The Dirt Diaries Blog

Asa's picture

The Beginning of the End: The Bonner Fellow's First Year

Just like that, my first year as a college undergraduate is coming to a close. As a Bonner Fellow at Rocky Mountain Field institute and as a Colorado College student, I have gone through unmeasurable personal and professional growth during this academic year. This article is a reflective post about the impact the experience of being a fellow with RMFI has had on me.

Throughout my time at RMFI, I have been involved in a lot of important initiatives and projects. Among my favorites were definitely helping build our diversity in the outdoors efforts and being involved with meeting volunteers both in the field and at special events, such as with the end-of-the-year RMFI ShinDIG. In my experiences with these events and with the RMFI staff and volunteers, I have taken away so much more than I ever would have anticipated. Before coming to Colorado, I felt like I didn’t know anything about what the people and what the environment were going to be like. Especially coming from a place where my life centered around the water and diverse groups of people, I found it especially challenging to be in an area where the environment was so vastly different than what I was used to, both in a natural and a social sense. However, working in Colorado Springs’ public lands has broadened my ability to engage with the environment and the communities within Colorado Springs.

One of the toughest parts about coming to Colorado College and even RMFI was the culture shock. My background and my experiences with life have been in contrast to most others, which produced a sort of imposter syndrome. Nevertheless, the RMFI family has been so welcoming and interested in learning more about me - and I them. Since starting back in September, I have gradually become part of the RMFI and Colorado Springs community, and I am so proud to be able to have contributed to its environmental well-being over the past year. Should I be here until I graduate, I hope to keep contributing to the efforts RMFI makes to improve and maintain Southern Colorado’s public lands. The impact made by the office staff, field staff, interns, and especially volunteers is priceless, and it has been my pleasure to be a part of it!

Jennifer's picture

Stories from the Trail - A Tale of Two Users

A few weeks ago, I set out on a long run, starting first up the Incline and then continuing another 6 miles up Barr Trail to the A-frame shelter, located approximately 3 miles below the summit of Pikes Peak. Along the way, I encountered a number of folks out enjoying the beautiful weather and fresh air. Two users, in particular, really stood out to me as each represented two diametrically opposed types of trail users with regard to stewardship ethic and responsible use of our natural assets.

I remember the trip up the Incline that day had been especially brutal for me. While not particularly crowded for a Saturday morning, it was hot, which zapped my energy and further compounded the difficulty of an already difficult trail. There was a ton of people at the top, basking in the sunshine, taking pictures, and waiting for friends and acquaintances to reach the summit. I don't do particularly well in crowds, so I had a few sips of water and started jogging down the Incline Connector Trail toward Barr Trail, eagerly anticipating the adventure that awaited me.
Over the past several years, RMFI has made significant improvements to the Incline Connector Trail, beginning first with an entire new trail layout and design to make the connection to Barr Trail much more sustainable. In addition, we've worked with partners to install hundreds of linear feet of fencing, largely designed to keep users on the trail to prevent them from cutting switchbacks. Most of the Pikes Peak Region is characterized by highly-erosive, decomposed Pikes Peak Granite, which is among the most highly erodible soils in the nation. When users cut switchbacks, the stability of the landscape is compromised, leading to the loss of already fragile vegetation and habitat as well as increased risk for erosion and sedimentation. Before long, hillslopes can become massive erosion gullies, restoration of which can be very expensive and time consuming.

I had made it approximately 0.5 miles down the Incline Connector Trail when I came across two users intentionally sliding under fencing, cutting switchbacks, and trampling over deadfall and other obstructions installed specifically to protect the fragile landscape. "DO NOT CUT SWITCHBACKS" signs installed on the fencing in front of them had done nothing to deter their behavior. Now, this isn't the first time I have witnessed switchback cutting on the Incline Connector Trail, and whenever possible, I try and take the opportunity to educate users about the negative impacts of this type of behavior. Predominantly speaking, most users are simply uninformed and are at least somewhat responsive to my improptu educational lesson. This day was different. The two users became aggressive, laughed in my face, told me to "f*** off" and to mind my own business, and then proceeded to slide under the next set of fencing, and the next one, and the next one, with absolutely no care about the destruction they were leaving behind and the improper trail behavior they were modeling for other users. 

Admittedly, I was angry. In these types of situations, I struggle to understand the other side when to me the behavior is just so blatantly and obviously wrong. Yet, I found myself for the next several miles thinking about their behavior and trying to understand why they did what they did, why didn’t the signs help deter their behavior, why didn’t they respond positively to my friendly educational lesson, why is it so hard to just stay on the trail, how can we better engage these types of users – the exceptions, the seemingly 1% of users who tend to ruin it for everyone – through different messaging, education, etc.?  

Fast-forward 6 miles and a few hours when I encountered another user just below the A-frame. We stopped and chatted for several minutes about various topics, including how lucky we were to be able to enjoy the amazing public lands (not to mention an iconic Colorado 14er) right in our backyard. This user had moved from South Carolina to Castle Rock about 4 years prior, and had been traveling to Colorado Springs/Manitou Springs every month to train for a summit attempt of Pikes Peak in August. He talked about his love and respect for the outdoors and his support for public lands stewardship. He also was proud about the gear he was carrying on his back – everything from waterproof gloves, raingear, and a bivvy, to extra layers and an ultra light down blanket. He was aware that conditions can change at high elevations and was prepared for anything. In his words, “I could survive out here for days if I had to.” After a few minutes of conversation, he continued up the trail to meet his friend who was just ahead of him. I spent a few minutes at the A-frame before turning back and heading down Barr Trail to the trailhead in Manitou Springs.

When you have hours to spend on a trail, you have a lot of time to think. And on this particular day, that’s exactly what I did. My thoughts focused almost entirely on analyzing the behavior and ethic of the two types of users I had encountered that day. How did each develop their ethic, why do signs and barriers work for some and not others, why is it natural for some to obey rules and be responsible users of our public lands when it’s not for others, why do some respond to education while others do not, how do we effectively change behavior, how can we more effectively reach users that seemingly don’t care or don’t even want to be reached? These questions and more were swirling through my head the whole way back to the trailhead.

There are no easy answers here. But, I feel strongly that some thought must be put into these questions in order to move the needle on public lands stewardship. What opportunities exist to change behavior so that everyone can enjoy our public lands not just now, but future generations – and to ensure that our public lands are stewarded and maintained so they can perform their important roles for ecosystem health and function? If you have thoughts and ideas, please send them our way at [email protected] – we’d love to read them and engage in meaningful conversation!

Jennifer's picture

Recreation is redefining the value of Western public lands


Once, the West’s public lands were valued primarily for the timber, minerals and fossil fuels they held, which were extracted and then sold around the world. In the 1970s, more than two dozen Western counties relied on timber for at least a fifth of their revenue, while energy companies expanded onto public lands for coal and natural gas. Small communities swelled with loggers and miners and the businesses that supported them, providing an economy that helped preserve the West’s rural feel. Today, though, natural resource economies are waning, and many of those towns are struggling. Public lands are increasingly used for fun and leisure, and the West has joined the Northeast as the two most urbanized regions in the country, according to U.S. Census data analyzed by Headwaters Economics.

