Aspen-based EcoFlight conservancy group seeks to educate, inspire young people |

Aspen-based EcoFlight conservancy group seeks to educate, inspire young people

Erica Robbie
The Aspen Times
The Aspen-based nonprofit EcoFlight flew juniors from the Colorado Rocky Mountain School's Advanced Placement Environmental Science class over the valley for a tour of public lands.
Erica Robbie/The Aspen Times

While every day pays homage to Colorado public land in the world of EcoFlight, the time is now to educate people on the importance of these wildlands, program coordinator Michael Gorman said.

Of the many diverse audiences that EcoFlight seeks to inform and inspire — including politicians, educators, journalists, conservationists and scientists — reaching young people is equally important to the organization.

“Part of why EcoFlight was founded was to engage more students,” Gorman said, “and to get young people fired up and excited about conservation work.”

EcoFlight is an Aspen-based nonprofit that flies people of all ages in a small aircraft over public wildlands, in an effort to offer them a unique aerial perspective of the Western landscape, as well as the issues it faces.

The conservation group’s intent is that people will then “see for themselves the impact of man on our natural world and hopefully inspire proactive behavior” to protect these landscapes, its website states.

“A big part of what we do is with younger kids. You guys are the future,” Gorman told students from Colorado Rocky Mountain School on Wednesday. “You guys have a lot of power.”

While most high school students are not old enough to vote, Gorman believes elected officials listen to them.

“They understand that the youth is our next generation of voters and leaders in our country,” Gorman said.

The high school juniors ready to take flight Wednesday also were, by definition, above-average students — at least in terms of their knowledge and interest in science and the environment.

EcoFlight’s scenic, 30-minute flight over the Elk Mountains and public land throughout the Roaring Fork Valley was the students’ end-of-year reward upon completing CRMS’ Advanced Placement Environmental Science course.

Colorado Rocky Mountain School, like others in the valley, boasts a vast outdoor program for students. Robin Colt, an environmental science teacher at CRMS, said these types of experiences provide invaluable context, relevance and meaning to the lessons the students learn all year.

“It all starts to click and makes sense for them,” she said. “I think that we all learn by experience best, and making connections is my biggest goal for my students.”

CRMS junior Riley Padgett said after the flight Wednesday that the aerial perspective raised his awareness “about the ramifications of land development.” Post-high school, Padgett intends to study environmental studies or science because “throughout this year, we’ve been learning about all the environmental problems that we face now, we’ll continue to face.”

One of junior Sophia Jacober’s takeaways from the EcoFlight was seeing the watersheds.

“I grew up fishing on the Crystal River, and it was amazing to be able to see where that water comes from.”

Her classmate Macie Brendlinger appreciated “just getting a different perspective of our valley.”

“I’ve lived here my entire life, and I thought it was very interesting to see the spacing around the valley,” Brendlinger said, “And how that is regulated with wildlife conservancy.”

While EcoFlight’s mission has remained consistent since it was founded in 2002, it is “even more important now” as a result of what’s happening on a federal level, Gorman said.

For this reason, in 2017 the nonprofit led 274 flights, a 40 percent increase over the previous year. This year, EcoFlight is on track to at least meet if not exceed that number, according to Gorman.

He said the Trump administration “has been pushing a lot of anti-environmental policies and chipping away at the public’s ability to have a say on public lands, which I think is one of the more important things that’s going on at a federal level.”

Consequently, EcoFlight will work harder to “help get people more excited and more engaged and more visible on public land issues.”

“We like to say that a picture is worth a thousand words,” Gorman added. “And an over-flight is worth a thousand pictures.”