Celebrating Earth Day in Routt County
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Following backyard egg hunts and seders conducted by Zoom, Earth Day on Wednesday, April 22, presents another opportunity to reimagine springtime traditions during COVID-19. Explore Steamboat talked with local leaders of sustainability and environmental education to harvest ideas of how Earth Day 2020 can be celebrated safely and meaningfully.
Transform your yard
“The No. 1 thing I’d recommend is for people to work in their yards,” said Colorado State University Extension of Routt County Director and Agriculture Agent Todd Hagenbuch.
Native plants — whether flowers, herbs or vegetables — thrive in the typically lean soil, hot, dry summers and snowy winters of Routt County, and they attract the local birds, butterflies and beneficial insects that make a garden healthier and more magical. Native plants require far less maintenance than imported ones, since they’ve adapted to local conditions, and they don’t carry the risk of invading and damaging local ecosystems.
Since the novel coronavirus pandemic began, Hagenbuch has seen a rise in people planting their own vegetables, whether in outdoor gardens or in sunny windowsills — often called “modern-day victory gardens.”
“Hopefully, this is reconnecting people to their food and food sources,” Hagenbuch said.
Participate in The Longevity Project
The Longevity Project is an annual campaign to help educate readers about what it takes to live a long, fulfilling life in our valley. This year Kevin shares his story of hope and celebration of life with his presentation Cracked, Not Broken as we explore the critical and relevant topic of mental health.
In addition to the practical and aesthetic benefits of spending time in your green spaces, there also are mental-emotional perks to gardening.
“Research has shown that working in the dirt really does help release some stress and negative energy,” Hagenbuch said. “Right now, who couldn’t use some ways to reduce stress in their lives?”
For more resources helpful in transforming your yard and garden, Hagenbuch recommends getting in touch with the Extension office’s Master Gardener program at cmg.extension.colostate.edu, which offers classes and gardening advice, as well as checking out the Colorado Native Plant Society at conps.org.
For the grocery-list items that won’t be available in your garden — at least, for now — Community Agriculture Alliance Executive Director Michele Meyer has plenty of resources for the current and future Yampavores on the hunt for locally sourced products. The CAA Market offers a smorgasbord of locally raised meats, eggs, seasonal veggies, honey and baked goods, available for purchase at communityagalliance.org, which can be delivered or picked up weekly at the CAA offices in downtown Steamboat Springs. The market also provides information about the farmers, ranchers and producers who sell through the market.
“We have information about how (producers) raise the animals, what it means to them to grow vegetables, where the honeybees are kept; you can see a picture of that farmer,” Meyer said. “It’s a very intimate transaction on some level. It’s a sense of community that we can all benefit from.”
Beyond shopping at the CAA, Meyer also encourages local foodies to think about what other local food sources are available to them — a neighbor who’d like to trade veggies from the garden or the child in 4-H who sells eggs down the street.
“We tend to hear that people are surprised about how much food is grown in the valley and the variety of things grown,” Meyer said.
Learn more about CAA’s farmers market at caamarket.org.
Go on a local adventure
Hardly a new concept for Earth Day in Steamboat, getting outside is more crucial than ever during a time when so many of us are spending more time than usual indoors.
“When things seem crazy and surreal, nature and getting out into nature is the best way we can ground,” said Sarah Jones, Steamboat Ski & Resort Corp.’s director of sustainability and community engagement. “I feel so lucky to live where we live, and the fact that we can get out and enjoy nature.”
Whether you’re outside for a walk, a run or a bike ride, the rules of social distancing still apply, and if you’re running, researchers recommend doubling the CDC’s guidelines of 6 feet to 12. Search and Rescue crews are also advising Coloradans to not venture into the backcountry, due to the risk of resource usage and potential virus spread that a rescue carries.
“Especially in Steamboat, we’re used to big adventures that aren’t in line with recommendations of how to keep everyone safe,” Meg Walker, director of youth programs with Yampatika, said. “The question for now is: How can we make that adventure small and local?”
She offers ideas including bringing your morning coffee outside and watching the birds and exploring a road you’ve never walked down.
“And if you’re lucky enough to be quarantined with a small child, that’s the best of all,” Walker said. “They’re so great at discovering the world, and their brains find joy so easily. It’s so fun to explore with them. Turn over a rock and marvel at all the things crawling around underneath; go on a color hunt and see how many colors you can find outside in natural things; find a place outside, close your eyes and listen to the nature around you.”
Yampatika offers resources for distance learning and outdoor activites at yampatika.org/school-based-programs/resources-for-families-and-teachers.
Sarah Jones’ book and podcast recommendations for Earth Day
- “Sand County Almanac”
- “Silent Spring”
- “Animal Vegetable Miracle”
- “The End of Nature”
- “Last Child in the Woods”
- “Desert Solitaire”
- “The Overstory”
- Energy Gang
- Political Climate
- Watt it Takes
- Clear and Vivid with Alan Alda
- Climate One
Reflect on climate action
Yampa Valley Sustainability Council Executive Director Michelle Stewart recommends using unstructured time to reflect upon why environment matters to you, personally.
“The environment matters to us here in the Yampa Valley, and we need to make lifestyle changes that reduce our greenhouse gas emissions to protect it,” she said.
This year’s Earth Day theme is climate action, which makes this an especially important year and day to reflect upon what we will personally do about it, Stewart added.
“One way to celebrate Earth Day is to simply pay attention to our current behavioral shifts associated with driving less and see how we can sustain these behavioral shifts (that reduce greenhouse gas emissions) moving forward,” she said.
For example, during the pandemic, many are biking more, shopping less and locally, and using video conferencing for work meetings — all activities that reduce our carbon footprint.
“As an activity, families can reflect upon the relationship between past transportation patterns and current ones, and see how to maintain a low-carbon lifestyle hereafter,” Stewart said.
“Let’s not lose this opportunity of disruption of thinking about how we do things,” she said. “These things we’ve learned can be translated back into our day-to-day lives when we don’t have isolation.”
Walker also emphasizes the importance of making space for creating and reflecting on emotional connections with nature.
“Earth Day’s purpose is to steward the Earth, and in order to achieve that, we need to have an emotional connection to the Earth,” she said. “Try not to always task yourself with an agenda or memorizing facts; just search for feelings of connection. Go out, make memories, explore and find joy in the small things around us in whatever style yours might be. We should allow ourselves that.”
Julia Ben-Asher is a contributing writer for Steamboat Pilot & Today.
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