Gretchen Van De Carr announces her retirement from RMYC after 30 years

RMYC CEO and founder Gretchen Van De Carr will retire after 30 years.
John F. Russell/Steamboat Pilot & Today

There will be enormous shoes, or boots, to fill on Feb. 2, 2024 when Gretchen Van De Carr, chief executive officer of the Rocky Mountain Youth Corps, steps down after a remarkable 30-year career as the group’s founder and leader.

Van De Carr announced her retirement this summer. The RMYC board of directors enlisted the nationwide search firm of McPherson & Jacobson to find a replacement. Board members hope to make a hiring announcement by October. Van De Carr will work alongside the new CEO until formally relinquishing her responsibilities early next year.

But make no mistake, even though Van De Carr will no longer be leading the organization, her legacy and contributions will be forever associated with creating and building an organization that has impacted countless lives and served to advance environmental awareness for many.

An upstate New York native, Van De Carr received her undergraduate degree from Clarkson University and her master’s degree from the University of New Hampshire, focusing on studies in environmental engineering. However, soon after graduating and moving to Oregon, she became aware that life in an office environment did not fit her psyche. After working a stint for a youth conservation group in Oregon, Gretchen found her way to Steamboat on a 1992 ski trip and has never left.

Finding the Yampa Valley to be a warm and welcoming place has formed Gretchen’s worldview that “everyone is a newcomer. It’s all of our valley and everyone needs to be included.” This ideal has become a framework for her work in establishing and growing the RMYC.

In 1993, the RMYC was born. Beginning as a partnership with the City of Steamboat Springs, the program was modeled after the youth corps Van De Carr worked with in Oregon. The first group of 24 teenagers began work on a variety of outdoor projects. Each year, the RMYC grew and expanded its scope in terms of the number of participants and paid staff. By 1999, the organization was no longer in need of city support and became a self-sustaining 501(c)3 organization.

As RMYC leader, Van De Carr began creating cooperative agreements with BLM and U.S. Forest Service officials to develop projects for RMYC workers during the summer months. Over the past 30 years, RMYC participants have worked on a variety of public land improvement projects, including trail improvement, trail establishment, fire mitigation and small construction projects. The imprint of the RMYC’s work has been notable in establishing more accessible and environmentally friendly public areas in Northwest Colorado.

Yet as important as the work accomplished by the RMYC is, Van De Carr is quick to note that completing projects is far from the organization’s sole purpose.

“It is the development of a young person that is as important as the environmental projects,” Van De Carr said.

Working in teams and living in tents in the forest, RMYC operates under the premise that the program is, and should be, youth-driven rather than adult-driven. Working with peers on a variety of projects, kids learn cooperative skills, develop interpersonal relationships, and come to appreciate the importance of task completion and teamwork.

Today, the RMYC offers different programs for various ages. The youth corps targets students ages 11-18. Working for 2-4 weeks at a time, participants live in tents and perform the bulk of the environmental projects. The cornerstone of the RMYC is the Conservation Corps, targeting youth 18 and older. The Conservation Corps tackles trail work, environmental restoration, historic preservation, wildlife habitat management, invasive species management and wildland fire. The Yampa Valley Science School allows sixth-graders to expand their environmental awareness through an academic focus.

“It’s a good time to leave because the organization is healthy, mature and ready for new leadership,” Van De Carr said on her decision to retire.

Aware that “founder’s syndrome” could potentially be unhealthy for the future of the RMYC, Van De Carr expressed that she wants the organization to grow, flourish and incorporate new ideas under future leadership.

As for her future, Van De Carr looks forward to taking care of her “body, mind and spirit.” Wanderlust has already taken her on worldwide travels throughout Europe, Nepal, Central and South America, and she looks forward to even more adventures seeing the world with her husband Peter. The Van De Carrs are the parents of two sons, Otis and Oliver.

And as much as Gretchen looks forward to the possibilities awaiting her in retirement, she does admit that her “biggest challenge is leaving the RMYC.” A life of developing a program that has had such an enormous impact on Northwest Colorado’s public lands, as well as fostering relationships and giving valuable life experiences to hundreds of participants over the years, has been as fulfilling as can possibly be.

“I can’t imagine a better life.”

Rocky Mountain Youth Corps Celebrates its 30th Anniversary on Sept. 30

The RMYC will celebrate its 30th anniversary on Saturday, Sept. 30 in the Grand Ballroom at the Steamboat Grand. The public is invited for a happy hour with live music followed by dinner and champagne. RMYC participants will share stories of their 2023 summer experiences. A live auction will follow with the opportunity to win prizes.

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