By Owen Woods |


TUCKED in a canyon of ponderosa pine and aspen trees is an old campground with concrete benches. Rito Seco Park was established there in the 1970s and has been a local spot since then. Overgrowth and towering trees provide a shade from the hot sun, and the smell of pine just about whisks you off your feet like a pie in the window. 

However, the park has had no trail for simple recreation. Now, after years of collaboration and hard work, you’ll find a serene trail that follows Rito Seco Creek.

San Luis Valley Great Outdoors and its partners in Costilla County held a grand opening and ribbon cutting for the new Rito Seco Trail on Friday. This project has been in the works for over 12 years. 

Ben Doon, the chief administrative officer for Costilla County, said that there are no federal open lands in Costilla County, which is roughly 99% private land. The opportunities to incorporate public, outdoor space into the community was a high priority for this project and for the county. 

“It’s something the county really wanted to take on to develop trails and parks and just outdoor recreation assets that we see all around us in the Valley, and there’s not a lot for the public around here,” he said. 

Doon spoke on the long road of government and how being patient sometimes does pay off. He called the Rito Seco Trail an “awesome little oasis,” and an “undiscovered gem.” 

A grant from Great Outdoors Colorado helped inch this project forward all those years ago, along with more partnerships and help from other outdoor entities. Thanks to Colorado Open Lands, Costilla County was able to acquire private lands for this trail, the highlight of which is a group of beaver ponds on the eastern section of the trail. “Here we are, 10 years later,” he said. “It’s been really, really amazing to see something from start to finish.” 

SLVGO became involved in the trail work in 2018, said Mick Daniel, SLVGO’s executive director. “We’ve been in this canyon, some part of every summer.” 

SLVGO’s Great Outdoor Action Team, or GOATs, began working on the trail in 2020 alongside ContourLogic and Gumption Trail Works. The largest portion of the trail work was building bridges. These bridges were no easy engineering feat. Costilla County Road and Bridge built two of the connecting bridges at the trailhead, while the GOATs put in four bridges along the rest of the trail. The timber for these measured 40 feet long and were all carried by hand. The cross beams were cut lumber that measured over 6 feet long and weighed well over a hundred pounds apiece. 

SLVGO put out a call for volunteers to help carry these timber loads. Adam State University’s wrestling team was among those who came around and helped muscle the dense timber. These bridges are designed to stay. 

Daniel said, “I could go on and on about all the intricate details that go into putting a tool into the dirt, into the ground, but it’s extensive and the partner link that came together to make this project happen has really been quite amazing.”

Shirley Romero-Otero, representing the Move Mountains Youth Project, spoke on the trail’s significant importance to the community and the culture of the project. As a community leader and president of the Land Use Council, she also sent letters of support for SLV GO!s work on the project. 

Romero-Otero said Costilla County is one of the least-healthy counties in the state and emphasized the importance of outdoor spaces for young people and children. “This is the very few open spaces we have in the county, so it’s very valuable to us.” 

Move Mountains Youth Project was one of three projects to be recognized nationally for outstanding work with BIPOC youth in the outdoors. She praised the trail for allowing students to recreate, to collect plant specimens, and partake in the outdoors without having to go too far from home. 

Romero-Otero said with a candid grace, “This is significant and interesting when I look around this circle that it’s people that don’t live in this community, people that are outside of our community that have been the backbone to creating this park, to bringing in the resources. And I say that because as a 30-year veteran teacher, as someone who has organized for four decades across the state and the southwest, it’s hard to come into small communities, if you’re not from here, to try to do the work that needs to be done.”

Romero-Otero ended her speech by quoting one of her mentors: “I have, for the people, started a fire and then when the fire’s going, everyone gathers around to warm up.”

A warm round of applause filled the canyon, alongside the birds and flowing creek. The red ribbon was cut with oversized scissors, symbolizing another trail opening that the San Luis Valley can proudly call its own. 

“It’s pretty awesome when plans come to fruition,” Daniel said.