New hands on reins for local outdoors group renowned for putting boots on ground

Rebecca Schild will become executive director of Roaring Fork Outdoor Volunteers in March

Ron Rash is stepping down from his role as the Roaring Fork Outdoor Volunteers executive director in March because of health reasons. Fortunately, he will leave the organization in capable hands.

Rebecca Schild, the current associate director, will take the reins March 15. Schild has her doctorate in environmental studies from the University of Colorado Boulder and 15 years of experience as an outdoor and environmental educator.

Schild’s enthusiasm shines through when discussing her new role.

“The good vibes that I get from everybody about RFOV is encouraging,” she said Friday.

Nearly everyone she talks to appreciates the nonprofit’s role or is at least aware of what it does. “We’re like a good neighbor,” she said.

Schild is also excited to apply her academic background and experience with environmental nonprofits.

Her doctoral dissertation examined the role that recreation-based stewardship organizations play in successful land management. One of her goals with RFOV will be increasing the educational component. She wants people to make the connection between recreating on public lands and understanding the impact. Volunteers will do more than rebuild a trail or enhance habitat.

“Every time they come out, they should have an educational experience,” Schild said.

She co-founded and directed the High Mountain Institute’s Adventure and Conservation Semesters in the American West and Patagonia. The organization is based in Leadville. Students were given an opportunity immerse themselves in an activity such as rock climbing in the Indian Creek area south of Moab while working on a service project in the fragile high-altitude desert. Schild likened it to a combination of the National Outdoor Leadership School and Conservation Corps.

She is eager to introduce parts of her past to the future of RFOV.

The organization celebrated its 25th anniversary last year. They have built a reputation over that time for being one of the most successful nonprofit organizations at getting boots on the ground and hands in the dirt.

Every year, hundreds of volunteers and partner organizations enlist to help maintain existing trails, create new trails and restore habitat on public lands. RFOV avoids political stances and lobbying on issues. The public land managers come up with the projects; RFOV delivers the people power to get them done.

“We think of ourselves as a stewardship organization,” Schild said.

Schild, 37, joined RFOV in October 2019. Her first field season in 2020 was obviously a tumultuous one because of the coronavirus. RFOV had to reconsider how it organized its projects. The large, public workdays of the past could not be held because of social distancing requirements. Instead, it held more workdays with smaller groups. The system centered on completing projects rather than specific calendar days.

“The pandemic has forced us to think of how we’ve always done things and modify them,” Schild said.

Pandemic or not, the new ways of accomplishing projects is here to stay beyond 2021. There will still be large, public events — when health issues subside — such as at the start or conclusion of projects, Schild said.

RFOV also has been adaptive in the types of projects it schedules, due to the nature of life in the Roaring Fork and Colorado River valleys. For the second time in three years, fires changed portions of the landscape, first with the Lake Christine Fire in 2018 and now with the Grizzly Creek Fire last summer.

“We’re really ramping up to do a lot of fire restoration work over the next 10 years,” Schild said.

The organization will consult with land managers about getting involved in fire mitigation projects. (RFOV 2021 projects will be released in April.)

Also on RFOV’s plate in 2021 will be work on routes built by Pitkin County Open Space and Trails. The open space program teamed with RFOV to secure a $90,825 grant from Great Outdoors Colorado. The funds will help RFOV hire a seasonal field coordinator and part-time crew leader. As part of Pitkin County’s involvement in securing the grant, its project will have a high priority with RFOV. Gary Tennenbaum, director of the open space program, said increased trail use during the pandemic has heightened the need for maintenance.

Rash headed RFOV for nearly two years. He took over for co-founder and longtime executive director David Hamilton. Rash will continue working with the organization as a crew leader and instructor for crew leaders. He and Schild have already started the transition of leadership.

Schild, a Colorado native, lives in Glenwood Springs with her husband and their 2-year-old daughter. She will balance work with her passions for rock climbing, trail running and backcountry skiing.

“I like strategic planning,” she said. “I’m a big-picture thinker and I’ve got a lot of ideas.”