By Alison Mahnken
For the Courier
Hang gliders and paragliders catching the currents at Lookout Mountain are enjoying the fruits of their joint labors with Jefferson County Open Space: an upgraded trail to the popular launch site on Windy Saddle.
The airborne adventurers earn their rides by hauling gear weighing up to 80 pounds to the launch area — and a deteriorating foot trail was making that undertaking both unsafe and unpleasant.
So members of the Rocky Mountain Hang Gliders & Paragliders Association traded the friendly skies over Golden for some hard work with their feet planted firmly on the ground. The project realigned the trail and added stairs in some spots. Also planned are signage improvements and upgrades to the launch site.
Mike Morin, Jeffco Open Space’s outdoor recreation coordinator, is pleased with the cooperative effort with the gliders’ group that made last summer’s project possible.
“They approached us because they had certain requirements that were being put upon them by their insurance carrier to make improvements to their different launch sites," Morin explained. "Some of that included signage; some of that included having areas where spectators can safely observe them doing their activity.
“Out of that came a desire to improve the trail access up to that site for safety/sustainability reasons and also to bring people up in a safe manner.”
Boots were put on the ground around June for the project, which was completed in late September.
Mike Benzie, safety director for the gliders’ group, worked with Open Space to organize the volunteers.
“We had a great turnout,” Morin said. “We had 15 half-days of work with 28 different members of their club showing up to put in time and labor to construct this trail.
“They essentially built about 425 feet of trail and 15 stairs. The stairs are all wood. They came and worked with Brian Conty, our trails services team lead, and constructed these stairs off site and then the following workday transported those stairs to the site and installed them.”
While the lower section of the trail had seen some improvements in the past, “it was straight up a hillside, and over the years it just deteriorated,” Morin said.
“So we went from a trail that was essentially straight up the hillside and was not sustainable at all to a very sustainable and more-pleasant-to-walk-on trail that brings them up to their launch site.”
Some of the signage yet to be added will explain the sport to spectators.
“There will be a sign that interprets what the hang gliders and paragliders are doing for the layperson that’s going up to watch,” Morin said.
The revamped trail is getting high marks from the high-altitude daredevils who carry their loads to Lookout Launch.
“They’re ecstatic about the improvements, and we are too,” Morin said. “Not only is it an easier walk for them, it’s a safer walk. We were able to do things like trim vegetation back so hang gliders who have these large packs that stand on either side of their bodies have an easier time of maneuvering up the hillside.”
Morin said Jeffco Open Space works to encourage users to help with projects that improve and preserve the areas where they spend time.
“We’ve engaged the rock-climbing community in similar ways,” he said. “We’ve built a couple climbing access trails at various places — Clear Creek Canyon, at the west side of Tunnel 2, as well as at Cathedral Spires Park. So this is just a continuation of those efforts.”
The gliders’ trail starts at Lookout Mountain Road off the Lariat Loop and runs up the hillside to the northern shoulder of Mount Zion. Gliders take flight year-round as long as air currents are sufficient to provide lift.
Lookout Launch is well known among hang gliders and paragliders, some of whom simply cruise along the foothills and land nearby, while others begin long flights across the state.