On my morning run in Palmer Park today, I stumbled upon a RMFI truck. I had gotten up early to try to beat the rush and avoid having to squeeze past too many people on the narrow singletrack trails. Even when the aim is to keep people safe, it’s odd to have to be wary of other trail users, and to feel the weight of their unease with me. When I saw the RMFI logo, I felt an immediate sense of relief. I stopped approximately six feet away to greet a field staff member who was pulling tools out of the back of the truck. He told me that RMFI trail crew work had recently been deemed an “essential service” by the Colorado Springs Parks, Recreational and Cultural Services Department following guidelines from the state of Colorado, exempting the field staff from the statewide stay at home order. To limit interpersonal contact as much as possible, the staff has divided into smaller crews of 5 people each who only interact within their small groups. Only one designated person from each crew is permitted to venture into the RMFI office to get tools and prepare for each workday. It’s strange, he said, but they’re moving forward as best they can.
The RMFI office staff has been working exclusively from home for some time now. I know this because I’ve interned for RMFI through my college’s work-study program for three years. This spring I will graduate from college and move out of state, so, like many other pieces of my life, my experience with the Rocky Mountain Field Institute will end inconclusively and remotely in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. It’s been heartbreaking for myself and my fellow graduates-to-be to have been removed so abruptly and unexpectedly from the lives we were preparing to say goodbye to; to be unable to give this ending its proper due. However on the upside, these circumstances have given me an abundance of time and space to reflect upon the things I’m saying an early goodbye to - to think about what they’ve meant to me, and what I will miss most about them. RMFI is a big one for me.
I started working for RMFI as a data entry intern during my freshman year of college. It was my first ever “real” job, and in retrospect I can’t believe how lucky I am to have learned how to be an employee and coworker in a place as warm, welcoming, and suited to my particular interests as the RMFI office, as opposed to in a fast-food restaurant or gym as most people do. In RMFI I found a group of people who loved trails and open spaces as much as I do, and they have served as role models to me - demonstrating the kind of person I should strive to be in the workplace, and exposing me to the sort of life and career I might eventually want to pursue.
When I first became involved with RMFI four years ago, I knew very little about time management, communication, and workplace etiquette. My supervisor and the rest of the office staff were nothing but patient with me over the years as I’ve learned and grown. Through my time with RMFI I’ve gained skills and experience that will serve me immensely in all of my future professional endeavors.
From what I’ve observed, my experience of personal growth through my involvement with RMFI is not a unique one. One of RMFI’s core functions is education. From their annual EarthCorps educational program for college students, to weekly volunteer workdays in which new community members come to learn about trail work, the RMFI staff is constantly helping people grow. As a result, everyone on staff is exceptionally adept at guiding people through new experiences. I think this is one of the biggest things that makes RMFI such a special part of the Colorado Springs community. Community doesn’t form when a group of specialized people get together to do something they’re all good at, it’s created when people of a variety of backgrounds and experience levels come together to achieve a common goal. Over the course of countless volunteer workdays, public events, Earth Corps programs, and office interns, the RMFI staff has created a cohesive, vibrant community of trail users and stewards of the land. They have done this by being patient, kind, and respectful - giving people the space and tools (no pun intended) they need to grow.
In times like these, the strength of our local communities is what determines how well we’re able to collectively weather the storm. When I caught sight of the RMFI logo on a truck this morning, I immediately felt a sense of comfort and relief. I bet I’m not the only trail user to have had that experience in the last few days. That’s what community feels like. In a time of turbulence and uncertainty, the sight of a RMFI crew at work had the power to make me feel at home and at peace for a moment. Even when things are changing rapidly, and we don’t know what the future holds, the one constant we can count on is the strength of our communities, and the RMFI community is an extremely special one that I will miss dearly. Thanks, RMFI!