Bio bus: Spread the word |

Bio bus: Spread the word

Aspen Middle School students change the standard, dull yellow bus into an eye-catching rainbow of color. It is now the "bio bus." (Scott Condon/The Aspen Times)

EL JEBEL Ken Kesey has nothing on Roaring Fork Valley resident and educator Steve Kaufman.Kesey, an acclaimed writer, gained some of his fame for loading a colorful bus with his Merry Pranksters and tripping across America.Kaufman’s exploits aren’t nearly as wild but are equally mind-expanding – in a different and legal way.Kaufman, the director of Access Roaring Fork, is revving up a bio bus as an unprecedented educational tool for students in the valley. The bus, which will run on alternative fuels, will be a classroom on wheels. Students will use it next school year for travels that are tied to environmental education.Access Roaring Fork acquired a 1991 full-sized retired school bus last year and is in the process of converting it into a vehicle that kids could appreciate. Ninety-three kids from Aspen Middle School changed the standard, dull yellow bus into an eye-catching rainbow of color. The top of the exterior is painted to look like white clouds floating along a blue sky. The sides took on the look of colorful mountain landscapes.

Most of the 70 bench seats were ripped out of the interior. It’s been redesigned to include a kitchen, bathroom, shower and awesome audio-visual system complete with multiple speakers. Desks and tables replaced many of the seats. It has capacity for 12 students in the reconfigured interior, where seats are grouped around work stations.Access Roaring Fork is in the process of making the magic bus energy self-reliant. Electrical use will be solar-powered. The engine will be retrofitted so it can run on vegetable oil from restaurant’s waste.”We’re 90 grand into this and we need 70 more,” said Kaufman.The bio bus will be available to schools in the Roaring Fork Valley in a variety of ways. Kids and chaperones from Aspen High School, for example, could borrow it when they head out for a backpacking trip in the desert for Experiential Education. They could learn about alternative fuel sources and secure peace of mind that they are reducing their pollution.

Kaufman envisions the bio bus as a tool for students to educate others about alternative energy.”During the school year, the bus will be used by all of the valley schools who wish to create alternative energy projects that take advantage of the bus’s unique media capabilities,” said his prospectus.”During school vacation, the bus will take trips of varying lengths, carrying the kids and their projects to towns across the state and country, educating and entertaining each community on how they can contribute to the effort to achieving a cleaner and healthier environment,” his outline continued.Access Roaring Fork plans a grand voyage next summer. Students who show an interest and aptitude in the environmentally-oriented project will be selected for a trip to New York City via rural America.”The plan is to travel 200 miles a day on a predetermined route, with scheduled stops in town to which we have been invited to present,” the prospectus said.

Kaufman’s goal is to have a system in place by then so that the bus can filter its own fat for fuel; while on the road, it will simply collect waste oil from restaurants.Like numerous other nonprofits in the valley, Access Roaring Fork needs help to make its plan happen. The Aspen Skiing Co. Employee Environment Foundation contributed $10,000. Elidio Meraz, owner of an El Jebel garage called Blue Mechanic, will donate labor for the conversion of the bus.Access Roaring Fork is a nonprofit organization that can be reached at its headquarters in El Jebel at 963-5646.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is

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