In 1970, the states of Colorado and New Mexico jointly purchased 64 miles of the Denver & Rio Grande Western narrow gauge railroad between Antonito, Colorado, and Chama, New Mexico, for operation as a scenic railway. Running through stunning mountain scenery, the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad also is an important historic resource that was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 2012. The non-profit Friends of the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad was incorporated in 1988 to promote the preservation, restoration, and interpretation of the railroad as a living museum.
The Friends conduct six week-long work sessions each year involving hundreds of volunteers. Typical work includes rail car restoration and painting, stabilization and restoration of historic structures along the line, general property cleanup, and interpretive projects. In the summer of 2012, volunteers contributed 14,000 hours of work.
Interpretive work by the Friends helps visitors appreciate the historic importance of the railroad. Tens of thousands of brochures on the self-guided walking tours of the railroad yards (in both English and Spanish) have been distributed, and volunteers provide historical interpretation and information to passengers riding the trains.
Designated a Preserve America Steward in November 2012.