Saturday, March 28, 2015

Meet Rocky Mountain Field Institute

Posted By on Sat, Mar 28, 2015 at 7:11 AM

click to enlarge BOB FALCONE
  • Bob Falcone
When I’ve had conversations with people about recreating outdoors, it sometimes becomes apparent that there is a misunderstanding about who builds, maintains or otherwise works in the parks, trails and forests around Colorado. While city, county and federal agencies are responsible for planning, development and general maintenance, they typically do not have the manpower to take on larger projects, and rely on independent and volunteer groups such as the Rocky Mountain Field Institute.

Founded in 1982 as the American Mountain Foundation by Mark Hesse, RMFI got its start as a mountaineering group, taking people on outdoor adventures. After seeing the damage caused to the environment by outdoor recreation the group went “from climbing to a stewardship mission,” according to RMFI executive director Jennifer Peterson. In 1997, the group changed to its current name and moved forward with a new mission of stewardship, education and research, and has developed partnerships with federal land management agencies, city, county and state governments, and other volunteer groups.

Working with a full-time staff of five, and five seasonal field staff, the non profit group undertakes a number of projects throughout southern Colorado and the Rocky Mountain region, along with a few on-going “legacy” projects in eastern Utah. According to Peterson, the group performs 200 workdays each year, and uses 2,300 community volunteers, plus several youth conservation corps. The projects may be one-time projects, such as the upcoming Mt. Muscoco trail project in North Cheyenne Cañon, others may be ongoing projects such as rehabilitating the first three miles of Barr Trail, rehabilitating wetlands damaged by run-off on Pikes Peak, or various projects in the Garden of the Gods. “We work a lot in the more well-known parks and trail systems,” Peterson says.

RMFI has also been heavily involved in restoring fire and flood damage in the Waldo Canyon and Black Forest burn areas, having gotten their start with fire and flood restoration after the Hayman fire in 2002.

But there’s more to RMFI than just doing work. The group partners with other groups and agencies to train volunteers as “trail crew leaders”, who then go back into the community and work to build and maintain trails in parks and open spaces, and supplement RMFI’s staff on their projects. And RMFI works with the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs to provide an intensive, immersive, 30-day field studies course where students develop and sharpen trail construction, sustainability and conservation skills. 

A lot of time and resources are spent repairing trail damage cased by misuse. Peterson’s advice to all of us: “Be cognizant of the impact you’re having while you’re playing outdoors.”

Happy Trails!

Bob Falcone is a firefighter, photographer, hiker, college instructor and small business owner who has lived in Colorado Springs for over 23 years. He is the board president of the Friends of Cheyenne Canon and a member of the El Paso County Parks Advisory Board. You can follow him on Twitter (@hikingbob), Facebook (Hiking Bob), or visit his website (Hikingbob.com). E-mail questions, comments, suggestions, etc to Bob: info@hikingbob.com.

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