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52 Tuesdays: Ben Hanus

Buena Vista resident Ben Hanus had a pretty unconventional upbringing, in the woods of Kentucky. He grew up in a house his dad built that was off the grid. “ I grew up with an outhouse and didn’t have a flush toilet until I went to college,” he says. That seems to be a good background for someone who spends 45 days a year in the remote backcountry of Colorado’s high peaks.

Hanus, Field Programs Director for the Colorado Fourteeners Initiative, oversees all volunteer and crew-based field projects. He also collects and analyses GPS-based trail conditions data. He found his upbringing helpful to his work life. “Taking on challenges and doing things that push us outside our limits of comfort, both mentally and physically are all that much sweeter to me,” he says.

After receiving his BA in Landscape Architecture, Hanus opted to get into trail work rather than working for an architectural firm. He has experience in high alpine trail design and eventually found his way to the Colorado Fourteeners Initiative.

Hanus hires and manages 20-30 individuals seasonally to work on backcountry trail crews all over the state building, maintaining and restoring areas adjacent to the 14er trails. The season lasts about four months. “It’s a pretty wild time… a lot of steps and things that need to be executed succinctly, in order for us to achieve success. We’re operating in an {environment} that has so many unknowns variables," he says. Hanus has to train the seasonal crew, get them up to speed on how things are done on the 14ers and teach them about fragile alpine environments unique not only to the country, but the world.

Hanus also has to figure out how to implement projects, which are built using materials found on the mountain. He says,“ If we don’t have rocks where we need them, how do we move them from here to there?”

Hanus works with the volunteers’ crew leaders, known as the Adopt a Peak Crew. “Volunteers require a lot more logistics than our fixed-site crews, it’s more dynamic, but I enjoy it," he says.

Off season, Hanus, works on trailhead kiosks, map making (GIS) for proposals, data collection (condition of the trails) using trail counters and designing sustainable trails that will withstand trying conditions. On season Hanus spends roughly 45 days in the field. “I started in the field, living and working in the field on trail crews for years before I started managing crews, " he says. " If (the work) didn’t involve the field, I wouldn’t be here… The job is hard and I like hard jobs…it’s the most challenging for a lot of people and it’s the thing I love most about the job.”


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