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Colorado Springs revives interest in sustainability with annual Sustain-a-Fest

April 14, 2018 Updated: April 14, 2018 at 9:03 pm
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Carla and James Vauthrin explore the dome greenhouse in the Mid-Shooks Run park at the Sustain-a-fest at the Colorado Springs Center for Sustainability on Saturday, April 14, 2018. (Nadav Soroker, The Gazette)

Colorado Springs' second annual Sustain-a-Fest on Saturday marked a revival of city-sponsored interest in sustainability, organizers and participants said.

Held a week in advance of Earth Day, the event drew a mix of around 300 people who came to check out the booths, neighbors interested in the live-music and food, and Middle Shooks Run park-goers who stumbled upon the event. By the end of the day, event organizers hoped for 500 or more people to come out.

Gusts ruffled plastic tents while people milled around booths and exhibits put on by the City's Office of Innovation and Sustainability and more than 30 nonprofit partners. A section of North El Paso Street cordoned off between Boulder and Willamette was filled with food trucks, electric bike and solar panel vendors, and a woman selling upcycled jewelry made from old computer circuits.

Mia Mojica, 7, plants flowers in an up-cycled self-water planter made by Pikes Peak Community College students at the 2018 Sustain-a-Fest at the Colorado Springs Center for Sustainability on Saturday, April 14, 2018. (Nadav Soroker, The Gazette) 

The basic principle of sustainability is the belief that all actions impact the natural environment, and that common measures, such as recycling, conserving electricity and water and reducing dependence on fossil fuels, can make a difference.

Libby and Matt McKinley brought their 2- and 4-year-old to check out the live music, food, and bounce house, but they were also walked away with an appointment for an estimate on solar panels for their property and an insulation audit by the energy resource counsel .

"I feel like the Springs is starting to come around," said Libby McKinley, who's lived in Colorado Springs off and on the past 10 years and feels like there's been a sea change during that time in city planning and attitudes toward sustainability.

"It didn't feel like they were very bike friendly or focusing on a lot of these things that other people were really concerned about or thinking about. (So) I think it's pretty neat that they're doing this," she said.

McKinley, a part-time, stay-at-home mom and part-time Realtor, added "I think there's a lot of room for improvement in Colorado Springs for sustainability and all that kind of stuff, but I also think that it's started ... it's becoming more of a focus and being thought about more."

Tamara French walks through the Sustain-a-Fest at the Colorado Springs Center for Sustainability, seen through a recycle and composting receptacle on Saturday, April 14, 2018. (Nadav Soroker, The Gazette) 

A trajectory of progress was the emphasis of most people at the event, including organizers.

Ryan Trujillo, who manages the city's Innovation and Sustainability Office, characterized Colorado Springs as a sustainability newcomer, but hoped the Sustain-a-Fest would help raise awareness about the office's main objectives of helping people reduce their impact on the environment, and how that can "make sense from an economic standpoint," he said.

"I do think there's somewhat of a movement going on here in Colorado Springs and I can't put my finger on whether it's all the people that are moving from other parts o f the country," Trujillo said. "But there is a significant amount of interest that I've seen just in the first two years of the Office of Sustainability."

Sabrina Cotta, city Innovation and Sustainability analyst, noted the importance of government support in resuming city-sponsored sustainability initiatives.

Mia Mojica, 7, plants flowers in an up-cycled self-water planter made by Pikes Peak Community College students at the 2018 Sustain-a-Fest at the Colorado Springs Center for Sustainability on Saturday, April 14, 2018. (Nadav Soroker, The Gazette) 

"I think Mayor (John) Suthers was a big part in having the office of sustainability come back. It had disappeared under (former Mayor Steve) Bach.," she said. "So I give him a lot of credit for that in supporting our office.

"We're not just talking about being more water efficient or energy efficient, which are things that we're doing, but also how can we use technology to be more efficient in city services. You know, how do we make sure the city of Colorado Springs is here for the long term and thriving."

Sustain-a-Fest, Cotta said, is one of the many pieces in the vision of a more sustainable Colorado Springs that's centered around providing information, one of the largest hurdles of shepherding the city toward higher sustainability. "For the average citizen, they don't know that these (services) exist," said Cotta.

"Like (Spring Back Colorado Mattress Recycling), I didn't know that you could recycle mattresses until they wanted to be a part of our event, so it's informational for the average citizen. And sustainability isn't always recycling. It can be more than that."

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