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A walk on the wilder side

Katrina Blair feasts on nature during pilgrimage to Telluride

Katrina Blair, founder of Turtle Lake Refuge, will eat only what she can forage during her week to 10-day walk to Telluride, where she will teach at the annual mushroom festival this weekend. Enlarge photo

DAVID BERGELAND/Durango Herald

Katrina Blair, founder of Turtle Lake Refuge, will eat only what she can forage during her week to 10-day walk to Telluride, where she will teach at the annual mushroom festival this weekend.

What Katrina Blair calls her annual walk could be considered survival training by a lot of people.

Blair travels light, living off the land for a week to 10 days. She carries only a bedroll, tarp, canteen, knife, map and first-aid kit.

She covers 10 to 20 miles a day, sometimes detouring to climb a peak that’s unfamiliar to her.

In recent years, Blair’s walk takes her to Telluride where she teaches at the annual mushroom festival.

This year is no different. She left Sunday and expects to arrive in Telluride on Friday. The workshop she leads is the next day.

“Food is no problem if you eat wild, local and fresh,” Blair said Friday. “What I nibble on has great nutritional value.”

Roots, mushrooms, berries, leaves, seeds and needles from evergreen trees, provide a range of vital nutrients, she said.

Dandelions, amaranth, lamb’s-quarter, high-alpine bistort and plantain abound and are highly nutritious.

One year, she found 19 kinds of wild berries, including four varieties of gooseberries. She knows to avoid toxic bane berries.

“A little food goes a long way when it’s nutritious,” Blair said.

She eats when she’s hungry, but seldom puts something away for down the road.

“Nature is my teacher,” Blair said. “It’s like the deer, bears and other foraging animals. What they eat is vital.”

“I take a different route on each walk,” Blair said. “I walk north and northwest usually – sometimes northeast.”

Blair, 43, has lived in Durango since age 3. She has a degree in biology from Colorado College and a degree in holistic health education from John F. Kennedy University, which has several locations in Northern California.

In 1998, Blair started Turtle Lake Refuge, which she defines as “a nonprofit that celebrates the connection between personal health and wild lands.”

The Turtle Lake organic garden – maintained with interns – is an ocean of green where Blair cultivates some of the botanic species she finds on her walks.

In maintaining the organic theme at Turtle Lake, she strains used vegetable oil from Steamworks Brewing Co. through pantyhose to run her yellow 1981 VW Rabbit.

The garden is a supply depot for a Community Supported Agriculture program. Blair also teaches an eight-month nutrition and chef-certification course that focuses on local, wild botanical species.

Blair is writing a book with a working title of “A World Wealth of Weeds” about 13 plants that are nutritional and medicinal.

“They grow in compacted soil wherever there are people,” she said.

Blair is part of a group that collected enough signatures to force a vote on ending the city’s use of herbicides and pesticides in city parks. The group, Organically Managed Parks Team Durango, submitted 500 signatures earlier this month. The issue is expected to be on the ballot for the Nov. 6 general election.

When the issue was discussed at a city council meeting, questions were raised about the logistics and cost of enforcing an anti-chemical ordinance. Mayor Doug Lyon expressed doubt about the chemicals’ harmfulness.

Blair said the proposal would leave enough flexibility to make enforcement feasible.

Blair’s annual pilgrimage gives her a chance to commune with the natural world she so cherishes. It gives her time for contemplation and meditation.

“I connect with nature,” she said. “I try to be an ambassador for nature.”

daler@durangoherald.com

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