Outdoor volunteers tap into younger set | AspenTimes.com

Outdoor volunteers tap into younger set

Janet Urquhart
The Aspen Times
Aspen CO Colorado

Hannah Lippe courtesy photo

BASALT – It’s never too early to love the land.

That, at least, is the theory behind the Young Stewards Initiative, a new effort by the Basalt-based Roaring Fork Outdoor Volunteers to engage area youths in trail projects and restoration work with the hope of instilling in them a sense of stewardship for their natural surroundings.

Roaring Fork Outdoor Volunteers has been recruiting volunteers, primarily adults, for just such purposes since its founding in 1995. Each summer, participants wielding shovels, pickaxes and other implements tackle projects from trail construction to invasive-plant eradication and the restoration of scarred landscapes.

The program marshals free labor to do what cash-strapped public agencies can’t afford to do, but beyond that, the work instills a sense of pride, accomplishment and ownership in the end result. Sweat on a trail for a day, and you’ll care about it for a lifetime, reasons David Hamilton, executive director of Roaring Fork Outdoor Volunteers.

Now, the organization hopes to put that same ethic into practice among area teenagers with projects specifically suited to them. Participation is up to the teens; it’s not a top-down directive from mom and dad. It’s the difference between volunteering and being volunteered.

“We want to make sure when kids come out and work with us, they know why they’re there, they have a good time and they come away a sense of a stewardship experience,” Hamilton said.

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Hannah Lippe, hired as the organization’s part-time youth coordinator, has wasted no time rounding up young people and putting them to work. A group of Carbondale Community School students spent two days at Avalanche Campground, revegetating campsites that have been taken out of commission by the Forest Service and doing trail maintenance. Rifle middle schoolers labored on the Mitchell Creek Trail near Glenwood Springs, and Glenwood eighth-graders are scheduled to do the same next week. Aspen Middle School students will trim vegetation on Aspen Mountain’s Ajax Trail on Friday.

Lippe met with the groups in advance of the work days and gets together with them afterward for some follow-up reflection.

She’s also recruiting young people for an advisory committee that will give input on how best to engage their peers and planning a series of “trail-work parties” this summer for 12- to 18-year-olds.

Roaring Fork Outdoor Volunteers schedules 10 to 12 Saturday projects each summer and fall that have been the the hallmark of the group’s efforts. Volunteers sign up in advance for a day of what can be hard work, followed by dinner provided to participants.

“We thought we’d reached a plateau with what we were doing,” Hamilton said.

But in 2009, the group began offering evening projects for which volunteers simply show up and work for a few hours. One weekday evening a week for several weeks is devoted trail work or some other endeavor.

And Roaring Fork Outdoor Volunteers began organizing projects for specific groups – clubs and businesses, for example – that weren’t open to the general public. In 2010, the organization created 12 group projects; last year, it logged 35.

The Youth Stewards Initiative is the “icing on the cake” for the expansion of the program, Hamilton said.

“We’re doing a lot more work, but it’s a lot more under the radar, in a sense,” he said.

The goal, Hamilton said, is more than 60 group workdays and youth projects seasonally, along with the well-publicized list of public projects that typically draw anywhere from 25 to 75 volunteers. Next up on the 2012 project slate, for example, is an event Saturday to mark National Trails Day. Participants will help construct new sections of the Skyline Ridge Trail at Sky Mountain Park outside Snowmass Village.

Go to http://www.rfov.org for more on the organization’s efforts.

janet@aspentimes.com