20 Under 40: Cody Perry is a voice for wild rivers, wild places
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Cody Perry spends about a third of every year on the road, on a river or adventuring in the desert.
Perry, 38, is a co-founder and logistics coordinator for Rig to Flip, a film company that advocates for and produces photography and films about western rivers and landscapes. He also serves as secretary of the Friends of the Yampa board.
Perry has spent his life outside, first by teaching others about the outdoors, public lands and rivers as an instructor at Colorado Mountain College Steamboat Springs, then by filming wild landscapes. His advocacy, and the awareness his work has built around such places, is why he’s being recognized as one of this year’s 20 Under 40 recipients.
“His work with Rig to Flip has brought great awareness to water issues on the Dolores and Little Snake rivers,” Jason Peasley wrote in his nomination of Perry. “He has been involved with Friends of the Yampa for several years and taught a generation of dirtbags and outdoor enthusiasts while at Colorado Mountain College. … Cody deserves local recognition for his contributions to issues surrounding rivers, water and wild places in our basin and around the Western Slope.”
Perry grew up in a ranching family near Nogales, a city that straddles the border of Arizona and Sonora, Mexico. He moved with his family to the Front Range in the 1990s, and as soon as he graduated from high school, he relocated to Steamboat.
He chased snow for a bit before starting in Colorado Mountain College’s education program, which he said was an “obvious choice” for him. He soon moved from student to instructor at the college, teaching students avalanche safety and how to safely explore deserts and canyons.
Name: Cody Perry
Profession: Co-founder, filmmaker Rig to Flip
Education: Perry is self-taught with interests in contemporary western politics, resource management and grassroots organizing. He apprenticed under his mentors, Angie Krall and John Saunders.
“I saw my role as an instructor as kind of an interpreter and storyteller,” he said. “Seeing so many kids come from different places in life find and build relationships with the outdoors, in general, was something that really resonated with me and motivated me with another fellow instructor to start Rig to Flip.”
Rig to Flip began as a passion project in 2013. Perry and his friends began making short films on contract for the U.S. Forest Service and nonprofit river organizations. It evolved into a full-time gig by 2015, and they now produce multiple films from rivers and mountains around the Colorado River Basin.
Rig to Flip’s work on the Dolores River stands out as the project that boosted the company’s credibility and visibility, Perry said. It also taught him how to build relationships with people to tell complex stories as he interviewed agricultural communities, members of the Ute Indian Tribe and others impacted by the river in so many ways.
“It was a remarkable moment for us where we learned so much from so many different people about how they felt about water, how they collaborate or how conflict works,” Perry said.
In teaching others and in making films, Perry hopes people walk away with a sense of agency for public lands — that they feel a shared sense of belonging.
“I want to empower young people to be prepared for what they’re inheriting and to be open to so much knowledge that’s been here in the past,” he said.
“So many people are out there looking for something more, and they find it, very often, outside,” he added. “If you can marry that sense of place that we get from going out on hikes, that we get from going out on the mountain or going down to our river, if we can couple that with a sense of shared belonging, then I feel like we’re making a step forward, and a lot of that includes recognizing the indigenous peoples that are still present.”
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