Volunteering with Colorado TU

Colorado TU helps protect places like Cheesman Canyon
I’m standing in one of the beds of decomposed granite that are commonplace in Cheesman Canyon after the Hayman fire. Photo Credit: Sinjin Eberle

I firmly believe in volunteerism and have supported non-profit organizations for just about as long as I’ve had a job. In the early part of my career, I was active in the Leukemia Society, organizing events and taking gifts to leukemia patients in the children’s hospital. Later, I joined my alumni association board to chair its scholarship program. More recently, I’ve held several board positions for Colorado TU, the state’s largest river conservation organization.

Fly Fishing

I picked up fly fishing when I moved to Colorado in 1995. I wasn’t much of a fisherman before then, but a friend told me that not fly fishing in Colorado would be like not going to the beach in Hawaii.

We went to Cheesman Canyon on the South Platte River, a gold medal fishery. I remember the feeling of standing in hip-deep water with the current pulling at my waders. A branch floated by and I realized what a cleansing force the river is, constantly scrubbing its banks, washing sediment downstream. I imagined the river washing my stress downstream as well. Catching fish was almost an afterthought. Pardon the pun, but I was hooked!

River Conservation

That’s how I became a fly fisherman. It wasn’t until the Hayman fire in 2002 that I became a river conservationist. The fire covered over 138,000 acres and caused nearly $40 million in damage. Many know that it was (and still is) the largest wildfire in Colorado’s history, but fewer know that it was also the most severe in terms of burn intensity. In half of the burn area, the fire was so hot that it completely destroyed the trees and vegetation, cauterizing the soil and depleting it of nutrients in the process. In these areas, recovery will take decades rather than years.

Cheesman Canyon lost half of its gold medal trout that summer as ash and fallen debris choked the river. In the years since, decomposing granite, no longer anchored by trees and shrubs, has been falling into the river. The once rocky bottom that was full of aquatic insects is now blanketed with a heavy, gravel-like sediment. The fishing, while still good, is very different. It occurred to me that if I had moved to Colorado in 2005, Cheesman Canyon would be a somewhat ordinary fishing spot because I wouldn’t have known its earlier grandeur.

Colorado TU

Not long after that I met a guy named Sinjin Eberle. He was on the board of Colorado TU and active in the Buffalo Peaks Restoration Project. I jumped at the chance to get involved, working with Sinjin to oversee the in-stream construction work, re-vegetation of the banks, and coordinate volunteer days. It was the largest restoration effort ever undertaken by Colorado TU, and it jump-started my involvement in the organization.

At one of the volunteer days I sat down with Charlie Meyers, the highly respected outdoors columnist for the Denver Post. I started to thank him for the media coverage, but he cut me off and thanked me. He said that volunteers, people like me, are the ones that make a difference. Not the media. Not the legislature. Charlie wrote his last column in December 2009 and passed away the next month, but his words stuck with me.

I joined the board of Colorado TU as Vice President in 2010 and became President in 2013. My two-year term ended in 2015 and while I could have re-upped, I chose to resign. It was such an honor to lead the organization, but it was also a challenge to layer that work on top of a demanding full-time job and even more demanding family (my two sons weren’t even born when I first joined the board).

Reflections

As Past President, I remain an officer of the board, but I have more leeway in determining the level and nature of my involvement. It’s a good time to reflect on what was accomplished during my tenure as President. I’m so proud, but I list these things in the humblest way possible – Colorado TU has an outstanding staff, terrific board, and incredibly dedicated group of volunteers. As Michigan coaching great Bo Schembechler said, “The Team, The Team, The Team!”

  1. Finalized the Moffat agreement with Denver Water, 10 years in the making. The harmful of effects of diverting water to the Front Range will now be responsibly mitigated and managed based on scientific data.
  2. Settled litigation on the Roan Plateau. After a six-year legal battle with Bill Barrett Corporation, the parties compromised on protecting 90% of the top of the Roan while allowing oil and gas development to occur at the base.
  3. Earned a national monument designation for Browns Canyon. The move protects 22,000 acres of prime backcountry habitat for mule deer, elk, and bighorn sheep as well as several miles of Gold Medal wild trout waters on the Arkansas River.
  4. Passed the Hermosa Creek Watershed Protection Act, an eight-year effort by the Sportsmen’s Conservation Project, the Colorado Water Project, and the Five Rivers Chapter in Durango. The bill permanently protects 107,000 acres just north of Durango.
  5. Implemented and then doubled the size of River Explorers, the nation’s first vertically-integrated youth education program focused on river conservation.
  6. Doubled the size of Outdoor Mentors, a coalition program that engages youth in outdoor recreation.
  7. Doubled the size of the 5 Rivers College Program, helping to create the next generation of river stewards.
  8. Recorded over 100,000 volunteer hours, much of it related to Restore the Range, a flood recovery effort coordinated by four of our chapters.
  9. Led the draft of the first-ever Colorado Water Plan. TU was the only organization to provide comments for all nine water basins.
  10. Introduced the Protect Our Rivers license plate. In its first year, proceeds from the plate topped $30,000.
  11. Formalized the Protect Our Rivers corporate donor program and drove an increase in donations of 14%.
  12. Grew the River Stewardship Council, the organization’s program for major individual donors, by 39%.
  13. Implemented over a dozen best practices as recommended by the Colorado Non-Profit Association.
  14. Won the 2014 State Council Award for Excellence, establishing Colorado as a leader on the TU national landscape.

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