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We’re stronger together – it’s not just a cliché

Stephanie Weber (Courtesy)

It’s that time of year when, like many of you, I find myself reflecting on the year. It’s been an incredible year at San Juan Mountains Association – not only for accomplishments but also transitions, some of which were difficult.

There’s still plenty to do before we all ring in the New Year. Our major fundraiser, “Christmas trees for Conservation” tree lot beckons, with opening day on Nov. 24, and we celebrate the power of philanthropy on Colorado Gives Day on December 5th. But the programmatic work has slowed.

Our education team is seeing a gap or two in their schedule each week. Our seasonal stewardship crews have ended, and tools have been cleaned and stored for the year. We’ve packed up the basecamps we had in Needleton, Ice Lake, and Blue Lakes. Our visitor information specialists are still fielding questions from hunters, but the flurry of recreationists have come and gone – at least until the snow flies.

The SJMA staff – 45 people at peak – worked tirelessly all summer to care for our public lands throughout the entire San Juan Mountain region or provided memorable educational experiences to thousands of children across southwest Colorado. With education and outreach at the core of everything we do, we connected with tens of thousands of individuals to help them understand the importance of helping care for the incredible landscape we call home and to encourage them to join us in being good stewards.

However, we couldn’t do any of it without an array of partners. From our federal land management partners to volunteers who donate their time and skills, to our corporate sponsors, like Alpine Bank, and all of you who support us with an annual membership, it truly takes a village to care for our public lands. In fact, did you know that Rolando Gonzalez and his crew at CRC Janitorial have adopted the vault toilets at the Junction Creek Trailhead and voluntarily care for them from May through October?

This year we have also deepened our partnerships with other nonprofit organizations to leverage our reach and impact. Through funding from La Plata County, we have worked alongside our colleagues at La Plata Open Space Conservancy, Mountain Studies Institute, and Southwest Conservation Corps to provide experiential programs to Bayfield and Ignacio youth, youths on Fridays. We have had a couple of volunteer stewardship efforts like the Sneffels trail building with the Colorado Fourteeners Initiative or the Hermosa Creek cleanup with members of the United Methodist Church in Longview, Texas. Speaking of volunteers, more than 175 individuals have donated more than 4,000 hours to help with our education programs, rebuild the Nature Center’s deteriorating dock, or engage with backpackers in Chicago Basin or make sure that new visitors to Ice Lake or Blue Lakes understand what’s in store for them.

I simply cannot thank everyone we have worked with this year in the space allotted, but during this Thanksgiving month, know that all of us at SJMA are grateful to all of you who joined us in some way this year to work hard, share some memorable moments – and even some laughs – and to care for this place that we all call home. See you at the tree lot!