By Stephanie Weber
During a week in late July, it dawned on me that even if I could carve out a full week to venture away from my desk to see the SJMA staff in action, I could not actually get to all of them, given their vast coverage. While SJMA Visitor Information Specialists were stationed on the front lines at public land offices across the San Juan and Rio Grande National Forests, we also had education programs occurring simultaneously at the Nature Center and at Canyon of the Ancients National Monument, our Forest Ambassadors staffed trailheads from Lone Cone to the Pine River, Junction Creek to the Cimarrons. In fact, our 10 Forest Ambassadors rotated through 21 different trails during that particular week.
Now, had I hustled and logged a significant number of miles, I probably could have gotten to those team members, but then, there were our field crews in the Rio Grande National Forest. Our four-person Wilderness Crew was working alongside the RGNF’s two-person Wilderness Crew, and they were eight miles deep into the Rio’s side of the Weminuche that week, making an overnight trip a necessity if I were to visit them. We also had four seasonal staff working directly with the RGNF recreation staff, and they were working all over the RGNF.
At our peak this summer, we had 45 hardworking, passionate people on our payroll and across the entire San Juan mountain region.
Aside from a ridiculous rash of flat tires on the SJMA vans and personal vehicles, the summer was free of incidents, which is remarkable when you consider that there were scores of staff traveling many miles, working in rugged terrain with tools, or managing hundreds of summer campers and other education events with people of all abilities.
While SJMA’s risk management has always been strong, our management team has deepened our commitment to greater professional development for our staff. Not only does deeper professional development enhance the employees’ experiences and make for a more successful organization, but it also is a part of our strategic plan.
Since SJMA is a state-licensed child care provider, our education program already includes an array of annual training requirements, but it’s been further enhanced through our partnership with the Montezuma Inspire Coalition, and new this fall, our home-school program through the Alpine International Preparatory Academy. Our education team routinely takes part in courses to enhance the care of children, to deepen our understanding the cultural significance of the region, and to further improve the quality and impact of our lessons.
Our seasonal stewardship crews now have a jam-packed two-week training program, and by the end of training our crews have certifications in CPR, Wilderness First Aid, sawyer, and Leave No Trace as well as instruction on trail maintenance. They are well prepared to step foot on the trail wearing one of our uniforms.
We are thankful for the funds that we receive through our SJMA members and donors which provide us the means to deepen the professional development opportunities for our team ensuring that we provide the highest-quality education and stewardship programs. Learn more about what we do at sjma.org.
It’s that time of year when, like many of you, I find myself reflecting on the year. It’s been an incredible year at San Juan Mountains Association – not only for accomplishments but also transitions, some of which were difficult.
There’s still plenty to do before we all ring in the New Year. Our major fundraiser, “Christmas Trees for Conservation” tree lot beckons, with opening day on November 24th, and we celebrate the power of philanthropy on Colorado Gives Day on December 5th. But the programmatic work has slowed.
Our education team is seeing a gap or two in their schedule each week. Our seasonal stewardship crews have ended, and tools have been cleaned and stored for the year. We’ve packed up the basecamps we had in Needleton, Ice Lake, and Blue Lakes. Our visitor information specialists are still fielding questions from hunters, but the flurry of recreationists have come and gone – at least until the snow flies.
The SJMA staff – 45 people at peak – worked tirelessly all summer to care for our public lands throughout the entire San Juan Mountain region or provided memorable educational experiences to thousands of children across southwest Colorado. With education and outreach at the core of everything we do, we connected with tens of thousands of individuals to help them understand the importance of helping care for the incredible landscape we call home and to encourage them to join us in being good stewards.
However, we couldn’t do any of it without an array of partners. From our federal land management partners to volunteers who donate their time and skills, to our corporate sponsors, like Alpine Bank, and all of you who support us with an annual membership, it truly takes a village to care for our public lands. In fact, did you know that Rolando Gonzalez and his crew at CRC Janitorial have adopted the vault toilets at the Junction Creek Trailhead and voluntarily care for them from May through October?