The West’s vast public lands remain its defining factor, but these days, their economic value increasingly comes from the outdoor industry. Nationally, that industry is worth nearly $900 billion annually, according to the Outdoor Industry Association. People made over 290 million visits to the West’s public lands last year and spent a lot of time — and money — along the way. Those numbers are growing, while the jobs and revenue associated with hydrocarbons and timber have declined over the past several decades. The West’s nearly 600 million acres of public lands have tremendous influence on what it means to be a Westerner, and that picture is changing. Here, a by-the-numbers look at the economic heft of recreation and public lands:


More than 290 million people visited Western public lands in 2017. Despite increasing visits to public lands and the billions of dollars in consumer spending on outdoor recreation that often takes place there, the percent of the federal budget allocated to manage these places has shrunk.



To read the full article, please click here


Jennifer's picture

Trail Building in the National Forests


Early Trails in the Forests
The Forest Service began building trails in the 1890s, when the national forests were first set aside as forest reserves. Those trails were not scenic walks, but designed as the quickest way between two points and built primarily for communication and fire fighting activities. Random trails created by the consistent use of visitors to access scenic areas were not of much concern to the early Forest Service.

"Mere ways through the forest, whether marked or not, are not regarded as trails; they are matters of woodcraft rather than of permanent forest improvement. A trail is a narrow highway over which a pack animal can travel with safety during the usual period when the need for a highway exists."

In the days before telephones and radio, Forest Service trails were the means of communication between remote stations. Travel and communication was done primarily by horseback, and packhorses were used to deliver supplies to distant lookout towers. Especially during fire season, efficient trails were essential to move men and equipment quickly. The value of the road and trail system to the Forest Service was recorded in each yearly Report of the Chief, the annual report of the Forest Service. Included were the amount of road and trail mileage constructed that year, the total miles of roads and trails, and the distribution by state of the budget appropriation for roads and trails.

"Many large areas are still entirely without even the simplest trail facilities. Valuable forests which will be urgently needed in the future are being jeopardized by reason of the fact that they are without adequate roads or trails by which fire-fighting supplies and men may be brought in case of need."

During World War II, the national forest road and trail system was considered a national security asset. Access to the timber was critical for the war effort as it provided material for many war-related necessities, including shipping containers, cots, and airplane propellers. One Forest Service document, assessing the potential value of the national forests road and trail system for the military, stated: "It can furnish a supplementary transportation system in the mountain regions, especially in the West, which is largely screened from the air and therefore not as liable to bombing as the open trunk highways."

Trails for Recreation

The first edition of Trail Construction on the National Forest (1915) defined trails as transportation routes for pack animals and classified them according to their forest management use: as main trails, secondary trails, and branch trails. In the second edition (1922), the categories were more specific and included the "Purpose of Trails: (a) Fire control; (b) administrations: (c) grazing: (d) recreation."

"Recreation trails will ordinarily be constructed only where the need is made clearly apparent by public demand or by existing heavy use of trails over which travel is very laborious or difficult."

Based on the Forest Service annual reports, it was not until the mid-1930s that trails were considered purely in terms of recreational value, particularly for their scenic attributes. The Report of the Forester, 1933, is the first annual report to include hiking as an activity in the report on recreational use. It is included in a group labeled "motorists, horsemen, hikers, etc."

The following year saw extensive infrastructure improvement and construction by the Civilian Conservation Corps and other work relief programs of the Depression era, which would continue into the early 1940s. Among the many construction efforts undertaken were trails designed specifically for hiking.

"In trail construction (recreational trails) it should be the idea to make them as inconspicuous as possible. In this way their effectiveness should be increased, and the pleasure obtained from walking over such a trail should be of the highest quality. Ordinarily speaking, trails should go from one point of interest to another as directly as it is reasonable in keeping with the conformation of the ground."

A National Trail System

During the era of relative prosperity of the 1950s and 1960s, the popularity of hiking continued to grow. Demand for all aspects of outdoor recreation was surpassing the available resources for national as well as state and local governments. In 1958 Congress formed a special commission, the Outdoor Recreation Resources Review Commission (ORRRC), to take a comprehensive look at current recreational resources as well as future needs. The commission spent three years gathering data and studying trends, working with local and state governments to survey existing recreation resources.

"America must not neglect its heritage of the outdoors--for that heritage offers physical, spiritual, and educational benefits, which not only provide a better environment but help to achieve other national goals by adding to the health of the nation."

Their 1962 report discussed the benefits of outdoor recreation for increasing the health and wellbeing of American citizens, and reiterated the importance of including recreational use in management policies at all governmental levels. This report paved the way for such significant legislation as the Wilderness Act (1964) and the National Wild and Scenic Rivers Act (1968), which set aside large sections of undeveloped land to ensure there would be wild places for future generations to enjoy.

In direct response to the findings of the ORRRC, President Johnson gave a speech on February 8, 1965. In it he called for a national system of trails, as well as a national wild rivers system and for full funding of the Land and Water Conservation Fund. A national trail study was begun and the resulting report, Trails for America, was published in 1966.

"In order to provide for the ever-increasing outdoor recreation needs of an expanding population and in order to promote public access to, travel within, and enjoyment and appreciation of the open-air, outdoor areas of the Nation, trails should be established (i) primarily, near the urban areas of the Nation, and (ii) secondarily, within established scenic areas more remotely located"

This act of Congress established four major trail systems, national recreation trails, national scenic trails, national historic trails, and connecting or side trails. The Appalachian Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail were designated as the first national scenic trails. Management of the national trail system trails falls to the agency with administrative responsibility for the majority of land on which the trails lay, usually with the National Forest Service or the National Park Service.

In 1978 Congress passed an amendment to the original act that created 4 national historic trails and added the Continental Divide Trail as a national scenic trail. By 2014 the national trail system included 30 national scenic or historic trails, and over 1,100 national recreation trails.

"The forgotten outdoorsmen of today are those who like to walk, hike, ride horseback, or bicycle. For them we must have trails as well as highways. Nor should motor vehicles be permitted to tyrannize the more leisurely human traffic."

Increasing Demand for Trails, 1970s

During the 1970s, recreational use of national forest trails reached new levels of popularity. By 1976, the Forest Service was spending $5.7 million on trail maintenance and more than $3 million for trail construction each year. A trail assessment underway in the 1970s suggested that approximately 50 percent of all trail miles were not in adequate condition. The Forest Service's 1977 statistics showed more than 10.5 million visitor-days on a 97,000-mile trail system (a visitor-day equaled one visitor for a 12-hour period). With the increasing popularity of its trails, the agency was also finding increasing numbers of user conflicts - between backpackers and horsepackers, for example, or motorcyclists and hikers - as well as needs for more trail maintenance, visitor education, and improved trail design.

Forest Service chief John McGuire pointed to many of these issues in a 1977 speech: "When most National Forest trails were built, utility and speed were the prime considerations - not esthetic appeal or quality of the recreational experience. Often, trails were located along canyon bottoms to take advantage of flatter ground and easier construction. Many are snowbound early and late in the season, susceptible to erosion, and costly to maintain. They also provide little opportunity for scenic vistas, and sometimes lie in the paths of avalanches."

