In an effort to combine outdoor education with service learning, Santa Fe Prep adopted a 7-mile stretch of the Continental Divide Trail in 2021. Prep’s stretch is in the Chama River Wilderness between Abiquiu and Coyote. For the past two years, students and faculty have made a backpacking trip to maintain our section by removing fallen trees and installing erosion control protections along the trail. Students have learned to utilize handsaws, pulaskis, mcLeods, pick mattocks, pry bars, and other tools to tend these trails. They’ve also been able to hone their outdoor skills by building shelters, learning different methods of sanitizing water, bear-proofing campsites, and dealing with the many variables that occur in the woods. All 11 students who currently participate in the CDT TAP have served on the project for three years, so we took advantage of our experience and good group chemistry to take on a larger project this past summer.
For five days in early August, our group ventured southwest to maintain a 17-mile stretch of CDT in the northwest section of the Gila National Forest. We partnered with local environmental nonprofit Wild Earth Guardians (they are the adoptees of this stretch) to make all of the logistics and action on the ground happen.
Asked about their reflections from the trip, students offered the following:
I enjoyed exploring the landscape that surrounded the various campsites we chose to dwell in. This gave me a new perspective on how people will appreciate our work, knowing that many have camped here in the past and will continue to do so in the future. Out on the trail, I found satisfaction in the tedious work of redirecting the trail, managing downed trees, and reducing erosion, knowing that many people will make the CDT trek and appreciate what we have done. – Hamilton Johnson ’24
My favorite part of the CDT trip was feeling accomplished at the end of every day despite having to navigate rainstorms, long (and at times steep) hikes, and not knowing exactly where the day would take us. Every member of the group showed up well-prepared and with a positive attitude. The trip was a practice in both self-sustainability and teamwork. While everyone had to bring their own gear, food, and general necessities, they also had to actively practice collaboration and teamwork every day. – Cora Bixby ’24
Though I may have gotten wetter than I have been before, being able to be outside for a couple of days with friends was a great experience. That, alongside being able to literally pave the way for people and make others’ journeys easier, felt very fulfilling. – Ethan Riebsomer ’25
After cutting down, by hand, one of the biggest fallen trees I’d ever seen, we began our hike to meet back up with the group. Walking along the ridgeline gave us a view of the beautiful Plains of San Agustin, and I thought about how if I had never been on this trail and it hadn’t been maintained, I may not have ever seen such an amazing expanse of open land that seemed almost alien to the mountain ranges of Santa Fe I was so used to. Though the trip may have been rainier than I thought New Mexico could produce, I saw a side of this state that I didn’t know existed, and I now have a special view that reminds me of the charm of this land. I’ve never been much of an outdoorsy person, growing up in the suburbs of Houston, but this trip showed me glorious views and gave me unique experiences. – Olver Winkler ’25
The most difficult tree we cleared was by far the most rewarding. The teamwork, dedication, and force of will it takes to accomplish such a task. Having hand-sawed through a tree over a foot in diameter is something not many can say, and there is no one I’d rather do it with than our small team of friends. Additionally, this single task led to many challenges our way, so our ability to innovate and be creative with our minimal tools was a very memorable part of the whole TAP experience. – Henry Land ’25
Seeing immense rain clouds over the Plains of San Agustin really made me feel like I was on a planet. It put into perspective how comparatively small I was next to the earth, and it gave me a greater appreciation for the planet as a whole. I think doing trail maintenance and providing others with the opportunity to hike that trail is incredibly important to demonstrate the sheer beauty and scale of nature. I think that if enough people really truly appreciate a good hike, it might cause them to become better stewards of our planet and fight for change on a greater scale. – Fritz Murray ’25
I think there is a lot of value in learning how to be self-sufficient in the backcountry and gaining new experiences in a challenging and nurturing environment. I’d never been to the Gila, and this was certainly the best way to get a little taste of the landscape. It is neat to know our efforts will be enjoyed for many years to come. We also found some cool rocks to climb, and that was fun. – Ben Schubach ’25
I really enjoyed our big hike during the middle of the trip. It was especially beautiful near the end, where it opened up into a meadow overlooking the valley. It felt really special to be able not only to experience great places like these but also to give back to my community as I was doing so. It really made this trip one of my favorite memories, not only of service learning but at Prep in general. – Ethan James ’25
It was really fun to have time in nature and connect with the land as well as to work so that more people can enjoy this environment that is so unique in America. I felt incredibly accomplished at the end of each day after cutting through giant trees and creating big dams to stop erosion across this big stretch of such a famous trail. I think by bringing more people out into nature, we can spread the ideas of conservation and environmental protection to more people to continue to sustain such a special space. – Ben Haozous ’25
I loved being out in the middle of nowhere and cutting down trees so that the people who come through on the trail can stay on the trail and keep hiking. This tap also gave me the experience of going to the Gila because I had never been there before. This TAP was the perfect mix of exploring and giving back. – Sophie Bair ’25
Most of the time, I feel like I sit in a pretty enclosed community, so going out on the CDT trip and helping other people outside of the people I see all the time feels good. The hike was beautiful, and being able to help make it easier for others to hike out there and see it felt good. – Brady Lawrence ’25