This year we have also deepened our partnerships with other nonprofit organizations to leverage our reach and impact. Through funding from La Plata County, we have worked alongside our colleagues at La Plata Open Space Conservancy, Mountain Studies Institute, and Southwest Conservation Corps to provide experiential programs to Bayfield and Ignacio youth on Fridays. We have had a couple of volunteer stewardship efforts like the Sneffels trail building with the Colorado Fourteeners Initiative or the Hermosa Creek cleanup with members of the United Methodist Church in Longview, Texas. Speaking of volunteers, more than 175 individuals have donated more than 4,000 hours to help with
our education programs, rebuild the Nature Center’s deteriorating dock, or engage with backpackers in Chicago Basin or make sure that new visitors to Ice Lake or Blue Lakes understand what’s in store for them.
I simply cannot thank everyone we have worked with this year in the space allotted, but during this Thanksgiving month, know that all of us at SJMA are grateful to all of you who joined us in some way this year to work hard, share some memorable moments – and even some laughs – and to care for this place that we all call home. See you at the tree lot!
By Brent Schoradt, SJMA Executive Director
Today is the 50th anniversary of the first Earth Day. Fifty years ago, on April 22, 1970, more than 20 million Americans joined together to demand greater protections for our forests, watersheds, and air. This collective action helped lead to the passage of America’s bedrock environmental laws. Within months, President Nixon signed the Clean Air Act, and the Clean Water Act was soon to follow in 1972. Since the first Earth Day, Congress has added nearly 100 million acres to the National Wilderness Preservation System, including the Weminuche Wilderness in 1975.
Earth Day is a great reminder that, in our democracy, ordinary citizens can help determine the fate of our most treasured natural resources, and the Earth itself. This is the ethos of the San Juan Mountains Association. Since its founding in 1988, SJMA has empowered the public to explore, learn about, and protect the spectacular public lands of Southwest Colorado.
In celebration of Earth Day, SJMA encourages everyone to get outside and enjoy your public lands in a safe and meaningful way. Look around, think of those who came before and left this magnificent natural legacy in Southwest Colorado. Think of what you can do to inspire and empower the next generation to care for our public lands and pass on a legacy of conservation through the ages.
This year, SJMA merged with Durango Nature Studies in our quest to build a sustaining conservation ethic in Southwest Colorado. Our goal is simple: to inspire the next generation of land stewards through science-based outdoor education.
We all know that many folks are unable to donate right now. If you are able to donate today, you have the power to give on behalf of those who cannot. You can stand up for our public lands and help our entire community build a conservation ethic that will stand the test of time. Your donations make a difference and we sincerely thank you for contributing.
Many of the organizers and participants of the original Earth Day, were young people inspired to act during challenging times. Your donation today will help us inspire the next generation to stand up for our public lands and face the unprecedented challenges that await them.
Thanks to a generous grant from the Payroll Department, all donations to SJMA during this difficult time will be matched, up to $7,000, doubling your impact. Moreover, all donations of $50 or more will receive a free “Wild for the Weminuche Wilderness” t-shirt. What a great way to get kids outdoors and show your support for our local public lands.
Thank you for standing with SJMA on this Earth Day. Your support means the world to us.
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.
By MK Gunn
Many outdoor enthusiasts in Southwest Colorado aren’t kept inside by cold weather. As the old adage goes, “there’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing.” Undoubtedly, there are folks outside every day of the year whether in the mountains or the desert canyons. And not even night time can drive some of us crazy people on to the warm, cozy couch. Yes, we camp out and even go backpacking in the dead of winter.
Aside from the right clothing, all you need is the right attitude and a few tricks of the trade. For general backpacking tips, refer to my February 2017 Stewards of the Land column. Then, read this article for tips specific to camping in snow and/or freezing temperatures.