"The United States has only about 100,000 miles of trails--less than one yard of trail per citizen. Give thanks that not everyone hikes and that hikers do not hit the trail at the same time. If they did, they could all hold hands."

McGuire proceeded to emphasize that public demands on trails could cause problems. "Nor were these trails designed for all-comers. They were generally meant for occasional use by experienced people and pack and saddle animals. Motorized vehicle use was not anticipated. Nor was safety a great concern. Nor was the sheer volume of use that we see today. . ."

Trails for the Future?

Surveys of recreational users conducted over several decades show that interest in hiking has continued to grow in the 21st century, albeit at a slower rate than the last decades of the 20th century.15 Providing trails to meet the increase in demand, as well as maintain them, has long challenged the Forest Service. Advocates for outdoor recreation have been critical of Forest Service management of its trail resources, although most blame lack of congressional funding more than management policies.

Concerns about the condition of existing trails and the large backlog of maintenance in the late 1980s prompted the Congressional Subcommittee on National Parks and Public Lands, Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs, to request the General Accounting Office (GAO) to review the issue of deferred maintenance on Forest Service trails. The committee chair felt that deferred trail maintenance was resulting in the loss of valuable recreational opportunities to the American public, as well as a financial loss of capital investment.

The GAO report found inadequate fiscal funding from 1981-1987 led to the large backlog of deferred maintenance, as well as unfulfilled new trail construction projects. The Forest Service reported that in 1988 the backlog totaled $195 million. Service personnel indicated funding had been inadequate for the previous decade, and budget limitations had led to a sharp decline in skilled trail personnel. The report continued that Congress had increased funding from 19.7 million in 1987 to over $36 million in 1988 and 1989, which allowed for many maintenance and reconstruction issues to be addressed, but would not provide for construction of new trails.

In 1991 hearings were held by the Congressional Subcommittee on National Parks and Public Lands on the management of America’s recreational trails. A statement presented to the subcommittee by the associate deputy chief of the National Forest System highlights the agency’s dependency on public-private partnerships to expand and maintain recreational trails under their jurisdiction.The partnerships included volunteers, hiking clubs, and local governments and businesses.

According to a 2013 conducted by the U.S. General Accounting Office in response to a Congressional request, the total mileage of national forest trails used for recreation and management in 2012 was 158,000. For that year the agency performed maintenance on 37 percent of trails, while only 26 percent met the Forest Service standards for condition. For 2012 the allocated resources were $81.9 million, while the estimated amount required to fully address trail maintenance needs totaled $523.7 million.

According to Forest Service reports, the allocation for trails generally goes to basic maintenance of existing trails rather than upgrades or new trail construction. Volunteers and outside partners remain an essential means of maintaining and expanding existing facilities, and the advocacy work of out-door clubs and environmental groups, as well as local citizens and businesses, continue as important force in calling for more funding for trail construction and maintenance. Because of recurring budget constraints the Forest Service has continued to rely on the help of volunteers and outside partners for maintenance and enhancements to the national trail system.

Additional information on hiking and trail building in the national forests can be found using the Forest History Society Research Portal as well as additional webpages on recreation in the national forests, hiking, backpacking, the national trail system, and the long trails.

Written by: Nancy C. Nye, special projects, Forest History Society.

Jennifer's picture

Volunteering Game Changer: Millennials

A new study released by State Farm® reveals key insights into what motivates people to volunteer. While the survey included all generations, the most surprising results came from Millennials (ages 18-34).

A deep dive into this generation finds two distinct groups: those who are starting out (younger Millennials) and those who are married, have kids, or own a home (older Millennials). According to the study, only 23 percent of younger Millennials currently volunteer, compared to 46 percent of older Millennials.

These findings are noteworthy when considering national trends. Millennials now surpass Baby Boomers as the largest generation in the United States.* As a result, they have the biggest potential to influence volunteerism.

Here’s what motivates Millennials to volunteer:

  • Get social: According to the study, digital communication is key. Fifty-eight percent of Millennials surveyed visited a website to learn about volunteering, (a rate that declined significantly with each preceding generation).
  • Opportunities nearby: Forty-four percent of older Millennials and 34% of younger Millennials agree, they’re more likely to get involved if the organization or non-profit is close to their home or job.
  • Show the impact: People want to know their work was worth it. Forty-three percent of older Millennials and 34% of younger Millennials say seeing the impact of their time and talent reaffirms their commitment to give back.
  • Career development: Forty percent of older Millennials and 35% of younger Millennials said offering opportunities to help their career or job search would boost their willingness to volunteer.
  • Knowledge is power: The prospect of gaining expertise in a certain area or learning a new skill inspires more people to get involved. Forty percent of older Millennials and 31% of younger Millennials say this opportunity would make them more likely to volunteer.
  • The more the merrier: Both groups agree, being able to participate with friends (44% older Millennials, 35% younger Millennials) or meet new people (28% older Millennials, 22% younger Millennials) plays a large role in their decision to volunteer. In fact, one in five Millennials reported finding a significant other through volunteering!

About the Survey

In November of 2017, State Farm conducted a study on volunteerism to identify those most likely to volunteer as well as the conditions or situations where volunteerism rates are highest. State Farm surveyed approximately 3,100 U.S. adults aged 18 and older and weighted the data to match proportions in the U.S. by generation: Millennials (18-34), Generation X (35-50), Baby Boomers (51-70) and the Mature Generations (71+). This study follows a survey conducted the previous year that provided insights on how to inspire and cultivate volunteerism.

To read the full article, please click here.

Jennifer's picture

Congressional-Level Outdoor Recreation Economy Reports Released by OIA

Outdoor Industry Association (OIA) has released congressional-level Outdoor Recreation Economy reports for all 435 congressional districts. These reports are the first of their kind that captures the power of a vast multi-billion dollar economic engine in our local communities and across the nation.

Use the tool here to find your congressional district report and download the PDF.

Jennifer's picture

Report: Locals spend $2.14 billion every year on trail, open spaces and water activity


Long considered a nice backdrop, the area’s outdoors is now bringing in the green.

During its second annual State of the Outdoors event, the Pikes Peak Outdoor Recreation Alliance revealed that locals spend $2.14 billion every year on their activities on trails, open spaces and waters. That’s according to the Outdoor Industry Association report that will be released in its entirety next month, showing spending across the nation’s congressional districts.

The 5th Congressional District, including Colorado Springs, is “an economic powerhouse” for outdoor recreation, said Alex Boian, the association’s vice president of government affairs. “Really, one of the strongest outdoor recreation economies in the entire country.”

In an economy better known for the military, Boian said many might forget the number of servicemen and women, both active and retired, who love the mountains. Local interest in outdoor recreation is likely in line with the 71 percent of Coloradans who participate, the Outdoor Industry Association found, based on an independent firm’s survey of 1,100 people.

