Colorado College is blessed by its location: Colorado has more than 23 million acres of public land, and the City of Colorado Springs itself has more than 9,000 acres of parkland. One of the largest draws to Colorado College is the easy access to so much wilderness. But this gift is no secret, and the sheer number of people who enjoy the landscape are a threat to its existence. What keeps our public lands from deteriorating under such heavy use?
Rocky Mountain Field Institute (RMFI) envisions a world where volunteer work creates vibrant and healthy natural systems that are respected and cared for by the public. They are a Colorado Springs-based non-profit whose mission is to conserve and protect the public lands of Southern Colorado, with the help of the public. Rather than just employing people to do work on public lands, RMFI focuses on volunteerism. Their philosophy is that by involving the public in the preservation of nature, they can foster a better connection to the outdoors and help people take personal responsibility for protecting the environment.
RMFI hosts hundreds of volunteer work-days each year, including nearly every weekend day from April through November. Because the population of the Pikes Peak Region is growing fast, the risk of damage that can be done to local ecosystems is growing. RMFI enlists the help of thousands of volunteers to help preserve our public lands against this risk. In addition, to help maintain this spirit of environmental responsibility, RMFI incorporates environmental education into every project. Teaching volunteers about erosion, ecology, botany, or whatever else is relevant during volunteer workdays helps cement and spread the ethos that will keep our environment alive and well. To ensure the work they do is really worth doing, RMFI also facilitates research about environmental stewardship. They monitor the effectiveness of their trail and restoration techniques after they are completed, to ensure the projects are working as intended, and to help tailor their treatments and techniques to each new project location.
This year, RMFI was selected to be one of the first local non-profits designated as High Impact Partners with the CCE, meaning they have a deep, multifaceted relationship with CC that both parties hope to be mutually beneficial and more powerful than is possible with a shallower partnership. RMFI hosts an NSO Priddy Trip and a Spring Break Program in Utah every year. They also employ work-study interns and Community Engaged Fellows from CC, host non-work study internships, and partner with CC professors to run education class workdays in the field.
Madeline Tucker ‘19 is one such student. As an intern at RMFI, she works primarily as a marketing assistant, designing promotional and outreach materials and supporting the messaging of RMFI. She describes the RMFI team as a “kind, driven, passionate group of people,” but the fact that this is her third year interning with RMFI is the best endorsement of the organization.
BreakOut, a CCE program that partners to run student trips on Saturdays, block breaks, and spring break, routinely works with RMFI. During the first block break of this school year, CC-student Patricia Pi ‘21 helped lead a trip to Paradise Cove (Guffey Gorge), a Bureau of Land Management recreation area commonly used as a cliff jumping spot. Along with 10 other students, she helped rebuild the trail that leads down to the cove. According to Patricia it was hard work involving moving and breaking rocks to build steps, but it was also extremely rewarding and satisfying.
RMFI’s 2019 field season is winding down, but will resume in full force next April, providing CC students more opportunities to support our local parks and open spaces without requiring any previous experience with outdoor stewardship. Find out about these opportunities and sign up at their online calendar at www.rmfi.org/calendar. Or, for a more robust experience, check out their Earth Corps program, a 21-day summer backcountry field course which allows environmentally-minded undergraduate students to live and learn in the classroom of the Colorado wilderness by clicking here.
Thanks to Molly Mazel, Madeleine Tucker, and Patricia Pi for their help with this story.
– Eric Ingram