Now, you may have heard me lecture about minimalist, lightweight backpacking. You should still strive for minimalism in the winter, but you’ll need more stuff and it’s going to weigh more. But you’ll thank yourself later. Here’s what you might want to add to your pack besides extra clothing, a warmer sleeping bag, and maybe a four season tent.
Stoves – White gas stoves such as the MSR Whisperlite are ideal for sub-freezing temperatures. The stove’s design easily vaporizes the liquid fuel. Isobutane canister stoves are difficult to use because the gas liquefies in cold temperatures. If you wear thick gloves or mittens (or maybe you’re a human radiator and can do it bare handed), you can warm the canister by holding it in your hands while the stove is running. This can be a tricky endeavor unless you have a stove system where the pot connects to the stove. Whatever stove you bring, be sure to carry lots of fuel. You may need to melt snow or ice for water and I bet you’ll indulge yourself in a hot drink or two.
Stay warm – Besides the proper clothing (you can have enough puffy down garments), hand and toe warmers can keep you from getting cold. I put hand warmers in my down booties. And then I stick toe warmers to the clothing on my abdomen. And a few nips of liquor can help, too, even if the science doesn’t back it up!
Sleep warm – Bring a water bottle with a trustworthy lid that can handle boiling water. Stash this piping hot bottle in your sleeping bag. This will keep you warm and will keep your water from freezing. Also, break out some fresh hand warmers. The packaging does say that you shouldn’t sleep with them, but I’ve never had a problem. Just be sure that they are not contacting bare skin. If you’re going to add extra socks or gloves, warm them up first by stashing them down your shirt for half an hour.
Use your sleeping bag to keep other things warm – If you aren’t sleeping in ALL of your clothes, keep the extra clothes in your sleeping bag. You’ll be happy about this in the morning. You will also need to snuggle with your electronic devices and isobutane canisters.
Pack out your human waste – Disposing of your human waste can be tricky if it’s snowy or the ground is frozen. The responsible way to go about it is to pack it out. WAG Bags, Restops, Cleanwaste, and other brands of human waste bags make it easy to pack out your human waste and simply deposit the used bag in a trash can once you return to the front country. Yes, these bags do seem wasteful. However, the alternative is that your human waste will wash into the fresh mountain streams come summer. Yuck. Please pack it out.
It’s so dark out! – Not sure how to cope with 14 hours of darkness? Well, aside from whipping up copious amounts of hot drinks, be sure to bring a star chart or download a star app. See what you can learn about the night sky. As for constellations, many people know some of the ancient Greek constellations, but do you know the various Native American constellations? And there’s nothing that says you can’t make your own constellations. I have a winter constellation that represents my old cat. He is forever chasing a mouse that he will never catch. You can also pack in a book. Don’t have time to read in this busy world? You’ll have plenty of time with 14 hours of darkness. Or, you can just catch up on your sleep. Most of us don’t get enough of that, anyway.
Looking for more tips on sleeping out in the cold? Check out backpacking.net/wintertips. But remember, no matter what time of year, your attitude has a lot to do with how much fun you have out there. Us crazy people will be out there waiting for you.
By MK Gunn
Not every adventure goes according to plan, but if it is not planned, the adventure might never go.
This is the sentiment that occurred to me, not all at once, at some point in college. I was, and still try to be, of the spontaneous sort. I don’t mind a good flying by the seat of my pants. Life should be filled with magic and serendipity. It should be a “choose your own adventure” book – you don’t know what life has in store for you next until you turn the page.
I first moved to Durango as a clueless 19-year-old. I was certain of very few things. I knew that I loved the mountains, didn’t like school and needed to stay in school because I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life besides go mountain biking and snowboarding.
I arrived in Colorado with most of the proper equipment and waited for the spontaneity to happen. And, to be fair, there certainly was some adventure. I was smart enough to join the Fort Lewis College mountain bike team, which took me traveling all over my new state. I saw new mountain ranges. Explored new towns. Fell in love with new trails. And did some really stupid, fun, irresponsible things.
But these were not my adventures. I was just a follower; a participant. I was not driving my own life … just along for the ride. If no one else was doing the planning, I rarely went farther than the trails behind my apartment. Was this what spontaneous and magical adventure was?