“These numbers tell me A, it’s not being paid attention to close enough and B, it’s an underutilized resource,” Luis Benitez, head of the Colorado Outdoor Recreation Industry Office, said after Thursday night’s gathering of outfitters and nonprofits in City Auditorium. “With everything that’s unique around this region, the numbers are a clear indicator there’s more to do.”

He used the example of the Ring the Peak Trail, designated by Gov. John Hickenlooper two years ago as a high-profile project to finish. The loop around America's Mountain is mired in land disputes, but, Benitez said, maybe advocates can make a stronger push with the economic evidence released Thursday.

The Outdoor Industry Association's upcoming district-by-district report will be the most comprehensive yet from the trade group, which continues to demand attention of lawmakers. Outdoor recreation was first recognized in the nation's growth domestic report in 2016 as a $375 billion engine. The Centennial State is a mighty contributor to that, boasting an industry that generates $28 billion in consumer spending every year and creates 229,000 jobs.

Local data could serve as another political tool for the industry, Boian said. The report will come as the association lobbies for the reauthorization of lottery funds to Great Outdoors Colorado, which distributes tens of millions of dollars around the state for initiatives such as Ring the Peak.

Speakers Thursday, including Mayor John Suthers, credited the outdoors for the Springs' nation-leading rise in millennial residents and the population projected to surpass Denver in 2045.

"The state of the outdoors is most definitely strong," Suthers said, "and it's our job to keep it that way."

That will be from a city government that better funds its parks department and a federal government that better funds the U.S. Forest Service, said David Leinweber with the Pikes Peak Outdoor Recreation Alliance. The nonprofit on Thursday launched a website,, aimed at promoting volunteer opportunities and lesser known places.

"The primary goal is to spread people out so we're not all focused on a few trails or a few areas, so that we can actually broaden our reach," Leinweber said.



Jennifer's picture

USDA Secretary Announces Infrastructure Improvements for Forest System Trails

WASHINGTON, FEB 16, 2018 – U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue today announced the selection of 15 priority areas to help address the more than $300 million trail maintenance backlog on national forests and grasslands.

Focused trail work in these areas, bolstered by partners and volunteers, is expected to help address needed infrastructure work so that trails managed by USDA Forest Service can be accessed and safely enjoyed by a wide variety of trails enthusiasts.  About 25 percent of agency trails fit those standards while the condition of other trails lag behind.

“Our nation’s trails are a vital part of the American landscape and rural economies, and these priority areas are a major first step in USDA’s on-the-ground responsibility to make trails better and safer,” Secretary Perdue said. “The trail maintenance backlog was years in the making with a combination of factors contributing to the problem, including an outdated funding mechanism that routinely borrows money from programs, such as trails, to combat ongoing wildfires.

“This borrowing from within the agency interferes with other vital work, including ensuring that our more than 158,000 miles of well-loved trails provide access to public lands, do not harm natural resources, and, most importantly, provide safe passage for our users.”

This year the nation celebrates the 50th anniversary of the National Trails Systems Act which established America’s system of national scenic, historic, and recreation trails. A year focused on trails presents a pivotal opportunity for the Forest Service and partners to lead a shift toward a system of sustainable trails that are maintained through even broader shared stewardship.

The priority areas focus on trails that meet the requirements of the National Forest System Trails Stewardship Act of 2016, which calls for the designation of up to 15 high priority areas where a lack of maintenance has led to reduced access to public land; increased risk of harm to natural resources; public safety hazards; impassable trails; or increased future trail maintenance costs. The act also requires the Forest Service to “significantly increase the role of volunteers and partners in trail maintenance” and to aim to double trail maintenance accomplished by volunteers and partners.

Shared stewardship to achieve on-the-ground results has long been core to Forest Service’s approach to trail maintenance, as demonstrated by partner groups such as the Pacific Crest Trail Association and the Appalachian Trail Conservancy.

“Our communities, volunteers and partners know that trails play an important role in the health of local economies and of millions of people nationwide, which means the enormity of our trail maintenance backlog must be adequately addressed now,” said USDA Forest Service Chief Tony Tooke. “The agency has a commitment to be a good neighbor, recognizing that people and communities rely on these trails to connect with each other and with nature.”

Each year, more than 84 million people get outside to explore, exercise and play on trails across national forests and grasslands and visits to these places help to generate 143,000 jobs annually through the recreation economy and more than $9 million in visitor spending.

The 15 national trail maintenance priority areas encompass large areas of land and each have committed partners to help get the work accomplished. The areas are:

  1. Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex and Adjacent Lands, Montana: The area includes the Bob Marshall, Scapegoat, and Great Bear Wilderness Areas and most of the Hungry Horse, Glacier View, and Swan Lake Ranger Districts on the Flathead National Forest in northwest Montana on both sides of the Continental Divide. There are more than 3,200 miles of trails within the area, including about 1,700 wilderness miles.
  2. Methow Valley Ranger District, Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest, Washington: Methow Valley is a rural recreation-based community surrounded by more than 1.3 million acres of managed by the Forest Service. The area includes trails through the Pasayten and Lake Chelan-Sawtooth Wilderness Areas and more than 130 miles of National Pacific Crest and Pacific Northwest National Scenic Trails.
  3. Hells Canyon National Recreation Area and Eagle Cap Wilderness, Idaho and Oregon: This area includes more than 1,200 miles of trail and the deepest river canyon in North America as well as the remote alpine terrain of the Seven Devil’s mountain range. The area also has 350,000 acres in the Eagle Cap Wilderness, the largest in Oregon.
  4. Central Idaho Wilderness Complex, Idaho and Montana: The area includes about 9,600 miles of trails through the Frank Church River of No Return; Gospel Hump; most of the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness areas; portions of the Payette, Salmon-Challis, Nez Perce and Clearwater national forests; and most of the surrounding lands. The trails inside and outside of wilderness form a network of routes that give access into some of the most remote country in the Lower 48.
  5. Continental Divide National Scenic Trail, Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado and New Mexico: The trail’s 3,100 continuous miles follows the spine of the Rocky Mountains from Mexico to Canada, including more than 1,900 miles of trails across 20 national forests. The trail runs a diverse route with some sections in designated wilderness areas and others running through towns, providing those communities with the opportunity to boost the local economy with tourism dollars.
  6. Wyoming Forest Gateway Communities: Nearly 1,000 miles of trail stretch across the almost 10 million acres of agency-managed lands in Wyoming, which include six national forests and one national grassland. The contribution to the state’s outdoor recreation economy is therefore extremely important in the state.
  7. Northern California Wilderness, Marble Mountain and Trinity Alps: There are more than 700 miles of trails through these wilderness areas, which are characterized by very steep mountain terrain in fire-dependent ecosystems that are subject to heavy winter rainfall and/or snow. As such, they are subject to threat from flooding, washout, landslide and other erosion type events which, combined with wildfires, wash out trails and obstruct passage.
  8. Angeles National Forest, California: The area, which includes nearly 1,000 miles of trails, is immediately adjacent to the greater Los Angeles area where 15 million people live within 90 minutes and more than 3 million visit. Many of those visitors are young people from disadvantaged communities without local parks.
  9. Greater Prescott Trail System, Arizona: This 300-mile system of trails is a demonstration of work between the Forest Service and multiple partners. The system is integrated with all public lands at the federal, state and local level to generate a community-based trail system.
  10. Sedona Red Rock Ranger District Trail System, Coconino National Forest, Arizona: About 400 miles of trail provide a wide diversity of experiences with year-round trail opportunities, including world-class mountain biking in cooler months and streamside hiking in the heat of the summer.
  11. Colorado Fourteeners: Each year, hundreds of thousands of hikers trek along over 200 miles of trail to access Colorado’s mountains that are higher than 14,000 feet. The Forest Service manages 48 of the 54 fourteeners, as they are commonly called.
  12. Superior National Forest, Minnesota: The more than 2,300 miles of trail on this forest have faced many catastrophic events, including large fires and a major wind storm downed millions of trees in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in 1999. A similar storm in 2016 reached winds up to 85 mph and toppled trees on several thousand acres and made the western 13 miles of Kekekabic Trail impassible.
  13. White Mountain National Forest Partner Complex, Maine and New Hampshire: Approximately 600 miles of non-motorized trails are maintained by partners. Another 600 miles of motorized snowmobile trails are adopted and maintained by several clubs. Much of that work centers on providing safe public access to the mountain and valleys of New Hampshire and Maine.
  14. Southern Appalachians Capacity Enhancement Model, Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia: The more than 6,300 miles of trails in this sub region include some of the most heavily used trails in the country yet only 28 percent meet or exceed agency standards. The work required to bring these trails to standard will require every tool available from partner and volunteer skills to contracts with professional trail builders.
  15. Iditarod National Historic Trail Southern Trek, Alaska: In southcentral Alaska, the Southern Trek is in close proximity to more than half the state’s population and connects with one of the most heavily traveled highways in the state. The Chugach National Forest and partners are restoring and developing more than 180 miles of the trail system, connecting the communities of Seward, Moose Pass, Whittier, and Girdwood.

