Filling the Stewardship Gap: Two Leaders in the Effort to Mobilize a Million People Who Love Colorado

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Filling the Stewardship Gap:

Two Leaders in the Effort to Mobilize a Million People Who Love Colorado

 

Introduction

We Coloradan’s care deeply about our public lands. How deeply? In 2010, our 1.3 million volunteer-hours were valued at nearly $28 million! As the 42nd anniversary of Earth Day approaches, this is a good time to reflect upon the progress we have made after years spent stewarding our lands and develop the resolve needed to face future challenges.

In 1992, voters created the Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO) Trust Fund to help preserve our state’s outdoor heritage. To date, GOCO has awarded approximately $800 million in grants for well over 3,000 projects. Local governments and others have contributed additional funding for preservation of open space and natural areas. But despite these major achievements, the gap between volunteer capacity and stewardship needs remains. After extensive research, Volunteers for Outdoor Colorado (VOC) published their Blueprint for Outdoor Stewardship in 2002. They found that record population growth had led to a substantial increase in the use of public land for recreation at a time when land managers’ budgets and staffs were getting smaller. As a result, the natural resources that attract new residents to our state were being degraded.

The Blueprint provided a strategy for significantly increasing levels of volunteer participation. The plan was implemented and further progress was made, and yet the executive summary in a document released last year began with this statement: “The crisis facing Colorado’s public lands is at a critical point.”

The Report on the Impact of Volunteer Stewardship in 2011 was the result of input from participants at the November 2010 Stewardship Forum, a two day event coordinated by the Colorado Mountain Club and Volunteers for Outdoor Colorado. The crisis discussed in the Report was brought about by a number of factors.

  • Population growth continues and Colorado’s budget deficit is $1 billion for this fiscal year.
  • The pine beetle epidemic and wildland fires such as the Fourmile Canyon Fire have further strained the ability of land management agencies and nonprofit groups to contend with these problems.
  • Additional challenges include climate change and the growing disconnect between children and the outdoors.
  • Though volunteers in increasing numbers are rising to these challenges each year, the struggle to bridge the capacity gap continues.

If we are to be successful in meeting stewardship needs, we must create “sufficient capacity to manage and train volunteers to be as effective as they can be and to ensure that they have a great experience that makes them want to return again and again. Volunteer management and training programs require sufficient funding and support. With that, the investment in volunteers can be leveraged many times over. The outdoor stewardship movement needs to be strengthened.”

The 2010 Stewardship Forum spawned the Colorado Outdoor Stewardship Coalition which hosted a second forum on the Western Slope last March. They will also be hosting a 2nd annual awareness event at the State Capitol on April 19th.

Those of us attending the Forum left with the intention of fulfilling this call to action: “to engage a million Coloradans in taking care of our state’s outdoors resources, helping to preserve, protect and sustain our natural resources for generations to come.” Two organizations who remain at the forefront of this mission are the Colorado Mountain Club (CMC) Conservation Program and Wildlands Restoration Volunteers (WLRV).

Colorado Mountain Club

“Had it not been for the Colorado Mountain Club, there would not be a Rocky Mountain National Park,” said a park superintendent in 1965. Both the park and the club were “championed by the same dedicated group of service-minded, outdoor-oriented people.” (100 Years Up High, J.N. Robertson et al.)

Thus began the 100 year history of the Colorado Mountain Club (CMC). The CMC was also instrumental in the creation of Dinosaur National Monument and in passage of the Wilderness Act. We can expect great things in the coming century as well.  Its Conservation Program continues to expand the club’s culture of stewardship “by working with land management agencies, partner organizations, elected officials, and coalitions to permanently protect our last remaining roadless areas and the ecological integrity of our region.”

CMC Conservation Staff are currently working on major projects like the Hidden Gems wilderness campaign and the Colorado Roadless Rule. They are also offering a number of stewardship projects and events in an effort to reach their goal of 8000 volunteer hours this year. To get more young people involved, the CMC’s Youth Education Program is helping to address the need to convince our youth to spend less time texting and gaming and more time outdoors.

The Stewardship Report makes it clear that partnerships are the key to success: “By working together more effectively and creating collaborative efforts, we can … mobilize a million people who love Colorado….” CMC values partnerships with other stewardship groups including the well established Wildlands Restoration Volunteers (WLRV) and the newly formed Boulder Climbing Community (BCC). These partnerships allow the CMC to leverage funding, create greater awareness of recreation and natural resource issues, grow our community of citizen stewards, and share resources such as training and tools. Land management agencies like the U. S. Forest Service usually encourage such partnerships because they then have fewer gaps to fill (e.g.  leadership, tools, etc.) with their limited staff and funding.

