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Tiny Lake City welcomes Colorado Trail hikers

Community donated snacks and toiletries at the Lake City Trail Hikers Center.
Laura Palmisano
Community donated snacks and toiletries at the Lake City Trail Hikers Center.

Spanning hundreds of miles, the Colorado Trail runs from Denver to Durango. The tiny mountain town of Lake City is one of the last resupply stops in southwest Colorado. In town there is a community effort to welcome hikers that includes a free shuttle, snacks, and even a hiker dinner.

On this Sunday evening in mid-August, about 70 people gathered at the Presbyterian Annex in Lake City.

Locals have come here to have dinner with hikers visiting the community.

“If you are a hiker or this is your first meal joining us, we do this eight weeks of the summer,” said Lake City Presbyterian Minister Jason Santos at the start of the dinner. “Just a quick orientation, the line comes around here and we do let hikers go first.”

Travis Lametterey from Oakland, California is one of the 15 Colorado Trail hikers at the event.

“It’s really unbelievable,” he said. “I’ve never experienced anything like this. It’s pretty fabulous. I mean it’s hard to believe that so many people would come together and welcome us like this."

Lametterey started on the Colorado Trail in Denver. It’s taken him a little over three weeks to hike over 350 miles of the nearly 500-mile trail. He heard about the dinner from a fellow trail traveler.

“He was an encyclopedia of trail knowledge and mentioned that there was a hiker dinner,” he said. “I actually didn’t plan on coming to Lake City for the hiker dinner specifically but the timing just worked out that I ended up here and what an amazing experience."

During the months of July and August, local churches and townsfolk prepare the meal. One church provides a main dish, this week it’s bratwurst, and people bring a side dish.

Lake City resident Denny Brannon volunteered at the dinner. Today, he helped set up chairs and brought a potato salad to share.

“We are welcoming outside people to come to our town and this is a nice way of doing it,” Brannon said. “Once they get here, they are no longer strangers and that’s a fantastic way of meeting new friends.”

The hiker dinners started two summers ago when the Presbyterian Church opened the Trail Hiker Center within the annex.

The idea for the center came from Presbyterian Minister Jason Santos.

“It was a sort of a vision when we were named to be a gateway community for the trails,” he said. “It was space that wasn’t really being used.”

The Lake City Trail Hikers Center is open from June through the end of September.

Santos said it’s a designated space for hikers.

“Hikers who have to unpack their bags in the town park or outside of a shop often feel stigmatized but really it just comes down to it’s a place where they can land and not feel like they are an intrusion to others,” he said.

The center also has wifi, charging stations, restrooms, coffee and tea, water, fresh fruit and snacks all provided to hikers at no cost by the community. There’s even a free shuttle operated by locals that drives hikers 17 miles back to the Colorado Trail at Spring Creek Pass.

Santos said the trail hiker center is a way to serve others.

“Very much in the DNA of what Christianity ought to be is the idea that you welcome the stranger without expecting anything in return because that’s what you do,” he said. “So it’s a return to a form of hospitality, to a form of welcome that I think embraces a need to serve.”

It’s estimated about 1,000 hikers have visited the trail center since it opened in 2021.

Colorado Trail hiker Victoria Loseva of the San Francisco Bay Area was at the dinner. She said she’s not experienced a town coming together like this to support hikers.

“The trail is a very small [and] very welcoming community,” Loseva said. “Hikers look out for their own but for a town to come together and do something like this it’s a little overwhelming but I feel really welcomed and all the food is really amazing.”

Santos said Lake City has grown a reputation among trail hikers.

“I sort of say tongue-and-cheek that I would like Lake City to be the premiere trail town on the Colorado Trail and many [hikers] say it has become that, “ he said. “It’s the one place everyone says you must stop.”

Santos said he hopes future Colorado Trail hikers will do just that by adding Lake City to their resupply town roster.

Laura joined KVNF in 2014. She was the news director for two years and now works as a freelance reporter covering Colorado's Western Slope. Laura is an award-winning journalist with work recognized by the Society of Professional Journalists, Colorado Broadcasters Association, and RTDNA. In 2015, she was a fellow for the Institute for Justice & Journalism. Her fellowship project, a three-part series on the Karen refugee community in Delta, Colorado, received a regional Edward R. Murrow Award.