a rock pinnacle near Boulder, onto a narrow rock rib worried that Gudy would be intimidated.  Not to worry, she took her time and stopped frequently to view the 360 degree horizons as she slowly spun around.

Avid mountaineers, skiers and hikers, the Gaskills joined the Colorado Mountain Club (CMC) in 1952. By the 1970s, Gudy was one of the club's most active participants, leading trips throughout the world for the CMC and chairing multiple committees including outings and trails. In 1977 she became the first woman president of the organization, then 5,000 members strong. But it was a planning meeting that Gudy attended in 1973 for a fledgling concept that changed her life and the state's landscape as well.

Gudy really found her passion, showing her gentle but visionary and indomitable leadership, with the concept of the Colorado Trail.  She became the state's premiere trail builder, volunteer organizer and female mountaineer.  Gudy devoted over 30 years to taking the Colorado Trail from an idea to one of the leading hiking, biking and equestrian trails in the world.  In the early years the Fledgling organization and movement faced many obstacles and as Executive Director, Gudy refused to allow the initiative to die. She drew a detailed route through the Forest Service Districts linking up with early trails and existing mining and logging roads. She single-handedly persuaded the powerful Directors of the Districts to allow and support the project. She then recruited volunteers and led the trail-building effort.   Years of effort and many trails crews later the trail was dedicated on July 23, 1988.  In the words of Colorado Trail Foundation past President Merle McDonald, "It's an understatement to say that there would be no Colorado Trail if it weren't for Gudy. 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."

Once the trail was built and the foundation secure with professional leadership, Gudy remained active on the board and then as an advisor focusing most of her efforts on educational programs along the trail and at the Colorado Trail Cabin near American Basin in the San Juan Mountains where she spent many summers.

Somehow while guiding the creation of the Trail, raising four children, and developing a successful real estate business, Gaskill found time to ascend all 54 of Colorado's 14,000-foot peaks as well as many international mountains up to 23,000 feet high, Longs Peak over 35 times, and thousands of lesser summits.

She has been recognized by President Ronald Reagan with the Take Pride in America Campaign award and was honored by President George Bush through the Points of Light program. She appeared on The Today Show and countless television and radio programs. Judy Collins dedicated a song to Gudy and her efforts. Michael Martin Murphey was inspired by Gudy and the Trail to write "Along, Along the Colorado Trail." Gudy Gaskill, was also recognized as one of Colorado's most influential contemporary and historical women with her induction into the Colorado Women's Hall of Fame, March 14, 2002.

Gudy is survived by her husband Dave, children Robin, Steven, Craig and Polly and eight grand children.  In memory of Gudy her family requests, rather than family gifts, that donations be made to the Colorado Trail to the Gudy Gaskill Endowment Fund (GGEF) which supports trail maintenance  (http://www.coloradotrail.org/contribute.html).


Gudy Gaskill, “Mother of the Colorado Trail," Inducted into the Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame — March 14, 2002

Gudy Gaskill, daughter Polly, and Denise Wright on a trail crew at Little Molas Lake in 1987.

The state’s premiere trail builder, volunteer organizer and female mountaineer, Gudy Gaskill, took her place among the state’s most influential contemporary and historical women with her induction into the Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame, March 14, 2002.

Gaskill has devoted 30 years to taking the Colorado Trail from an idea to one of the leading hiking, biking and equestrian trails in the world, and was inducted into the Hall at a ceremony in the Donald R. Seawall Ballroom of the Denver Center for the Performing Arts complex.

In announcing Gaskill’s appointment, Colorado Trail Foundation past President Merle McDonald said, “It’s an understatement to say that there would be no Colorado Trail if it weren’t for Gudy. 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. This is a tremendous honor for Gudy, but I can’t think of a single person who deserves this recognition more.”

Born Gudrun E. Timmerhaus in 1927 in Palatine, IL, to Elsa and Paul Timmerhaus, Gudy’s love for the Rocky Mountains began in the early 1930s when her father started working in Rocky Mountain National Park as a summer ranger, bringing the family to Colorado each year. Gudy attended Western State College in Gunnison, CO, where she taught German to help finance her education. In one of her classes she met Dave Gaskill. The two married and became parents to four children: Steve, Robin, Polly and Craig. Dave went on to become a geologist with the U.S. Geological Survey and Gudy completed a master’s degree in industrial recreation from the University of New Mexico.

