Founder's Story

Founded in 1982 as the American Mountain Foundation, the Rocky Mountain Field Institute was originally established to provide funding for international climbing expeditions. During the mid-1980s, AMF Executive Director, and climber and mountaineer, Mark Hesse began to notice the environmentally degrading impacts of climbers and other recreationists. He observed that these beautiful and treasured landscapes were quickly at risk of losing the very characteristics that drew people to them. In 1989, Mark catalyzed a group of friends and fellow climbers and began building trails and restoring impacted areas in Indian Creek Canyon, an internationally renowned climbing mecca in the dramatic desert landscape of Utah. A decade later, Mark and his grassroots organization that became the Rocky Mountain Field Institute in 1997, had protected acres of sensitive terrain by closing roads leading into side canyons, established a sustainable trail and camping infrastructure, and raised the awareness of climbers and land owners in the area. In the 1990s Mark focused his efforts on climbing areas in Colorado, such as Eldorado Canyon, Shelf Road, and “Fourteener” summit trails. Today, RMFI still works at climbing areas in Colorado and Utah, but has grown to encompass a larger and more diverse skills set, tackling projects in the alpine and montane, watershed ecosystems, riparian zones, and sensitive foothill environs. In January 2014, Mark tragically passed away in a climbing accident.

RMFI has provided leadership for several major restoration initiatives focusing on sensitive ecosystem protection and watershed rehabilitation. RMFI spearheaded the effort to address recreation impacts on Colorado’s high peaks in the mid-1990s and helped found the Colorado Fourteener’s Initiative. In the early 2000s, RMFI initiated the effort to mitigate visitor impacts in Garden of the Gods Park, one of the most popular urban parklands in Colorado. The result is the creation of a community-based stewardship program that mobilizes over 1,000 local volunteers every year in the hands-on restoration of this beloved park. Volunteerism lies at the heart of RMFI’s mission. It is through the physical act of giving back and personally caring for a site that people become deeply invested. Based on this belief, RMFI completes all of its environmental stewardship with community-based volunteers.