GOLDEN, CO—Lookout Launch is where hang gliders and paragliders take flight from Jefferson County Open Space into the wild, blue yonder. But lately these high-flyers have grounded themselves in volunteer trail work, with boots on the ground and tools in hand.
Hang gliding and paragliding are the most extreme sports enjoyed by Open Space visitors. The activities require fulfilling requirements from the United States Hang Gliding & Paragliding Association and completing a waiver.
Now, with the same gusto that members of Rocky Mountain Hang Gliding & Paragliding Association (RMHPA) take flight from Windy Saddle Park, RMHPA members have been building a safer, more sustainable trail to the top of Mount Zion, minimizing erosion. The trail improvements make it easier for hang gliders to spread their wings, literally, without damage to their equipment or mountain mahogany. Improvements at the top will also make for smoother, safer launches by removing rocks that are the main offenders in snagging paraglider lines.
Jefferson County Open Space trails staff have been directing the volunteers and provided the new trail alignment, which incorporates stairs. RMHPA Safety Director Mike Benzie, known simply as Benzie to members, has organized upwards of 25 volunteers for the trail work, which began in August.
"Our trail has been really degrading over the year," he said. "People have been slipping and sliding and hurting themselves. Paragliders’ packs weigh about 45 pound, and hang gliders’ packs weigh about 80, and it’s been treacherous hiking up and around those rocks, especially when we hike down when we top-land or head down because of changing weather conditions."
The trail improvements are documented from the ground and from the sky in this YouTube video, produced by RMHPA member Allen "Sparky" Sparks.
"Since the improvements we’ve done so far, everyone’s been commenting on how great it is," Benzie said, adding that Open Space has been "very accommodating, with good communication on all parts."
Open Space Trails Team Lead Brian Conty said he’s been happy to work with members of the hang gliding and paragliding communities. "It’s a much-needed project conducted by an extremely enthusiastic user group," he said. "There’s also been an interest from the group to continue to be stewards of this land."
Lookout Launch is widely known in the hang gliding and paragliding communities. From high above the City of Golden, qualified pilots enjoy pleasant glides along the foothills or long flights across the state from here. The state hang gliding record was set from Lookout Launch—187 miles by Brad Koji—as well as the paragliding record of 102 miles by Jan "Loopy" Voegeli.
Trail and launch zone improvements will continue in the coming weeks. New signs are also planned. Mid-way up the trail will be a sign explaining paragliding and hang gliding to spectators, with a new rules and regulations sign at top.
Jefferson County Parks is comprised of Boettcher Mansion, CSU Extension, the Fairgrounds, Weed and Pest, and Open Space. Open Space, the largest division, was founded as a land conservation organization in 1972 and preserves natural and cultural resources, provides quality outdoor recreation experiences and promotes sound environmental stewardship. We are funded with a one-half cent sales tax that has protected over 52,000 acres and created 28 regional parks and 210 miles of trails throughout Jefferson County.