By Owen Woods | firstname.lastname@example.org
SAN Luis Valley Great Outdoors, Great Outdoors Colorado, and the city of Monte Vista held the grand opening for the Ray and Colette Skeff Nature Trail Thursday morning to quite a crowd. The trail is the first of its kind in Monte Vista.
Down Chico Camino street on the west side of Monte Vista is an unassuming nature trail that borders the outskirts of town. The trail is a mile-long loop that was once a grazing pasture behind the Big R in Monte Vista. Now it is a close-to-home, family-friendly nature trail that is open to hiking, birding, biking, and dog walking thanks to local philanthropists Ray and Colette Skeff.
The Skeffs are staples in the Monte Vista community. They are generous donors. They have awarded yearly scholarships to Monte Vista High School seniors every year since 2003, and most recently have donated to the Ski Hi Regional Complex. In 2020, they donated $40,000 to Monte Vista’s Vali 3 Theatre. The Skeffs also collect classic cars and have donated them throughout the years, including a Cadillac to Boys & Girls Clubs of the San Luis Valley.
The Skeffs are Valley natives and both of them thanked the community and the coalitions that helped make the trail happen.
Ray Skeff is wheelchair-bound now, but managed to keep the mood light. After his speech, he cut the red ribbon for the trail opening.
“For you that don’t know what happened, I stepped on, oh what the hell were they? Those little bugs that caused all the trouble,” Ray said during his speech.
“Well,” Colette said, without missing a beat, “you have diabetes.” The crowd got a good laugh from that.
“I’m 83, and they tell me I got 83 left. I’ll need ‘em. Thank you much,” Ray said, finding another opportunity to make everyone laugh, “I think it’s outpriced, but that’s your problem.”
Mick Daniel, SLVGO’s executive director, calls the trail an “intersection between rural and the town.”
Pictures by Owen Woods
THROUGH the help of GOCO, a Resilient Communities Grant was awarded to the project. The Ray and Colette Nature Trail is one of four trail projects that are funded by this grant. Over $250,000 was invested into these trails.
“A trail is an opportunity for people to come together,” said Daniel. “We know for a fact that being outside is a healthy thing. Even on cold days.”
Estrella Woods, GOCO’s Southwest program officer, said, “To date, GOCO has invested, here in Rio Grande County, over $10.4 Million, and has helped to conserve over 9,400 acres of land.”
Woods went on to thank everyone involved in the project. “The depth of work you do to work on improving community health and wellness and access, and improving outdoor recreation opportunities across the Valley is really incredible.”
David Cockrell, a GOCO board member, said, “What we want to fund is projects that work for you, that you come up with, that you organize and build coalitions to fund and then to construct. For Resilient Communities this was our effort to merge the GOCO mission and vision with the specific needs of your community, your specific community, during a hard time. And there’ll be lots more programs like this coming from GOCO.”
Monte Vista Mayor Dale Becker and City Manager Gigi Dennis presented the Skeffs a plaque to memorialize this event.
“The Skeffs have been a fixture in our community for decades and they have vested themselves in thousands of community hours and donated countless dollars and have been a pillar to lean on when our community needed a hand up,” said Dennis.
Becker said, “Five years ago, Mr. Skeff talked to me about running for mayor. And here I am…. I have leaned on him a lot for a lot of things.”
The idea for this trail came about in 2018 through SLVGO and former Monte Vista city manager Forrest Neuerburg, Monte Vista city recreation director Jaime Hurtado, and John Camponeshi. Construction of the trail began last summer. SLVGO’s Great Outdoors Action Team, or GOATs, did the majority of the work, but had help from the Southwest Conservation Corps.
The construction of the trail was halted at certain points through the summer due to high water levels that nearly bogged down construction.
The trail was completed in October 2021.