In southern Colorado, we love our great outdoors. That’s why the Rocky Mountain Field Institute exists and is growing like a weed.
The public lands conservation and stewardship nonprofit increased its field staff from five to eleven this year to accommodate an increased demand for their services. According to Executive Director Jennifer Peterson, new contracts and a drive to market Colorado Springs as an outdoor recreation destination helped fund the expansion.
“In 2016, RMFI added eight new projects in addition to the dozen or so ongoing, multi-year projects we have on our docket,” Peterson said. “Perhaps the biggest contributor to our growth this year is being awarded the stewardship contract from the City of Colorado Springs for open-space properties purchased ... This stewardship contract formalizes a partnership we’ve had with the City since the late 1990s and creates a sustainable framework to increase capacity and impact.”
The organization is also getting support from other sources.
“RMFI participates in a number of community working groups, coalitions and committees, and among participants, there seems to be general agreement that overall awareness and support for taking care of our natural public landscapes are at an all-time high,” Peterson said.
Peterson said the push to “market our region as a world-renowned outdoor recreation destination” as an additional driver for the support of RMFI’s reach and growth, citing a “much greater priority being placed on conserving and stewarding our public lands, which are enormous catalysts for tourism (and which) create tremendous economic impact in our region, and add to our quality of life.”
The growing organization required more office space and other resources this year, and the business community stepped up to help. Peterson was quick to thank Phil Long Ford for “an amazing deal on a new-to-us truck,” Harris Corporation for donated furniture and supplies, and Tayco Screen Printing and Embroidery and Angler’s Covey for helping RMFI acquire affordable staff and work apparel.
Still, RMFI relies heavily on volunteers. Volunteer coordinator Molly Mazel said volunteers are critical to RMFI’s mission, and she would like to see more get involved.
“Without an increase in volunteers and volunteer workdays, I’m afraid we won’t be able to keep up with all the work prescribed. In my ideal world, every single person who visits a park or uses a trail in this region would spend at least one day each year volunteering to give back. Imagine that — we’d be set for life,” she said.
Mike Scott’s hands have put in plenty of volunteer hours caring for local trails and parks.
“RMFI has a great reputation for doing it right, so your efforts can make a lasting difference,” he said. “Pitching in under the leadership of experts is easy: You show up and go to work.”
Scott’s advice to those considering volunteering?
“Just sign-up. Once you get out and learn what sustainable access is all about, you’ll gain a new appreciation of the outdoors. “We get dirty, work hard, do good, and have a lot of fun doing it.”
Finally, Peterson said RMFI is always in need of of equipment.
“We accept donations of working and reliable trucks and smaller fuel-efficient vehicles, shovels, leather-palmed work gloves, 5-gallon buckets, waterproof cameras, GPS units, computers, backpacks, tents and other gear, materials and supplies,” she said.