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Windstar Foundation regaining life after John Denver’s death

Jeremy Heiman

The Windstar Foundation, a conservation organization co-founded by singer and former Aspenite John Denver, has announced a renewal of its programs.

After a period of reorganization following Denver’s death, the Windstar Foundation announced it will again become more active under a new president, Ron Deutschendorf, Denver’s brother, and a new board of trustees.

Jeanie Tomlinson, Windstar’s liaison in the Roaring Fork Valley, said the organization will open an office in the valley within six months. Windstar hasn’t had a local office since moving out of the building on Windstar’s Snowmass land in mid-1998.

The foundation has since been based in Santa Fe, N.M., the home of Windstar board of trustees Chairwoman Cheryl Charles and a longtime gathering place for Windstar trustees and advisers.

The relocation to Santa Fe had been planned before Denver’s death in a plane crash in October 1997.

After Denver’s death, the Windstar Foundation and Rocky Mountain Institute, an energy think tank, each dedicated its one-half interest in the Windstar land to a new organization called the Windstar Land Conservancy. RMI has also made large contributions to the maintenance of the land.

The conservancy is a separate organization with the responsibility of managing the 957-acre Snowmass property.

But activities have continued off and on at the Snowmass location, Tomlinson said. One of those is an annual volunteer work weekend over the Memorial Day holiday.

Since the move, Windstar has remained somewhat active in its conservation efforts. The Windstar Connection Groups, a program sponsoring grass-roots, environmental education committees in various parts of the country, has continued non-stop, Tomlinson said. The groups concentrate on local and regional environmental issues, organizing events and educational fairs.

Three new groups have formed since 1997, Tomlinson said, bringing the total to 16. And another is forming in Great Britain.

Though “Windstar Foundation” may sound like the name of a grant-giving organization, Tomlinson said, that’s not what the foundation does. However, Windstar has created two awards that are bestowed annually.

The Windstar Youth Award is granted to a middle school-aged student who has made a notable effort in an environmental cause and who has enlisted other kids. The Youth Award program is several years old.

Windstar’s new award this year is aimed at college students who have completed their freshman year. This award will be issued to a student on the basis of the quality of an essay written on an environmental topic, Tomlinson said.

In 2000, Windstar started a summer camp for children at the land conservancy in the third week of June. This year, the summer camp will be followed by Educators Week, a program for kindergarten through eighth-grade science teachers.

One Windstar program that is ending is the “Choices for the Future” symposium series, which ran for 10 years in the 1980s and 1990s, Tomlinson said. The series drew notable speakers from all over the world to speak on environmental and spiritual subjects every August at the Aspen Music Festival Tent. The symposiums were too expensive, Tomlinson said.

“We are a grass-roots organization,” Tomlinson said, “and the glamor and glitz [of the symposiums] just doesn’t reflect that.”


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