High school students reflect on conservation at 13,000 feet
What struck Basalt High School senior Zack Gibson about his flight over the Roaring Fork Valley was the beauty.
“You never really think about the beauty. It’s great from the ground but (being in the air) brings a whole other perspective to it,” Gibson said.
Gibson had just gotten off a 6-seat Cessna 210 on a cool, windless Wednesday morning in Aspen.
EcoFlight pilot Gary Kraft took 13 BHS students high in the sky to see their homeland from above in the plane, on loan from Aspen architect Charles Cunniffe.
As Kraft flew the students northwest from the Aspen Airport over the Roaring Fork River, and looped southwest over Carbondale for a close-up of Mount Sopris, he explained the basics of watersheds, pointing out how snowmelt flows down into the creeks and streams to join the Roaring Fork River.
Midway through the 20-minute flight, Kraft pointed out the Thompson Divide beyond Carbondale, which has long been a target for conservationists who seek to protect it permanently from natural gas development.
“We need oil and gas,” EcoFlight Vice President Jane Pargiter told the students gathered in the airport building.
“The airplane uses oil and gas, our cars use oil and gas, and we use it to heat our homes. But think about what happens to public land when you put oil and gas on it,” Pargiter said.
Oil and gas extraction means roads and sometimes pipelines, both of which can disrupt wildlife, Pargiter explained.
The extraction process can also seep into streams, with implications for the 40 million people downstream on the Colorado River, Pargiter said.
“What you’re going to see in this valley is many clean creeks and streams that end up flowing into the Colorado River,” Pargiter said.
John Brasier, who teaches public lands adventure through the Buddy Program, said he wanted his students to think about the importance of wilderness areas to communities near and far.
“Wilderness is out there, whether you need to use it, want to use it, or not, it needs to exist,” Brasier said.
“My hope is for these students to be aware of all the public lands around them, and how important they are for everyone, even if you don’t use them,” he added.
Ximena Garcia, a junior, was impressed at thinking about having “first-hand” water from the snowmelt surrounding the valleys.
Other students appreciated the sense of place gained from seeing their homes from above.
“I wanted to see our valley, where I’ve lived my whole life, from a different view, and see everything at once,” said BHS senior Daniela Nunez.
For Gibson, knowing that the land was once home to Native American tribes offered a chance for reflection.
“Knowing that we’ve done some horrible things in the past, it kind of makes you think that this land is not really ours. And yet, here we are,” Gibson said.
EcoFlight was founded in 2000 by Bruce Gordon, and since then has taken students, activists, politicians, photographers and journalists on flights all over the West.
The goal, Pargiter said, is not to push a particular environmental message, but to let the land speak.
During the fall, EcoFlight takes college students on a weeklong survey of the West from above. Those trips have a way of turning people into activists, Pargiter said.
“Every year, one of those students has become an activist or gone into conservation work,” Pargiter said.
For the high school students, Pargiter believes the flights are absolutely worthwhile.
“They can have that ‘wow’ moment that just might stick with them,” she said.
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