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Students develop a sky-high interest in their surroundings

Greg Masse

Tuesday was a plane day for students in Susy Ellison’s class.

Ellison, along with a brave group of Yampah Mountain High School students, gained a unique perspective of the valley by taking to the skies on an Eco Flight.

Eco Flight, a nonprofit organization run by Bruce Gordon, of Aspen, is touted as a tool for students, politicians and others to get a bird’s-eye view of the landscape, enabling them to learn about ecology, make more informed decisions and generally gain a better perspective on the area.

“Eco Flight uses aircraft to educate and advocate for the environment,” Gordon said. “We give tours to students, media, citizens and politicians.”

Gordon said for him, the program is a way to champion specific issues relating to the environment.

“You get the whole picture,” he said. “A picture is worth a thousand words, but flying is worth a thousand pictures.”

A passage in a letter written by Gordon describes the mission of Eco Flight. The letter reads that the program was “created out of the realization that educating, inspiring and empowering our youth is one of the most important steps we can take to protect the environment.”

Gordon recently returned from a flight across the Atlantic Ocean to Africa where he left an airplane there for people to conduct anti-poaching and animal counting flights, as well as survey deforestation and habitat encroachment.

“One of the biggest problems in the world is (over)population,” he said.

Gordon, along with Colorado Department of Natural Resources project manager Steve Renner, told the students about the “man-made ecological disaster” in Coal Basin west of Redstone, where Mid-Continent Resources mined coking coal.

“Coal Basin is this big, huge, monstrous valley – it’s a huge round bowl,” Renner said. Out of that bowl, miners took millions of tons of coal from the 1950s until the mine’s closure in 1990.

“The company went out of business, so it became the state’s responsibility to clean it up,” Renner said.

The biggest problem is sediment from the basin that erodes into Coal Creek and the Crystal River.

“These man-made disaster areas are just eroding into the creeks,” he said.

Many of the students who came along for the ride Tuesday have helped Renner revegetate the area to reduce the amount of erosion and create stable landforms.

The plan was to see how the site was doing by flying out of the Glenwood Springs Municipal Airport, taking a right at Mount Sopris, flying up the Crystal River Valley, then surveying Coal Basin by air. But like many other days this spring, the wind kicked up and the plans were changed slightly.

Instead of flying directly over the basin, Gordon was only able to skirt the area. But the students still were able to get a feel for the vastness of the drainage area and get a different look at the Roaring Fork Valley.

“It was bumpy, but it gave me a different perspective of my home,” said 18-year-old recent Yampah graduate Spencer Maxson. “You get a bird’s-eye view of what you’ve been driving through for your whole life.”

But rather than erosion in Coal Basin, Maxson said the proliferation of development in the lower Roaring Fork Valley struck him the most.

James Castaldo, 16, said the closest he’d come to getting such a great view of the valley is from the summit of Mount Sopris.

“It was an adventure,” he said.

Keely Frey, a 16-year-old junior at Yampah, feels everyone should get to view the area from above.

“Being able to see it from the air was really amazing to get a concept of it,” she said. “I think more people should do it to get more of an idea about stuff like this.”

Leo Johnson, 16, had a similar reaction.

“I got a lot clearer idea of what the valley looked like,” he said. “There’s a lot of roads that don’t go anywhere. There’s all this stuff up there that’s not used.”

For more information on Eco Flight, contact Bruce Gordon at (970) 429-1110 or bsgordon@ earthlink.net.


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