Which way do we go? The Nature Conservancy Colorado is trying to keep places like this (Aiken Canyon, near Colorado Springs) protected and available for future generations.

The Nature Conservancy Colorado

“Our natural resources are at the heart of our quality of life in Colorado—from the fresh water we drink and the clean air we breathe to our economic prosperity and world-renowned recreational opportunities. But Colorado’s environment continues to face many challenges. Our population is expected to nearly double by 2050. Increased needs for food, water and energy will further strain Colorado’s natural systems.” —Carlos Fernandez, Director of The Nature Conservancy in Colorado

Aiken Canyon, near Colorado Springs, protected by the Nature Conservancy
Aiken Canyon, near Colorado Springs, protected by the Nature Conservancy

I BELIEVE IN CONSERVATION. It is the most simple, effective way to ensure a balance between human economic activity and the needs of the natural environment. I am a strong advocate of the idea that “we” (humans, humanity, corporations, government, Wal-Mart) have utilized (or exploited) enough of the natural world for our purposes. We should now be seeking balance. The most glaringly obvious way to accomplish this is to set land aside, to restrain ourselves, to stand up and say, “Ok, we own enough. We pave enough. We mine enough. We develop enough. THIS particular place is off-limits…THIS particular place we’re leaving for the deer, the bear, the mountain lions, the western tanagers and the black-headed grosbeaks.”

I support organizations that seek this balance, particularly organizations that seek to accomplish this goal not by excluding (or demonizing) others, but by building partnerships with diverse groups. This approach lends tons of weight to the truth, the shining reality, that our economic interests and the continued existence of natural places are not mutually exclusive, diametrically opposed opposites. As I did with the Florida Wildlife Corridor, I like to highlight organizations that believe as I do, and that in my mind are doing real good. This past week I had the opportunity to learn about the work of The Nature Conservancy in Colorado (NCC), at their 50th anniversary event at The Spot Bouldering Gym in Boulder, Colorado.

Fancy a climb?
Fancy a climb?

Not only was this a well-attended event with an amazing key-note speaker, but it was also a killer good time. The food was good, the local craft beer superb, the bouldering a ton of fun, the climbing and slackline demonstrations amazing. Most importantly I left the gym that night with a new appreciation for what this group does, and for the critically important task of engaging Coloradans (especially young Coloradans) on the need to protect our natural places in an era of rapid development and population growth.

Aron Ralston, of "127 Hours" fame. An inspiring, motivating speech by a man who knows GRIT.
Aron Ralston, of “127 Hours” fame. An inspiring, motivating speech by a man who knows GRIT.

By now, every breathing male and female between the ages of 16 and 76, especially in the Western US and Colorado, knows the story of Aron Ralston, the hiker who in 2003 was forced to self-amputate his right-arm to escape from being pinned between rock in a slot canyon in Southern Utah. What people may not know is that Aron is an avid supporter of the natural environment, and has devoted his life (his fame and his platform) to wilderness conservation. I can’t think of a more inspirational scenario than this: forced by circumstance and the gods of fate to choose between death and an extreme act of self-mutilation—the pain, the horror unbelievable—the blood, the gore, the sound of snapping bone, the GRIT of the act as heavy, as real, as life-altering a thing as anything could be. To then use the consequent limelight for good, highlighting the cause of the environment and the need to protect our most special, fragile places—No one in the audience could help but feel empowered, motivated to follow Aron’s call.

But like I said, it wasn’t all serious (though we do like serious business here at williamburcher.com). The underlying goal of the event was obviously to celebrate a half-century of some very good conservation work in Colorado. And here, there was no disappointment.

I was particularly impressed with Heather Larsen and Davis Hermes, two spectacularly skilled alternative athletes. Heather and Davis slackline, performing some ridiculous feats of strength and balance on what amounts to an effective tight-rope. Most of us have probably seen slacklining before in parks or on the quads of college campuses, but what I saw here took this to a mesmerizing, higher level. I spoke to Heather a bit and found out that she’s also a skilled yogi, fitness model and total outdoor enthusiast. Fascinating people really do support this cause. Check out Heather’s sponsor, Slackline Industries, for more.

The Nature Conservancy Colorado Director Carlos Fernandez on the successes of 50 years, the challenges facing a new generation.
The Nature Conservancy Colorado Director Carlos Fernandez on the successes of 50 years, the challenges facing a new generation.

The take-away from all of this was distilled by Carlos Fernandez, the director of the NCC. Carlos spoke powerfully about the need for the next generation of diverse young people to stand up, step up, to lead—and to continue the group’s mission. Much of the Conservancy’s members are themselves (older, white, affluent) not necessarily fully representative of the state’s evolving demographic. Carlos mentioned, also, the group’s triumphs. The Nature Conservancy in Colorado, over the course of 50 years, has protected one million acres and improved 1,000 river miles across the state. The group’s influence was critical to the establishment of the Great Sand Dunes as a National Park, and has directly protected special places, natural places, like Aiken Canyon southwest of Colorado Springs. With over 100,000 people moving to Colorado annually, and the population projected to reach 10 Million people within a few decades, the NCC’s influence is needed now more than ever. I was impressed with the 50 year legacy. I was also impressed with the need to do more. “Well done, Nature Conservancy…Now let’s get to work.”

An invitation?
An invitation? Aiken Canyon, near Colorado Springs, one of the natural places protected by the Nature Conservancy’s work.

 Will Burcher is a former police officer and current author of “The GAIAD,” a story of ancient secrets not quite forgotten and the positive power of global perspective. He lives and works in Colorado, USA.

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