By Brent Schoradt, SJMA Executive Director
We are drawn to Southwest Colorado for the easy access to unmatched outdoor recreation and proximity to wild open spaces. The word is out. Southwest Colorado has experienced immense growth in tourism and population over the past several decades. Our amazing landscape attracts thousands of visitors and new residents, who come to enjoy the scenery and get outdoors in the San Juan Mountains. By 2050, Archuleta, Dolores, La Plata, Montezuma and San Juan counties are collectively projected to experience a whopping 78% increase in population.
Our public lands are the backbone of our local economy and Colorado’s $62 billion outdoor recreation economy. Our forests and watersheds are the goose that lays the golden egg.
Unfortunately, public lands face mounting threats. Increasing numbers of visitors, declining wildlife populations, beetle infestations, drought, and catastrophic wildfire all threaten the health and sustainability of our forests and watersheds.
These are immense challenges. The question is: what can ordinary citizens do to help safeguard our public lands? San Juan Mountains Association (SJMA) seeks to empower the local community to give back to public lands in the face of mounting challenges. We believe in a vision of shared stewardship, where local volunteers work hand-in-hand with land managers to create a new model of public lands conservation based on citizen engagement.
We all have a role to play. SJMA invites every citizen, every town, every business, every school to join us as we embark on three key initiatives: (i) engage in public lands stewardship projects that improve conditions on the ground, (ii) educate the public on how to responsibly visit public lands without harming key watersheds and forests, and (iii) foster a conservation ethic that will stand the test of time by connecting youth of all ages to the outdoors through science-based education.
Here are two easy ways to join us this summer:
Become a San Juan Ranger: This summer, SJMA’s volunteer San Juan Rangers will educate wilderness visitors on proper “Leave No-Trace” practices, improve trail access, and conduct important on-the-ground restoration projects in the Weminuche Wilderness. The San Juan Rangers are ordinary folks willing to stand up for public lands by donating their time and energy to wilderness stewardship. Apply to be a San Juan Ranger and join us as we give back to the Weminuche.
Send a Kid to Summer Camp: This year, SJMA and Durango Nature Studies merged to create a comprehensive education program that connects youth of all ages to public lands through hands-on science education. SJMA is proud to continue the Durango Nature Studies tradition of providing enriching and educational summer camps for youth. Encourage your kids to get outdoors this summer by sending them to an SJMA summer camp, or sponsor a camp spot and invest in the next generation of land stewards.
Together, we can show the way and make Southwest Colorado a model community for public lands stewardship.