For more information about the USDA Forest Service visit


USDA is an equal opportunity provider and employer

Jennifer's picture

Outdoor Recreation Industry Accounts for 2% of Nation's Gross Domestic Product

outdoor recreation industry, colorado, rocky mountain field institute, mountain biking, outdoor recreation, gross domestic product


For the first time ever, outdoor recreation’s contributions are being counted as a unique part of United States gross domestic product (GDP). The Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) released a preliminary look at United States GDP outputs from outdoor recreation. The analysis shows that growth in the outdoor industry continues to outpace growth of the economy as a whole and accounts for over 2 percent of the entire United States GDP.

The BEA prototype estimate finds that outdoor recreation contributed over $373 billion toward U.S. GDP or over $673 billion toward total U.S. gross output, which is the total value of domestic goods and services produced by an industry. This supports the $887 billion that consumers spend annually on outdoor recreation and confirms the national importance of investments in recreation funding and infrastructure. Importantly, this prototype estimate paints a clear picture that recreation is an important sector of the U.S. economy and that Americans’ desire to recreate outside is growing.

“While this is just the prototype estimate, and there will likely be changes here and there, we are extremely excited that outdoor recreation is now counted as an official U.S. industry and a major contributor to the U.S. economy — this further validates our broad and growing economic impact,” said Amy Roberts, executive director of Outdoor Industry Association. “We look forward to working with the Bureau of Economic Analysis over the next several months to include key criteria that will capture all the various ways outdoor recreation is an economic generator — whether one recreates close to home or travels across the country.”

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The Outdoor Industry Is About to Become a Serious Political Force


Outdoor recreation is an economic colossus: its reach is massive, its wealth enormous, and its influence continues to grow as more boots hit the ground. You can see it in Joshua Tree’s crowded campgrounds or in Mount Tam’s trailhead parking lots; in the Appalachian Trail’s thru-hiking numbers or in REI’s record sales. Americans are heading outdoors in huge numbers and paying handsomely for the privilege. But how much, precisely? For years the industry’s contribution to the nation’s economy was as much guesswork as fact.

In 2005, the Outdoor Industry Foundation commissioned the first of the economic studies to measure the industry’s heft. The initial report returned impressive statistics, but it was the follow-up study six years later that stirred the giant from its slumber: the outdoor recreation economy, all $646 billion of it, was nearly as much as Americans paid for pharmaceuticals and motor vehicle sales and parts, combined. Most of the industry’s stakeholders happily accepted the number at face value, and few inquired about how the numbers were derived (primarily through surveys).

Now, thanks to the passage of a bipartisan bill that sailed through both the House and Senate last month, and was signed into law by President Obama on December 8, the outdoor industry is primed for a gargantuan reveal. The Outdoor Recreation Jobs and Economic Impact Act of 2016, or REC Act, authorizes the Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Economic Analysis to assess outdoor recreation’s contribution to the nation’s gross domestic product, or GDP.

“It’s one of the most significant policy decisions in support of our industry in the last ten years,” says Amy Roberts, executive director of the Outdoor Industry Association (OIA).

Here’s why.

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Diversity in the Outdoors

One of RMFI's core values, stated in our strategic plan, is inclusiveness in partnerships. RMFI encourages strong and diverse partnerships through broad stakeholder and public participation. We encourage the engagement of a diverse population to get involved in our projects and programs. 

When you go outside, you're probably not thinking about who is outside with you. You go to enjoy the wilderness and all it has to offer. After all, who doesn't like to explore the Colorado mountains by going on hikes and climbs? But if you look around, the majority of people venturing outdoors with you may look similar. These people are disproportionately able-bodied, affluent, straight, and white. A study investigating diversity in non-profit organizations even found that their members and volunteers were also majority male.

So why is diversity outdoors so scarce? There is no clear-cut answer, but there are many possible explanations as to why it's more difficult to find diverse groups of people in outdoor recreation. A survey conducted in 2016 reported that 74% of Americans who participated in outdoor recreational activities were Caucasian. Furthermore, when it comes to the people being represented in outdoors media, retail and entertainment seem to cater to almost exclusively white demographics. Some of the most notable outdoor television shows use mainly white or white-passing personalities. Flipping through the Discovery Channel, Outdoors Channel, or even browsing Netflix for documentaries, there is an overwhelmingly uniform group of outdoorsmen. The same applies to outdoor retailers, who use mostly white models to market their products. Unfortunately, it's hard for people of color in particular to see themselves participating in outdoor recreation when media doesn't make the outdoors itself seem as inviting as it really is.

Being a minority in Colorado Springs, I can personally attest to the demographic most enthused about being in nature. At Colorado College particularly, hiking, skiing, camping, and even running seem to be dominated by the typical white, affluent student. Of course, there is nothing wrong with the groups who are currently invested in outdoor recreation, but other minority students are not as enticed by the idea of spending a couple nights in the wilderness. Many minorities don't even see it as an option, which is in part due to accessibility. Unfortunately, being a dedicated outdoorsman can be expensive, and the reality is that many minorities cannot afford to hike, ski, or camp. Therefore, being outdoors seems like an intangible impossibility, and public lands are also discounted in the process, despite being open to all people.

