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Smokejumper Trail to Honor Joe Philpott

by Missy Votel |

It’s been more than three years since Durangoan Joe Philpott died in an avalanche, but his memory rides on. This week, Trails 2000 announced it is building a new trail to honor Philpott, a former BLM smokejumper. The Smokejumper’s Trail will take off north from an intersection of the Skyline/Hyper Extended Ridge/Sugar trails, making a 2.5-mile lollipop on Raider Ridge.

The idea for the trail came from Joe’s parents, George and Margo, who wanted to honor their son, who they said had an adventurous and conscientious spirit. He was killed in February 2013 in a slide on Cameron Pass, near Fort Collins, just shy of his 27th birthday.

Joe’s parents approached Trails 2000 Executive Director Mary Monroe Brown with the idea of a trail and decided on the northern end of Raider Ridge, which is on BLM land. “They particularly wanted it to be on BLM property because Joe worked for the BLM,” Monroe-Brown said. In addition, that section of Raider Ridge was well known by Joe, who grew up nearby and ran, rode and explored the area often.

“When we walked it, it felt like Joe,” Margo Philpott said. “It has beautiful ridgetop views, it’s rugged and is part of a long traverse that he used to run and train on.”

Monroe-Brown described the terrain of the new trail, which has yet to be built, as less technical than the Hyper-Extended Ridge, which heads south from the intersection, and more akin to Snake Charmer.

“There’s the whole essence of Joe up there,” she said. “It seemed fitting to honor him in a way that was epic like he was.”

Before work on the Smokejumper’s Trail can begin, Trails 2000 must first build a connector from the top of the Sugar Trail. This 1,200-foot connector will take off from the last switchback of the Sugar Trail and hook up with Skyline at a four-way intersection. Currently, riders must take part of the Hyper Extended Ridge to acess Skyline from Sugar.

Crews began work this week, and Monroe said plans call for working as long as the weather permits. There is a work day today, Thurs., Nov. 2, on top of the Sugar Trail from 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. Monroe-Brown said to stay tuned to Trails 2000’s weekly Trail Talk update about work days next week.

“If the weather keeps cooperating, we’ll keep on working,” she said.

Approval of the Smokejumper and connector trails required a BLM environmental assessment in order to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act (aka NEPA). The EA studied various environmental impacts, from wildlife and plants to soils and recreation. The analysis also included a cultural resource survey of artifacts that may exist on the trail, none of which were identified. The BLM signed off on the EA in September.

According to Monroe-Brown, creating a new trail can take between two to five years from concept to completion and requires input from numerous stakeholders. (For more on “How a Trail Becomes a Trail,” check out the handy infographic on

She said the long-term vision is a “Ridge-to-Ridge” connect, that will connect Missionary Ridge to Raider Ridge, and Smokejumper’s is a key piece of the plan.

“It would be an iconic trail for our area, to be able to ride from Missionary Ridge, down the Pioneer Trail, down Raider Ridge and into Horse Gulch,” she said.

The Philpott family plans to install a commemorative sign marking the Smoke-jumper’s Trail in November.

“We feel grateful and honored to be part of helping expand the Trails 2000 trail system,” Margo Philpott said. “We feel like it’s a way to give back to our community, by helping create something lasting, as well as to remember and honor Joseph.”