A quiet commitment to the environment

Tamara Tormohlen
Guest column
Aspen Community Foundation, Board Photo, Mar. 13, 2014
Steve Mundinger |

If you’ve hiked a trail, paddled a river, climbed an Elk Range fourteener or just breathed the fresh mountain air lately, then you owe a small “thank you” to one of the Roaring Fork Valley’s many environmental groups.

In this most philanthropic of valleys, we have literally hundreds of charities, and some of the best-known are dedicated to protecting our land, water and air or educating residents and visitors about mountain flora, fauna and ecology.

If you’ve marched up one of the many paths into our local mountains, then kindly tip your hat to Roaring Fork Outdoor Volunteers, an organization that maintains and restores trails from Aspen to Glenwood Springs and beyond, engaging residents in the actual, manual work of protecting their own backyard. If you’ve paddled a cool and clean stretch of local whitewater, then thank the Roaring Fork Conservancy for the work it does monitoring water quality and protecting our rivers.

The Colorado Fourteeners Initiative has done excellent work across the state’s highest mountain ranges to restore trails, reduce erosion and maintain ecological health on the flanks of the heavily visited 14,000-foot peaks. This includes several of the famous mountains in our own Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness Area.

Going back several decades, the very existence of the Maroon Bells and other nearby wilderness areas was facilitated by a cadre of activist Aspenites — the Aspen Wilderness Workshop — who advocated in the 1960s and ’70s for the preservation of thousands of acres of high-elevation forests, canyons and rocky tundra.

Today, the Wilderness Workshop (the “Aspen” has been dropped from the name to reflect a more regional focus) still advocates for the creation of new wilderness but also strives to protect rare and scenic places from development and commercialization. It is one of Aspen’s most venerable nonprofits, along with the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies, which continues to expand and enrich its programs that provide environmental education and appreciation to thousands of adults and nearly every student in the valley.

Why do I mention all of these organizations and their invaluable work? Because during summer, when the snow is mostly gone and we’re all out exploring the vast tracts of beauty around Aspen, we can fully appreciate all the past and current work that supports and maintains this extraordinary natural legacy.

In the 18 years since its creation, Aspen Skiing Co.’s Environment Foundation has awarded some $2.6 million to local and regional environmental initiatives. Funded primarily through Skico employee-payroll deductions, a company match and corporate sponsors, the Environment Foundation has supported all of the above organizations and dozens more. Here’s how Skico describes the reason for the foundation: “When we’re not working, we’re outside — climbing a mountain, hiking a remote wilderness, kayaking a wild stretch of river, boarding an open bowl or biking a winding singletrack. We realize that our natural environment is being impacted. Through the Environment Foundation, we are working to protect habitat, ecosystems and the biodiversity that we depend upon.”

Most locals know and admire the Environment Foundation and its work to support the rest of the valley’s environmentally minded nonprofits. What many don’t know is that the Aspen Community Foundation is a close partner of the Environment Foundation. We match every employee contribution up to $50,000 per year, thus significantly leveraging the generosity of Skico employees.

The Community Foundation is best known for its work in education and human services, as readers of this column understand, but we also are full-fledged participants in the conservation values that have defined this valley’s culture since the post-war years. Alongside efforts such as the Cradle to Career Initiative, which aims to assure every child from Aspen to Parachute is ready for kindergarten and graduates from high school ready for college and career, the Aspen Community Foundation also supports the protection of local land and water, the conservation of energy resources, various measures to avert climate change and the movement toward a local, sustainable food supply and agricultural base.

Tamara Tormohlen is executive director of Aspen Community Foundation.