As a non-profit dedicated to engaging the entire public in participating in the conservation and stewardship of public lands but that also sees a mostly homogenous set of people participating, RMFI recognizes this issue and puts forth efforts to make the great outdoors feel open for all kinds of people. RMFI has for many years partnered with volunteer groups from schools and organizations serving underserved youth populations, including those of diverse ethnicities and socioeconomic backgrounds, and has recently begun partnering with volunteer groups from organizations serving persons with disabilities, both physical and developmental. In 2018, RMFI will embark on a collaborative Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO) Inspire Initiative, aiming to connect underserved youth and their families with the outdoors statewide. After nearly 18 months of planning, coordination, and collaboration, GOCO announced that Colorado Springs was one of 9 cities awarded with their Inspire Grant. RMFI will be leading the outdoor stewardship components of the local grant and looks forward to partnering with so many other wonderful organizations lending their expertise in our collective effort to increase access and participation in the outdoors to disadvantaged community members. We welcome all people to experience the outdoors through stewardship with us, whether you have explored that world previously or not. The outdoors is a place where everyone should feel welcome, and we are excited to promote diversity in our base of volunteers and staff!

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Study: Being around trees and other greenery may help teens stave off depression

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By Mary Gillis - 

Exposure to trees and other greenery has been shown to stave off depression in adults, and a new study finds the same may be true for teenagers.

Researchers looked at more than 9,000 children 12 to 18 and found those who lived in areas with a lot of natural vegetation were less likely to display high levels of depression symptoms. The effect was strongest among middle schoolers, the study team reports in the Journal of Adolescent Health.

“Prior research has shown that lower exposure to nature is associated with more negative emotional and behavioral outcomes,” lead author Carla Bezold of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston said.

To see if this is true during teen years, the researchers analyzed data on 9,385 adolescents who began participating in 1999 in a large study of health factors affecting U.S. youth. Participants had mental health assessments and also provided information about substance abuse, environmental safety issues and race in an annual questionnaire.

Bezold’s team used geo-coding to identify where the participants lived and satellite data to examine the areas around their homes to assess building density and proximity to green spaces as well as bodies of water. Researchers also measured the amount and quality: large and lush or small and sparse.

To read the full article, please click here

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New Fourteener Campaign Improves Trail Conditions Through Collaboration and Innovation

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Colorado outdoor organizations work together to address mounting trail needs on Fourteeners

Denver, Colorado —January 2018— In 2017, the National Forest Foundation (NFF) invested nearly $500,000 on three Colorado 14,000-foot-peaks (“Fourteeners”) in desperate need of sustainable trails – Mount Elbert, Pikes Peak and Quandary Peak.

The investments are part of a new campaign, Find Your Fourteener, which launched earlier this year to improve sustainable recreation by fixing the damage from eroded, gullied, and braided trails, improving and restoring fragile alpine habitat, and creating trail systems to enhance outdoor experiences for hikers and other outdoor enthusiasts. In 2018, the campaign will continue to improve sustainable recreation opportunities on Colorado’s Fourteeners through the development of new partnerships and capacity in order to increase the pace and scale of on-the-ground trail improvement projects.

In 2015, the Colorado Fourteeners Initiative (CFI) released peak report cards for Fourteeners based on extensive foot-by-foot trail surveys. Mount Elbert’s East Slopes route received an overall “F” grade and was among the three worst routes in the state. Based on the documented trail damage, surging visitation and opportunities to address needs through creative trail building approaches, the NFF, U.S. Forest Service and partners chose Mount Elbert as one of three initial statewide priorities for the Find Your Fourteener campaign. Quandary Peak’s East Ridge trail and the Devil’s Playground trail to Pikes Peak received similar low grades – yet visitation continues to increase.

Groups, including the CFI, the Rocky Mountain Field Institute, Colorado-based youth corps, and many other conservation and volunteer organizations, are collaborating in new ways to leverage organizational strengths and more strategically address the needs of Fourteeners across Colorado.

This collaborative partnership between the NFF, Forest Service, and Colorado outdoor organizations is a new model that will do more to keep Colorado’s beloved Fourteeners healthy and accessible as year-round popularity and use continues to increase dramatically.

“The newly established ‘Find Your Fourteener’ campaign demonstrates our shared values to protect and preserve Colorado’s iconic 14,000-foot mountains. The ongoing partnership will allow us to enhance visitors’ access by creating sustainable trails that are well-suited for the fragile alpine environment,” said Forest Service Fourteener Program Manager Loretta McEllhiney.

“The first year of the Find Your Fourteener campaign injected needed funding, fostered new approaches and generated considerable enthusiasm that allowed Colorado Fourteeners Initiative to significantly boost project work on two of Colorado’s highest-use 14ers—Mount Elbert and Quandary Peak,” said Executive Director Lloyd Athearn. “CFI and youth corps crews cut more than two miles of trail on Elbert and opened the first of three bypasses on the route. That allowed volunteers to begin the long, but necessary process of closing, stabilizing and restoring a particularly steep section of the old, user-trampled trail. The Quandary Peak trail benefitted from extensive work from trailhead to summit. And, new ways of engaging long-time partners and the enhanced enthusiasm about the project boosted CFI statewide volunteer trail stewardship days by 25 percent—much of which occurred on Elbert and Quandary—from what had been a previous all-time-record for the organization.”

Jennifer Peterson, Executive Director of the Rocky Mountain Field Institute, noted, “Colorado’s 14,000 foot peaks continue to see increased use from visitors across the globe desperate to stand atop the summits of these iconic mountains. With this increased use comes increased degradation to the surrounding natural resources. Balancing outdoor recreation and resource protection is critical in these fragile areas, and can be achieved through the construction of sustainable summit routes that avoid sensitive areas and effectively define the usage corridor. Support from the NFF through the Find Your Fourteener campaign has not only increased the pace and scale of Fourteener work being done across the state, but has also provided the platform to support increased collaboration among several outdoor stewardship groups working together toward common goals.”

Rebecca Davidson, Director, Southern Rockies Field Program, shared the National Forest Foundation’s enthusiasm: “We are inspired by the collaborative and innovative ways that our partners have come together to increase accomplishments on Colorado’s Fourteeners. The Find Your Fourteener campaign is testing a new stewardship approach, where the outcome is added miles of sustainable trail maintained or constructed, increased capacity to restore degraded fragile alpine habitats, and getting more boots on the ground through volunteerism and collaborative efforts. The National Forest Foundation is proud to be a part of this monumental effort, and excited about the 2018 field season.”


About the National Forest Foundation

The National Forest Foundation promotes the enhancement and public enjoyment of the 193-million-acre National Forest System. By directly engaging Americans and leveraging private and public funding, the National Forest Foundation improves forest health and Americans’ outdoor experiences. The National Forest Foundation’s programs inform millions of Americans about the importance of these treasured landscapes. Each year, the National Forest Foundation restores fish and wildlife habitat, plants trees in areas affected by fires, insects and disease, improves recreational opportunities, and enables communities to steward their National Forests and Grasslands. Learn more at

More information specifically about the Find Your Fourteener campaign is available at

About the U.S. Forest Service Colorado Fourteeners Program
The Colorado Fourteeners Program is a partnership program between the Forest Service, numerous nonprofit organizations and youth corps throughout Colorado. Forty-nine of the fifty-four Fourteeners in Colorado are located on or accessed from National Forest System lands. Our goal is to create sustainable trails that protect the natural integrity of the mountains so that nature-loving enthusiasts have an enjoyable hiking experience on their public lands for generations to come.

