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A life lived for conservation

Jennifer Davoren
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Don’t read this article.

Instead, take a bike ride up Independence Pass and stop off for a hike around the Grottos or the Braille trail. Or get a head start on that backpacking trip through the Castle Creek Valley. Or make a quick visit to the Wildwood School and watch the kids commune with nature.

In order to fully appreciate Aspen resident Bob Lewis and his many contributions to the community, it’s best to take a field trip because summing up 52 years of service in a single story is difficult.

Lewis’ friends and family ran into that same problem Sunday, during a gathering that honored Lewis with the Greg Mace Award, which recognizes outstanding community volunteerism.

“Bob Lewis definitely has length and breadth of service,” laughed Lynne Mace, sister of the award’s namesake, during a speech honoring Lewis.

Lewis has worn many hats during his five decades in Aspen – he’s been an author, an educator, a filmmaker and, in all cases, an environmentalist.

He came to Aspen in 1951, fresh from a final tour of duty with the 10th Mountain Division and a stay at Camp Hale. His first assignment came from Aspen High School, where he taught science and drove buses for a decade.

“I was paid more to drive the bus than I was for work in the classroom,” Lewis laughed during his acceptance speech yesterday.

Education was always a top priority for Lewis. In 1974, he founded the Wildwood School, an institution dedicated to inspiring a love of nature and art among local children. He also established a research lab and studio that became a favorite hangout for resident environmentalists.

David Swersky – who, along with Craig Ward, was honored with the Greg Mace Award in 2002 – remembers Lewis’ lab. It was a place anyone could stop by in order to learn something new, he said in his speech.

“We’d have a free afternoon, and … I’d say, ‘Trust me, let’s go to Bob Lewis’ studio,'” Swersky recalled.

In 1976, Lewis co-founded the Educational Research Group, an organization that eventually morphed into the Independence Pass Foundation. He encouraged scores of volunteers to help revegetate popular areas of the pass, and even spurred a redesign of the trails around the Grottos.

Lewis championed countless ecological causes over the years, and also co-authored a book and produced two films on the necessity of conservation. He has penned guide books, including two for the Castle and Maroon Creek valleys, to help new generations discover the beauty of his corner of Colorado.

Lewis also inspired generation after generation to discover a love of volunteering. During an emotional acceptance speech, Lewis rattled off a list of those who encouraged and continued his efforts to better his community.

“Volunteering seems to run in the blood of all my friends,” he said.

Jennifer Davoren’s e-mail address is jenniferd@aspentimes.com


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