Brainard offers winter amenities

Barbara Lawlor
Peak to Peak

The big green scissors cut through the big green ribbon stretched in front of the Gateway Trailhead Warming Hut at the winter parking lot and entrance to Brainard Lake. Heavy gusting winds tattered the severed ribbon halves, grabbed the hats and scarves of participants and numbed cheeks, nothing unusual.
Now, for the first time, visitors had a place to warm their hands or to use a bathroom before or after a snowshoe or ski trek — sheer luxury after all these years with no winter amenities. The huge filled parking lot was evidence that the improvements were much needed and that more people will enjoy the winter recreational opportunities.
The project has been years in the making, with various agencies cooperating and coordinating their resources. Among the officials present at the ribbon cutting on Saturday morning, Feb. 2, was Ingvar Sodal, who was one of the original cutters of trails in the Brainard Lake area.
In 1962, Sodal left his homeland of Norway and came to the United States to study electrical engineering at the University of Colorado. He brought his cross-country skis with him. He missed skiing in the wilderness, which was a part of his life in Norway and was happy to meet others who ski toured in the winter.
At first they thought the Brainard Lake area was too windy, but they discovered that once they were in the trees, the wind roared overhead, but was pleasant on the trails. Except there were no trails and skiing or snowshoeing was kind of like bush whacking through branches and logs and hidden boulders.
Sodal and his ski buddies approached the U.S. Forest Service and asked if they could carve some ski trails through the trees.
“They looked at us as if we were nuts,” Sodal said, “but they were agreeable, so we began working on the north trail. We skied the area in the winter, scoping out where the snow blew, where it drifted and mapped out a course. The north trail was once a telephone line and many of the trees had already been cut.”
He and a group known as the Colorado Mountain Club went to work. They formed a skiable trail in one of Boulder County’s most majestic wilderness areas. The group went on to study old maps and they discovered an old water ditch that led from the lake to the mining town of Ward. The south trail was built and ended up two-and-a-half miles at the old Colorado Mountain Club cabin, which had been built in 1929 and was a winter destination for the back country skiers.
“It was a lot of work,” Sodal said. “Dozens of us at a time would have work parties up there, cutting in the summer and figuring out the route as we went. Once there were trails opened for winter use, the people came.” It was the early 1970s, the beginning of the ski tour era.
The CMC cabin was hosted by volunteers who kept the fire burning, offering warmth and information for visitors. Arriving at the cabin would be a social event, a meeting of friends with common interests, getting out on a winter day and seeing the beauty in a pristine snow-covered world.
Developing a recreational area is always a two-sided sword. In recent decades, the USFS Boulder Ranger District realized that the area was becoming increasingly compromised as recreational use increased. By 2005, the Federal Government made the Brainard Lake Recreation Area a priority. In 2009, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act came up with a long-term solution. The Gateway Trailhead was designed and constructed to mitigate long-standing concerns including traffic congestion, pedestrian safety, vehicle/pedestrian conflict and the health and safety problems associated with human waste.
The new amenities include a warming hut with a wood stove, a restroom building with four stalls, a 140-space parking lot, trails and sidewalks, signs and information boards and landscaping, and the use of it all is free of charge.
After the ribbon was cut on Saturday, those involved in the project had a chance to speak. Boulder District Ranger Sylvia Clark opened the ceremony, saying, ” We are here to celebrate stewardship and partnership efforts that protect natural resources in the Brainard Lake Recreation Area, specifically today as it relates to the new winter recreation amenities right here at the Brainard Gateway Trailhead.”
Clark named the many agencies that contributed to the completion of the project:
the Federal Highways, Users Rodriguez Construction, Wildland Restoration Volunteers, Boulder Mountain-bike Alliance, Colorado Mountain Club, Indian Peaks Wilderness Alliance, ARP Foundation, America Land & Leisure, and the Colorado Department of Transportation.
Nederland Mayor Joe Gierlach congratulated the Forest Service on the completion of the project and said he anticipated working with USFS and Brainard Lake Development in future projects.
District Ranger Clark said now that the physical project is finished, volunteers are needed to help maintain and operate some of the necessary chores involved: an on-site attendant is needed when the wood-burning stove is in operation and during high-use periods, restroom cleaning and vault pumping, facility snow removal, landscape maintenance, trail maintenance and helping to install new amenities such as ski and snowshoe racks, benches inside the warming hut and an improved heating source for the warming hut.
For more information on donations or volunteering, contact or contact the Boulder Ranger District at 303-541-2500.
After the speeches, those attending the ceremony, went home or hit the trails.
Ingvar Sodal smiled and said: “This project is the most significant development to the area. Before this everything was haphvazard, but it is a mixed blessing. I have to admit when I first saw the parking lot, I thought, ‘this is terrible,’ but now I think it is good. You have to be realistic, keeping things the same is not the way life is. Things happen whether you like it or not; the best you can do is manage it. This is an example of that. Many things have changed, but the wind is still the same.”