About the Colorado Fourteeners Initiative
Colorado Fourteeners Initiative has been working since 1994 to protect and preserve the natural integrity of Colorado’s 14,000-foot peaks through active stewardship and public education. To date CFI has constructed 31 sustainable routes on 28 peaks, engaged more than 15,000 days of volunteer trail stewardship, and educated almost 200,000 Fourteener hikers through on-mountain contacts and via CFI’s YouTube channel.

About the Rocky Mountain Field Institute
The Rocky Mountain Field Institute is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization based in Colorado Springs, Colorado, dedicated to the conservation and stewardship of public lands in Southern Colorado. RMFI is committed to protecting and enhancing the ecological health of Southern Colorado’s land and water resources by completing projects focused on watershed restoration, forest health, and creating sustainable outdoor recreation opportunities. By prioritizing the involvement of community volunteers and youth, RMFI envisions a world where our work fosters vibrant and healthy natural systems that are respected and cared for by the public. RMFI actively educates and engages thousands of community volunteers every year through the completion of hands-on trail and restoration projects that help to protect and conserve Southern Colorado’s iconic and treasured public natural landscapes. RMFI works in a diversity of public land settings including urban parks and open spaces to Colorado’s 14,000 foot peaks in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.

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Colorado snowpack worst in more than 30 years in some areas leaving water suppliers on high alert

DENVER - Colorado mountain snowpack shrunk to record-low levels this week, raising concerns about water supply, and some federal authorities calculated even big late snow — if it falls — may not make up for the lag.

Survey crews have measured snow depths in southwestern Colorado at 22 percent of normal, the upper Colorado River Basin at 65 percent of normal and the Arkansas River Basin at 49 percent of normal. National Weather Service meteorologists forecast limited snow through mid-January, though they also see a possibility that ocean-driven atmospheric patterns will shift by March and bring snow.

Water suppliers have intensified their monitoring, weighing how to leave as much H2O as possible stored in reservoirs without risking dam safety if high flows do come.

Colorado natural resources officials plan to review “emerging drought conditions” next week. While most of Colorado currently is classified as abnormally dry, areas of the Western Slope are officially in drought.

To read the complete article from the Denver Post, please click here

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DENVER - The Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO) Board awarded $20 million in grants to projects across Colorado on Friday.

In total, this round of grants will:

  • Invest in 40 projects in 28 counties
  • Impact more than 43,000 youth
  • Create approximately 1,000 jobs
  • Plant more than 3,600 trees, shrubs, and flowering plants
  • Conserve 31,186 acres of land and 140 miles of rivers
  • The majority of the funding just awarded, totaling $14.1 million, is dedicated to GOCO’s Inspire Initiative to get kids outside.

Nine community-based coalitions were awarded funding for places, programs, and pathways that will make the outdoors more accessible for all Colorado families. Coalitions spent the last 18 months empowering local youth to lead community engagement, research, and planning efforts to address their community’s specific barriers keeping local kids from getting outside.

Click here to read the full press release from GOCO. 

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Thanks to you, we had a hugely successful field season, accomplishing a tremendous amount of on-the-ground work that resulted in significant impacts for our public lands in Southern Colorado and the Pikes Peak Region. 

Total Volunteer/Worker Statistics:

  • Total Volunteers: 2,117
  • Total Workdays: 476
  • Volunteer Hours: 16,427
  • Volunteer Value: $426,602
  • RMFI Crew Hours: 13,918
  • Youth Engaged (8-24): 1,025
  • Conservation Corps Members: 127
  • Community Groups and Schools: 93
  • Veterans/Active Military: 101
  • Project Sites: 22
  • Total On-the-Ground Work Hours: 39,524

Total Work Statistics:

  • Social Trails Closed/Restored: 24,248 linear feet (4.59 miles)
  • Total Trail Improvement: 25,479 linear feet (4.83 miles)
  • New Trail Constructed: 9.917 linear feet (1.9 miles)
  • Rock Steps Constructed: 297
  • Length of Retaining Wall Built: 1,967 linear feet (0.37 miles)
  • Native Transplants Used in Restoration: 5,847
  • Erosion Control Structures Built: 683

2017 Volunteer and Partner Appreciation Award Recipients:

  • Robert Weggel Outstanding Funder Award: Colorado Water Conservation Board
  • Mark Hesse Outstanding Stewardship Partner Award: Friends of Cheyenne Mountain State Park
  • Land Management Partner Award: Colorado Parks and Wildlife
  • Outstanding Volunteer Group: FedEx
  • Volunteer of the Year: Stephen Toledo
  • Youth Volunteer of the Year: Taylor Metzger 

We put together this short video to highlight all of our work in 2017. Take a look, and make sure to stay tuned for exciting new projects, events, and initiatives in 2018! 



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The Bonner Fellow Begins

Ace installs erosion control matting with RMFI staff and volunteers in Garden of the Gods.

There’s not a much better way to spend time than finding what you’re passionate about and using that passion to improve the world around you. You’ll even start to see yourself in a new light – as a leader, a catalyst to change, a champion. In my case, passion comes in the form of helping people, animals, and the environment, and, as a Bonner Fellow with Rocky Mountain Field Institute, I feel like I can do exactly that.

The Bonner Fellowship, launched by Colorado College’s Community for Collaborative Engagement (CCE), is a nationwide internship program dedicated to fostering students’ passions for community engagement and ensuring their personal and professional growth through the help of Bonner partners, such as RMFI. It does this by choosing students based off merit and understanding of community engagement to partner with local not-for-profit organizations to participate in meaningful work that is mutually beneficial for the fellow, the organization, and the community.

As the Bonner Fellow with Rocky Mountain Field Institute, I began my Colorado Springs adventure into the outdoors by first making sure that there is an outdoors to begin with! I moved to Colorado Springs from Miami, Florida to attend Colorado College, where I hope to study Organismal Biology and Ecology. Living in South Florida, I was able to volunteer with the National Park Service, where I first discovered my passion for conserving and preserving public lands. You can imagine that I wanted to do something similar in Colorado, especially since we have some of the best natural resources in the country (in my opinion). Being partnered with an organization built on the commitment to community is exciting for me, because I get to work with people who are equally as passionate as I am, if not more, about protecting public lands so that they can be accessible for everyone.

In the few months I have been a Bonner Fellow, I have learned a lot about greater Southern Colorado’s natural resources and how to serve them. However, there are still oodles of things I’m excited to learn! One of my most notable new experiences is when I attended a tool maintenance workshop toward the end of the 2017 field season. I had almost no idea what I was doing, because I had never used tools like the McCloud or the cheerleader before my job at RMFI. So, I tried to follow along with what the field instructors were doing, and you know what? I’m pretty sure I failed. But that’s okay! Because, by the end of the day, I learned how to sharpen a pick-mattock!

