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Funds pour in to revitalize Columbia College trails


Maggie Beck / Union Democrat Signs from the Par Course, although deteriorating from neglect, are still along the fitness trail at Columbia College. About $17,000 was raised for trail upgrades.

When it was first proposed, the plan to fix up two walking trails that weave through the Columbia College campus was pretty simple: Rake up the roots and leaves and patch some aging signs.

Seventeen-thousand dollars later, plans are slightly more ambitious.

Students and staff at Columbia College and members of the community plan to hit the trails on Oct. 15 to give a comprehensive makeover to two trails at the campus, a “fitness trail” complete with 19 exercise stations such as pull-up bars and vault bars, and a nature trail with signs identifying local flora and fauna.

The work will include replacing old signs, installing new exercise equipment and ensuring the trails are clearly delineated.

The nature trail and the fitness trail, called the Par Course, have in recent years fallen into mild disrepair. Letters on wooden signs that stud the trails have faded, and exercise equipment has grown rusty.

“The trail is still easy to follow, but the equipment is kind of dilapidated,” said Tyler Summersett, the transportation and trails coordinator at the Tuolumne County Transportation Council.

Still, a comprehensive makeover for the two trails was never supposed to be on the agenda. Columbia College originally sought a $1,500 grant from a Sonora Area Foundation fund called Trail Me About It. Then the donations started pouring in.

The college started with a $1,500 grant from the Trail Me All About It fund. Then the college foundation made a contribution of about $1,500, the student body donated $3,000, and Sonora Regional Medical Center gave another $5,000. With the help of private donors, including one who gave a few thousand dollars, the college now counts more than $17,000 in donations and pledges.

“We had drafted some letters,” said Brandon Price, associate dean of Student Equity and Student Success. “But people just heard about it through the grapevine. So it didn’t even take the kind of effort we had prepared for. People were just excited about it.”

Summersett suggested the large number of donations pointed to a dearth of outdoors-oriented projects or organizations.

“There is no outlet for this kind of charitable giving, really, other than, of course, the Trail Me About It fund and isolated improvements activities,” said Summersett. “I personally believe there is a kind of pent-up, latent demand to invest in these kinds of trails. I think whenever you give folks an outlet to invest in a trail, they’re going to do it.”

The Trail Me About It Fund was established in 2015, Summersett said. He said it was originally seeded with a $25,000 donation from Front Porch, a software company with headquarters in Sonora.

The $17,000 that the college has now amassed has proved so large, Price said, that a $1,000 surplus would likely be redirected to a new trails fund, to be used for upkeep and as savings for future projects.

“There was an idea, like: Well, let’s just clean up the trail and rake it up,” said Price. “But once this money came in, there was a change where we said let’s make it high-quality.”

I personally believe there is a kind of pent-up, latent demand to invest in these kinds of trails. I think whenever you give folks an outlet to invest in a trail, they’re going to do it.”

— Tyler Summersett, Tuolumne County Transportation Council