KUSA — Teresa Martinez said she’ll probably never thru-hike something like the Appalachian Trail or Continental Divide Trail, but that hasn’t stopped her from devoting her life to them.
“To know that I’m a small part of something that, for 50 years, has been protecting landscapes like this is pretty amazing,” Martinez said. “So there’s just this deep commitment to give back to that.”
Martinez is the executive director of the Continental Divide Trail Coalition, which was founded in 2012 by volunteers and recreationists looking to improve and protect the 3,100-mile National Scenic Trail from New Mexico to the Canada border.
This marks the 40th year of the Continental Divide Trail, which is 76 percent complete. Some stretches of the trail require thru-hikers to walk along the highway, but efforts are underway to make it fully marked.
Martinez has worked for the CDT for 11 years. Before that, she worked at the Appalachian Trail – a job she said she came into when she started volunteering there in college.
She said her mind was blown when she first saw the famous white blazes that marked the storied trail connecting Georgia and Maine.
“It was free and it was so long,” Martinez said. “I never in my wildest imagination thought that something like that could exist.”
Martinez said during college, she spent every weekend on the Appalachian Trail doing volunteer work and her summers were spent on a building crew.
“Most people who hike it have no idea what goes into building a trail, and that’s the beauty of it,” she said. “If they think it was naturally there, then they’ve done a great job and you are just returning this gift to future generations, and I got hooked in that moment.”
When she worked on the Appalachian Trail crew, Martinez said she made $10 a week and her dad chided her for taking a job that required doing laundry and hard physical labor.
“I think what it taught me was I found a community and a family that still exists to this day,” she said.
Martinez said she didn’t picture leaving her job with the Appalachian Trail, but that when she arrived on the Continental Divide, it just felt like the right choice – and that she was helping to preserve one of the most important landscapes in the country.
“There’s nothing … in my personal opinion … there’s nothing more significant than this Divide,” she said. “It is the landscape where our watersheds begin … our critical land species exist along it, and it culturally and historically holds so much of the American story.”
For Martinez, it’s also personal. The CDT was one of the first places she went after she lost both of her parents within weeks of each other.
“It’s where I connected to them,” she said. “After they had passed away I feel them here because they knew how important to me the CDT was to me.”
For more information about the Continental Divide Trail Coalition and how to get involved, visit: https://continentaldividetrail.org/
This story is part of 9NEWS Photojournalist Chris Hansen’s coverage of the Continental Divide Trail’s 40th anniversary. Join us on the 9NEWS Instagram for an introduction to the people on the trail and some the photos Chris took on his 60-mile section hike through Colorado.