All in all, being the new addition to the RMFI team has been nothing but rewarding. From the amazing staff and dedicated volunteers to the work, whether at a desk inputting data or at Garden of the Gods putting down EC (erosion control) matting, I have thoroughly enjoyed the time spent with RMFI, and I look forward to all the new experiences still to be had! And I’ll be sure to keep them documented all the way through!

The Bonner Fellow,

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How Western States Stack Up As Public Lands Defenders


Last month, the Center for Western Priorities, a Denver, Colorado–based nonprofit, published a comprehensive report that compared state public lands policy across the Mountain West. Eight states—Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Arizona, and New Mexico—were scored. The results were also discussed on the organization’s podcast, Go West, Young Podcast.

The Trump administration’s hostility to public lands was part of the impetus for the report, the authors told Outside. Wary of focusing its mission solely on federal accountability, Western Priorities also wanted to examine what states could do on their own. But understanding state policy when it comes public lands is challenging; unlike federal law, tracking state-level regulation gets messy.

“We try to be a data-driven organization,” says Aaron Weiss, media director at Western Priorities, “and that tends to be fairly easy on the national level, because, at least up until now, DOI and Forest Service were good about collecting and disseminating data.” If you couldn’t figure something out, “you could usually call up someone at the Park Service or at BLM and figure out how to get that data. It’s much harder to do at the state level.”

That’s because the way states regulate their local public lands varies widely. “What counts as a spill in one state doesn’t count in another,” Weiss says. In that light, Western Priorities set out to research and compare state policies “apples to apples.” The project, led by Western Priorities’ Sara Rose Tannenbaum, took about eight months to research and involved somewhere between 80 and 100 interviews with policymakers and related experts. Western Priorities chose to score states in three categories: lands and access, outdoor recreation, and responsible energy use. Montana and Colorado received the highest overall grades, but there was still a good deal of divergence within each category.

The results look at what states are doing well when it comes to public lands protections, as well as how they can improve and adopt best practices from one another. (Charted above are the states’ total scores from all three categories, with the highest possible score being 33.)

“This can be a useful tool to people as they’re trying to aid their state in improving, or branching out, or being innovative,” Tannenbaum says. “States really have a lot to learn from one another. It’s important to celebrate what’s worth celebrating in your state and also identify moments for improvement.”

We broke down how the states did in each category and why.

To read the complete article, please click here

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Colorado ranks first in Western states scorecard on outdoor recreation, responsible drilling, public-lands access

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Colorado ranks first among eight Western states for access to public lands, responsible energy development and outdoor recreation in a scorecard released Tuesday by the Center for Western Priorities.

The Denver-based nonprofit conservation and advocacy group’s Conservation Scorecard ranks Colorado at the top among Intermountain West states when it comes to protecting and enhancing public lands.

Scored in 14 benchmarks, Colorado tops Montana, Utah, Wyoming, New Mexico, Nevada, Arizona and Idaho according to the center’s grading rubrics for policies governing outdoor recreation, energy development and access to public lands.

Jennifer Rokala, the center’s executive director, said state policies surrounding conservation are “a different story” than the national narrative, where the Trump administration is promoting more aggressive energy development on public lands and is mulling a resizing some national monuments.

“Westerners understand that public lands are at the heart and soul of what makes living in the Western states so special,” Rokala said, noting her group’s hope that the scorecard “provides a roadmap” for lawmakers seeking to promote conservation in the West.

Colorado scored highest in both outdoor recreation and energy development. The state’s prioritization of outdoor recreation ranks it alone at the top of the scorecard, with dedicated funding for conservation and recreation infrastructure through the lottery-funded Great Outdoors Colorado, establishment of the Colorado Outdoor Recreation Industry Office and funding for outdoor education focused on getting kids outdoors. Utah was the first in the nation with an outdoor recreation office, and Montana this fall established an office to promote the state’s outdoor recreation economy.

To read the full article, please click here:

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Colorado College Bonner Fellow Joins RMFI

For the 2017-2018 shool year, RMFI is partnering with the Colorado College Collaborative for Community Engagement on that organization's pilot Bonner Fellowship program. RMFI's Bonner Fellow is Asa Hussain, a freshman hailing from Miami, Florida where he has participated in marine habitat restoration projects among other extracurricular endeavors of note. In his first few weeks in this position, Asa has begun working closely with RMFI staff on both office and field work projects and establishing himself as a member of our team for the year and hopefully years to come throughout his college career. Read on for more information about this exiciting program and partnership.  

The following is a reprint of a blog created by the Colorado College Collaborative for Community Engagement.

This year, five students have been selected to participate in the CCE’s pilot of the Bonner Fellowship. This program aligns with the well-established nationally organized network of schools that have a Bonner program at their institution. These Bonner Fellows will engage in a yearlong paid internship with a community partner, in addition to working on community building and social justice education, as well as skill building to effectively create social change. The holistic nature of this program is designed to give students the education, preparation, and dialogue that empower them to be intentional in their community work. Launching this program at CC gives fellows access to a network of partner organizations, community engagement offices, other fellows, and alumni.

“Bringing the Bonner Fellowship to CC addresses issues that the CCE wants to prioritize: providing paid opportunities for community engagement for students who have to work while in school,” says Dr. Jordan Radke, CCE director. It also adds to the programs offered by the CCE, including BreakOut, the Community Engaged Scholars program, and the Community Engaged Leadership Certificate program. The Bonner Fellowship offers a program that is high-commitment and high-impact, which fills a niche in the CCE continuum of opportunities. The fellowship is intended to open engagement to students who need to work through college and do not have the same access to leisure time as other CC students – this includes underrepresented, first generation, and low income background students. This year’s five students were selected “based on their merit and passions and understanding of community engagement,” stated Dr. Radke.

This year the CCE office recruited a variety of organizations in the community. According to Dr. Radke, “we were intentional in selecting partners who suited several criteria – they needed to cover a range of issues, be located nearby for easy transportation for interns, and offer internships. These internships needed to provide our students with meaningful work, and the opportunity to scale up their responsibilities over time, because ideally this is a 4-year program.” The CCE sent student finalists to interview at the community partner organizations, and matched the students and partners to each other. This year, the partners are the Rocky Mountain Field Institute, Colorado Springs School District 11, Meadows Park Community Center, Southern Colorado Health Network, and the City of Colorado Springs (Parks, Recreation, and Cultural Services).

The future of the program is contingent on funding for next year, provided that this year’s pilot program is successful. Dr. Radke hopes that the program will develop to support up to 10 students, and that the CCE “can leverage the expertise of both community partners and faculty. The program’s small group meetings are collaborative, and we want to create a learning community around the program.” If the program continues, Dr. Radke would also like to see the program become integrated into the admissions process as a scholarship to support committed students, and function as a recruiting tool. Currently, the Bonner Fellows meet three weeks out of every block to check in, and they also attend additional programming outside the blockly requirements for their internships. Their most recent workshop was on reciprocity in community engagement, said Dr. Radke. “We discussed how to go into a community humbly – you have something to offer and also something to learn.”

To learn more about the CCE’s Bonner Fellowship, visit


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