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Gudy Gaskill

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.