Avid mountaineers, skiers and hikers, the Gaskills joined the Colorado Mountain Club (CMC) in 1952. By the 1970s, Gudy was one of the club’s most active participants, leading trips throughout the world for the CMC and chairing multiple committees. In 1977 she became the first woman president of the organization, then 5,000 members strong. But it was a planning meeting that Gudy attended in 1973 for a fledgling concept called The Colorado Trail that changed her life and the state’s landscape as well.

Merrill Hastings, then publisher of Colorado Magazine, and Bill Lucas, then Rocky Mountain Regional Forest Director, instigated the concept of a statewide trail. They assembled an advisory committee, including Gudy, and raised $150,000 in grants and contributions to launch the Trail. But management problems and bureaucratic issues bogged down the effort and consumed the funding before the first mile of trail was built.

As Executive Director, Gudy refused to allow the initiative to die. She drew a detailed route through the Forest Service Districts linking up with early trails and existing mining and logging roads. She single-handedly persuaded the powerful Directors of the Districts to allow and support the project. She then recruited volunteers and led the trail-building effort.

But after 11 years of 18-hour days, progress on Gudy’s Colorado Trail had become bogged by the sheer scope of the program and lack of funding, with only segments through two Districts completed. On December 9, 1984, an article in The Denver Post’s “Empire Magazine” titled “Trail to Nowhere” chronicling Gudy’s herculean efforts and criticizing the foundation’s lack of support caught the attention of then Governor Richard Lamm and his wife Dottie, who is also a member of the Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame. Lamm contacted Gaskill, hosted a fund-raiser at the Governor’s Mansion, spent time with a trail crew, and rekindled cooperation between the State and the Forest Service for the project. Lamm’s involvement and the corresponding publicity attracted and avalanche of volunteers and provided the atmosphere of support that Gaskill needed to accelerate the project’s pace.

On July 23, 1988 the final section was officially dedicated, completing the continuous trail from Denver to Durango. The occasion marked 15 years of full-time involvement by Gaskill, during which she never took a cent of pay, financed her own involvement through the proceeds of her real estate business creating of one of the country’s most precious resources. In 1987 the Colorado Trail split off from the Colorado Mountain Club to form the Colorado Trail Foundation, which oversees the never-ending task of maintaining and managing the Trail. The Foundation organizes and supports more than 20 volunteer trail maintenance crews, a roster of educational workshops held on the trail, and hosts several supported treks each summer. Gaskill’s efforts have involved more than 10,000 volunteers from all 50 states as well as Spain, England, Germany, France and Japan. Gaskill, now almost 75, actively led the Foundation until her “retirement” in 1998. She is still a driving force behind the Foundation and the leader of its weeklong outdoor workshop programs, many of which she continues to teach.

Somehow while guiding the creation of the Trail, raising four children, and developing a successful real estate business, Gaskill found time to ascend all 54 of Colorado’s 14,000-foot peaks as well as many international mountains up to 23,000 feet high. She has been recognized by President Ronald Reagan with the Take Pride in America Campaign award, was honored by President George Bush through the Points of Light program, and has appeared on The Today Show and countless television and radio programs. Judy Collins dedicated a song to Gaskill and her efforts, and Michael Martin Murphey was inspired by Gaskill and the Trail to write “Along, Along the Colorado Trail.” Murphey has become a major supporter and fund-raiser for the Trail.

Founded in 1985, the Colorado Women’s Hall of fame recognizes women who, during their lifetimes, made significant and enduring contributions to their fields of endeavor, elevated the status of women, helped open new frontiers for women and for society in general, and inspired others by their example. Past inductees include: Marilyn Van Derbur Atler, nationally renowned speaker for children’s rights; Ceal Barry, basketball coach for the University of Colorado; Reynelda Muse, broadcaster; May and Helen Bonfils, philanthropists; Mamie Eisenhower, humanitarian; Mary Hauch Elitch Long, co-creator of Elitch Gardens; Golda Meir, Israeli Minister; Cleo Parker Robinson, dance company director; Patricia Schroeder, politician; and Wilma Webb, politician.