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Tree planting project south of Rifle grows sense of community

Defiende Nuestra Tierra organizes tree planting as part of Latino Heritage Month

US Forest Service employee Chris McDonald explains to volunteers how to tell the difference between the various spruce trees in the area.
Chelsea Self / Post Independent

Thanks to 18 people, 100 more blue spruce trees are now growing south of Rifle.

The restoration project was the first for Defiende Nuestra Tierra, a program of Wilderness Workshop, which is based in Carbondale.

Defiende was organized two years ago “to tap into the influential voice of the Roaring Fork and Colorado River Latinx communities and partner with those communities to steward and protect our public lands,” according to the Wilderness Workshop website.

Until now, the group has focused on hikes to get people out onto public lands. Response from participants even prompted Wilderness Workshop to start its first winter hikes.

“We hosted a series of listening sessions to really help us understand what [the Latino] community was looking for … and that led to offering some of the outings in the winter, which we really hadn’t done,” Will Roush, Wilderness Workshop executive director, said.

Project participation was somewhat limited due to COVID, but the virus didn’t have too much impact on this event.

“For the restoration projects, we’ve been able to manage still having fairly decent-sized groups by splitting people up into different smaller groups to do the work. … You don’t want to be close to people anyway when you’re swinging Pulaskis or pulling barbed wire. You’re already social distancing when you’re doing a lot of the restoration work,” Roush said.

Beatriz Soto, Defiende director, said the organization’s events are getting popular, and little outreach beyond social media was needed. 

“It got filled up as soon as I announced it on our social media. I had to close the registration and say no to a lot of people,” she said.

As it turned out, there were 13 volunteers, she said, along with two Wilderness Workshop staff and three Forest Service employees planting seedlings on a decommissioned portion of Forest Road 317 along Beaver Creek south of Rifle.

Soto said projects like this attract a different demographic than other outdoor events.

“With Defiende events we end up serving more families,” she said.

Olivia Deihs, restoration and stewardship coordinator for Wilderness Workshop, attended the event and said the volunteers comprised a family of four, a family of three and six couples.

Omar Sarabia attended the restoration project with his wife and two children.

“I just want to contribute to the environment of my community … and it’s a good getaway to be in nature with my family as an activity. It was a beautiful experience,” he said.

The volunteers were excited about the project, Deihs said.

“It was heartwarming to see them so excited to plant seedlings that will grow into trees. … The kids were excited and into it, and there was a lot of connecting as a community,” Deihs said.

“For my 9-year-old it was a new experience. … He was excited about it. We really had a good time as a family,” Sarabia said.

Defiende offers hikes year-round, but this project comes at a special time.

“This project is part of our month-long celebration of Latino Heritage Month,” Soto said.

While Defiende’s focus is engaging the Latino community, its events attract a mix of attendees.

“Our groups are pretty diverse. … It’s so great to see diverse people come together to enjoy our public lands. We always have a good mix. I’d say half the participants are Latino and half are not,” Soto said.

An indication that Defiende is doing something right was the interest among volunteers to participate in another project.

“We’re hoping to do another planting project next spring in the Rifle area. A lot of the volunteers were excited to come back next year. That’s a good measure of success for us,” Deihs said.

“I’d love to help. I don’t see this as a work campaign, I see it as environmental activity for the family and education for my son,” Sarabia said.

cwertheim@postindependent.com


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