Nonprofit Spotlight: 20-year-old volunteer group protects public lands
Roaring Fork Outdoor Volunteers
Individuals: Sign up online for specific projects after RFOV posts its 2015 schedule later this month.
Groups: Call RFOV to arrange a group work day.
Call or visit RFOV’s website to join its mailing or email list.
As Roaring Fork Outdoor Volunteers embarks on its 20th season, it plans to make 2015 its best year yet. The organization’s mission is to involve residents in outdoor stewardship by engaging them in activities that protect and improve public lands. Projects include maintaining trails, planting trees and building recreational amenities.
The organization’s executive director, David Hamilton, decided to make outdoor conservation his profession after volunteering for more than five years with Volunteers for Outdoor Colorado. That organization, which followed the model developed and promoted by the Appalachian Club, inspired Hamilton and others to start Roaring Fork Outdoor Volunteers in 1995.
RFOV began its work by engaging people to participate in weekend projects on public lands from Aspen to Rifle. The organization focuses on two goals: completing meaningful projects that have lasting value and developing a sense of ownership and responsibility for public lands among its volunteers.
Roaring Fork Outdoor Volunteers will officially launch its 2015 season later this month, and this year’s projects will include working with the Forest Service at Hanging Lake and continuing work on a rock wall on the Crystal River Trail in the Carbondale area to elevate and protect it from high waters.
Hamilton said RFOV started adding evening projects about three years ago because “there are only so many weekends in a summer.” It also began promoting group work days, encouraging businesses and social organizations to participate, and some groups have adopted particular areas. Examples include Glenwood accounting firm Dalby Wendland, which has adopted Linwood Cemetery, and The 100 Club, whose members have completed multiple projects on the Red Mountain (Jeanne Golay) Trail.
Understanding the importance of involving the next generation in public land stewardship led Roaring Fork Outdoor Volunteers to start its Young Stewards Initiative in 2012. Some young people had worked on projects before that, but Hamilton said the organization learned there was a big difference between kids being volunteered by well-meaning adults and interested, motivated kids volunteering themselves. A big step in successfully engaging young people, he said, was hiring Jared McDaniel in 2013. In his role as youth coordinator, McDaniel reaches out to teachers and other youth leaders, plans age-appropriate activities and works directly with students before and during projects.
Megan Ravenscraft and Brittany Spangler, two teachers who talked about their students’ experiences with RFOV, give McDaniel high marks for his dedication and skill in working with children of different ages, abilities and interests.
Spangler, a special education teacher at Glenwood Springs High School, had a group of ninth- through twelfth-grade students work with RFOV for the first time last fall. They spent three days building fencing at Linwood Cemetery, site of Doc Holliday’s grave. Spangler emphasized the value to participants, all of whom are enrolled in job coaching or life skills programs, of seeing a real world project through from start to finish. She said McDaniel and RFOV volunteers were open-minded and patient with her students, who enjoyed applying their skills to a community project.
Ravenscraft, who teaches seventh grade science at Carbondale Middle School, described a different type of RFOV student outreach. A group of 14 of her students, many of whom are “first generation” — meaning the first generation in their families who will have the opportunity to go to college — gave up their recess and regular lunch period once per month to meet with McDaniel to study environmental stewardship and outdoor ethics. These monthly sessions prepared the students for a three-day camping trip near Fruita, where they turned outdoor education theory into practice. Ravenscraft said the students, who had to stretch beyond their usual coping mechanisms, benefited greatly from the positive adult role models they found in McDaniel and RFOV volunteers.
The Young Stewards’ Initiative has been wildly successful. In 2008, when RFOV leaders began planning it, the organization had 66 kids on projects. In 2014, after three full years in operation, almost 1,700 kids — kindergartners through high-schoolers — participated in the program.
Al Laurette, city of Glenwood Springs Parks and Cemetery Department superintendent, credited RFOV staff and volunteers with always being well-organized and ready to work. He said the organization has assisted his department with many projects, including erosion control and trail stabilization. Another important focus has been removing tamarisk, a non-native, invasive plant species, along the Colorado River.
Because Roaring Fork Outdoor Volunteers does not take official positions on land use, it attracts people who have divergent ideas on those issues. For instance, in the wake of the Hidden Gems campaign that pitted environmental groups against people who support motorized recreation, members of the Colorado Backcountry Trail Riders Alliance approached RFOV about volunteering. Hamilton said CBTRA members now come out in force two or three times every summer to fortify trails against the impact of their recreational use.
Roaring Fork Outdoor Volunteers invites individuals and groups of all ages, recreational interests and skill levels to help the group celebrate 20 years of service by participating in this season’s projects. Hamilton emphasized that the organization is growing in a way that really connects the community to public lands. He said developing an affinity for those lands is essential, otherwise “in 30 years … 50 years from now, maybe those lands will go away. And we think that is wrong.”
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