The Conservation Program is not funded by CMC membership fees, but solely through grants and private donations. Colorado Mountain Club new and renewing members wishing to provide financial support can choose to donate to the Conservation Program on the membership application form by entering the desired amount separately from their membership dues payment.

In 2012, the CMC is celebrating 100 years of mountain education and camaraderie as well as a legacy of conservation and stewardship. The organization will host a family-friendly trail and restoration project near Buena Vista, in conjunction with the Summer Centennial Festival. Also, the CMC will join Denver Mountain Parks, also celebrating its centennial year as an organization, in the Beaver Brook Trail stewardship project.  The CMC was a major contributor to the design and construction of this very popular trail which opened in 1918. It provides metro area residents with a nearby scenic trail high above Clear Creek Canyon. Please visit www.cmc.org/stewardship to learn more.

Wildlands Restoration Volunteers

Wildlands Restoration Volunteers (WLRV) is the organization profiled in Case Study #1 of the Stewardship Report. They perform “a wide variety of important habitat restoration and conservation work in and around the Northern Colorado Front Range.” They have “developed highly skilled technically trained volunteer crew leaders who understand habitat restoration issues and are capable of leading large numbers of volunteers with very little need for agency oversight. Agencies can expect quality “turn-key” work from this non-governmental partner.”

Wendy R. Magwire, Forest Wildlife Biologist with White River National Forest, provided this testimonial: “This is a volunteer group that does EXCELLENT work.  The nice part about WLRV is they do all the recruiting, planning, design, supervision, and provide their own equipment.  They have botanists/restoration experts on staff and often have more experience and expertise than we do. I can’t say enough about them. They are AWESOME.”

“WLRV has grown every year of its history,” writes WLRV’s Sarah Egolf. “However, the organization needs help to sustain its successes.  We must invest more in the talent of youth and adult leaders.  To that end, we are designating 2012 the year to Focus on Leadership. This year, we are recruiting, training, and mentoring more volunteer leaders than ever before. This will increase our ability to engage more volunteers and restore more habitat, while retaining our “special sauce” of high quality volunteer experience and ecological restoration.”

The single biggest limitation to increasing WLRV’s positive impact is growing the community of volunteer leaders fast enough. There’s plenty of work on the ground, and there are plenty of volunteers eager to help, but more volunteer leaders are needed to guide them. Community and Projects are inseparably part of WLRV, like two sides of a coin.  We cannot have a thriving community without meaningful work to bring us together.  And, we cannot accomplish so much on the ground without a thriving community.

However, WLRV is most fundamentally about people, community, and culture. Project results are great, but transforming human experience and behavior is vastly more important to fulfill our mission, although harder to measure. People are both the cause of and solution to environmental problems.

Therefore, when circumstances force a strategic choice between project production and building community, our mission and core values require us to choose community. And, ironically, by prioritizing people in this way, we believe that ultimately on-the-ground project results will be maximized.”

As in previous years, the WLRV has a long list of projects scheduled for 2012. One is the Boulder Creek Adopt Site Restoration. On a 2.3 mile stretch of Boulder Creek that WLRV has adopted for long term restoration, volunteers will replace a non-native plant community with a thriving native plains riparian community. The first phase is scheduled for June 20. Another is the Brainard Portal Restoration and Trail, a project the CMC is partnering on. In one of the most heavily used wilderness access points in the U.S., volunteers will seed and plant shrubs and trees, construct approximately 800 feet of trail, and close and rehab at least 2000 feet of social trails. For additional information, please visit www.wlrv.org.

Final Thoughts

Over the years, Boulder Group members have demonstrated clearly that they are among the many Coloradans who care deeply about public lands. They have been consistent and generous supporters of both the CMC Conservation Program and Wildlands Restoration Volunteers, as well as other organizations. The Boulder Group Conservation Grants program has helped to fund a variety of stewardship projects and a number of Boulder Group members have volunteered on these projects.

Looking ahead, there are many opportunities for each of us to contribute. One can choose a challenging, multi-day project on a Fourteener or, for the time-crunched, a local, half-day event. Every bit helps. “It’s the little things citizens do. That’s what will make the difference. My little thing is planting trees,” said Nobel Peace Prize laureate Wangari Maathai, who’s Greenbelt Movement has planted more than 47 million trees. If we continue to join together in growing numbers and each of us contributes our “little thing,” a million Coloradans working on behalf of future generations is surely an attainable goal.

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