At some point, the fog lifted from my young brain. If I wanted to really choose my own adventure, I had to stimulate the catalyst. I had to start planning.
This wasn’t a lucid thought but rather a long, largely unnoticed transformation. Really, one day I turned around and there I was – the reluctant leader of our next adventure. If you want something done, you have to do it yourself. My life was transformed.
I never make any promises to my followers. My cheesy but true motto has become, “It’s always an adventure with MK.” I frequently find myself amid misadventure, whether it be some unintentional, miserable bushwhack or up some gully that is too steep to ascend without climbing equipment or on a slickrock pinnacle in a snowstorm. I’ve been caught in lightning storms above tree line, topped out rock climbs after dark and gotten lost far from camp in the middle of a multiday trip. I’ve broken trail in 3 feet of snow, burned a hole in my pants trying to smoke out mosquitoes and carried a sick llama’s saddle on my back. I’ve broken bones, torn tendons, compromised cartilage, jostled joints and skewered skin. All with no regrets. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been in the thick of a major mishap and thought to myself, “This is going to make a great story if I ever get out of here.”
You see, the reason I never enjoyed planning when I was younger is that nothing is ever quite as exciting when it goes according to plan. Spontaneity and serendipity are forms of art. Planning seems to lend itself to the exactness of science. To be clear, I have nothing against the sciences: I am fully committed to the laws of physics, intrigued by the growth and function of living organisms and even teach science to folks via outdoor education.
Despite planning’s potential for boring exactness, it could lead to the art of misadventure. Nowadays, knowing that not every adventure goes according to plan but if it is not planned the adventure might never go, I am obsessed with planning new adventures. Some I plan an hour before, some months in advance. Here in the San Juan Mountains, my favorite season is what I call clear tundra season – the time of year when the tundra is snow-free. So I have this planned out months ahead of time. If you want me to set aside a day in July, you should have asked me last year.
What’s my point? Here’s an example: My husband and I spent months planning to hike the Colorado Trail. We had an exact time line, including daily mileages and camp spots, boxes of meticulously portioned food, friends lined up to help with resupplies and contingency plans if we needed to send our dogs home early (which we did). We were grateful for such a fastidious plan. Our resupplies went flawlessly. Having a daily mileage goal kept me motivated. We finished on the exact date we had planned and had a day to recover afterwards. But those were not the exciting parts of the trip. The excitement still came from the unexpected wonders and misadventures along the way.
Ten days into the trip, along the West Collegiate route, we came across a sign telling us that we could detour onto a 26 mile reroute that contained 20 miles of new single track on the Continental Divide. The old route consisted of dirt roads and motorized double track. Any adventurous soul would have opted for the mapless reroute. For two days, we would not be certain of where we could find water or if there was a good camp. But within 2 miles, we saw out first moose of the trip. We slept on the Continental Divide that night in a flattish depression out of the wind. The next day, we were caught in a lightning storm above tree line at 9 in the morning. We pulled our tent over us and hunkered down right there in the open. I can assure you, it’s not scary when it’s actually happening because there is absolutely nothing you can do. And the lakes, flowers, mountains and pikas seemed slightly more wonderful on this mysterious path. There was more excitement on this unknown, unplanned way. We were flying by the seats of our pants.
So, please make a plan. Make a good plan. If nothing else, remember the six P’s: proper planning prevents piss poor performance. Use scientific tools to check the weather forecast. You can even plan to explore geologic structures and treat your water with scientifically proven methods. But even the most exact of science is susceptible to the occasional chaos. Sometimes, a catalyst might disrupt the normally predictable into a whirl of serendipitous wonder. Or, you might have to hike home with duct tape and p-cord holding your shoe together.
MK Gunn is the education and program assistant for San Juan Mountains Association. Her book of short stories, Zero Chance of Rain and other Tales of Misadventure, is due out in 2018. She implores you to expect the unexpected.