Public lands in public hands: Carbondale’s Wilderness Workshop educates and engages locals to enjoy Colorado’s landscapes |

Public lands in public hands: Carbondale’s Wilderness Workshop educates and engages locals to enjoy Colorado’s landscapes

A photo of Grizzly Creek along the Grizzly Creek Trail near where the restoration project for June 5 will be.

The Wilderness Workshop, a local public lands advocacy organization, is celebrating the fifth anniversary of Colorado Public Lands Day by educating the public on how to join the fight to keep public lands public.

“The past of Colorado Public Lands Day kind of marked a monumental turning point in our conversation around public lands in this state,” Erin Riccio, Director of Community Organizing said. “And now you see where you have folks on both sides of the aisle who are really rallying and celebrating our public lands. So it really has created a monumental shift.”

Saturday, May 15 is Colorado Public Lands Day and the organization is putting together a community hike at Lorax Trail in Carbondale so individuals can come out and experience the possibilities of the public lands they’re trying to protect. Riccio said Colorado can play a huge part in the 30×30 campaign, an effort backed by the Biden administration to conserve 30% of public and private lands and waters in the United States by 2030. Within Colorado, that would look like 14 million acres of land, Riccio said, and would need to be conserved within the public and private sphere. According to Ballotpedia, 36.23% of Colorado is public land, however that doesn’t mean all of it is protected.

“30×30 is going to take public and private work, too. And the report that the Biden administration released last week, called America the Beautiful is focused on … voluntary conservation efforts by the public and private landowners,” said Grant Stevens, Communications Director at Wilderness Workshop.

Riparian and wetland communities—which sustain a high diversity of plant and wildlife species and are the most ecologically productive landscapes in the Colorado high country—would be destroyed by the proposed dam and reservoir.

For example, private landowners who are interested in supporting the movement can voluntarily place their land into conservation easements, a tool to help sustain and protect the landscape long term.

“The ranchers who have put their land into conservation easements have done so because that’s something they want to do, that’s something that’s important to them as stewards of the land,” Riccio said.

The event for Saturday will take place from 1-5 p.m. at Lorax Trail in Carbondale. The hike will only take about 1.5 hours roundtrip, Riccio said. After the hike there will be drinks and snacks in the parking lot and conversation about Wilderness Workshop’s goals and previews of events they’re planning for this summer. Events hosted by Defiende Nuestra Tierra will have bilingual staff attending, but for this Saturday and other events Riccio said she still encourages non-English speakers to come, and that she has some Spanish language abilities and can offer quick translations if needed.

“A lot of our materials we hand out are bilingual and I think just the ability to get out and enjoy a hike, build community and find connection with people is incredibly important,” Riccio said.

Sunrise on the Thompson Divide looking toward Mount Sopris and the Elk Mountains.

Becoming a steward of public lands can be done by taking small steps to action that have the potential for huge impact, Riccio said. Wilderness Workshop’s Field Coordinator, Sam Feuerborn, said that their events attract all kinds of people, some who may be more familiar with conservation and advocacy work than others, but that Wilderness Workshop’s goal is to meet them where they are.

“A lot of our events are aimed at kind of creating a space for a broad spectrum of folks just to participate and enjoy our public lands, and so a component of that is creating educational space around responsible recreation on our public lands … and we want to make sure that everyone has the opportunity to really be educated on how to be respectful of both other users and the lands that they’re traveling on,” Feuerborn said.

Two of Wilderness Workshop’s other upcoming summer events are a partnership with the Glenwood Canyon Restoration Alliance to repair some of the burned areas of Grizzly Creek on June 5, and Homestake Exploration — an event on July 24 that will be spent exploring the area that is at risk to be taken over by the proposed Whitney Reservoir both on the ground level and by getting a bird’s eye view from the top of Homestake Peak. The rest of the summer’s event schedule will be released after Memorial Day.

“Public lands are supposed to be kept in the public trust, they’re an incredibly valuable resource to our communities, especially here in the Roaring Fork Valley. It’s a huge economic driver for our area but it’s a really important place for a lot of people to get out and find that solitude that they wouldn’t normally get in their everyday lives. It’s really important for biodiversity and the wildlife species that we have here,” Riccio said.

If you go…

– Register for the Colorado Public Lands Day celebration at this link.

– More information about this event can be found on its Facebook page.

Reporter Jessica Peterson can be reached at 970-279-3462 or

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