Yampatika celebrates 20 years of environmental stewardship in Routt County

Scott Franz
Photos chronicling Yampatika's two decades of environmental stewardship and outdoor programs lined a wall at the Legacy Ranch in Steamboat Springs where volunteers and donors to the nonprofit gathered Wednesday night to celebrate Yampatika's 20th anniversary.
Scott Franz

— The pictures that were clamped to the side of an old ranch building south of Steamboat Springs on Wednesday told a long and incredible story.

In one of the photos, children stood in front of llamas as they all clearly enjoyed their excursion into the wilderness together.

In another, an eager crowd stood around a naturalist who was carefully holding a small bat.

Together, the snapshots told the story of Yampatika’s growth in Routt County during the past two decades and the countless nature hikes, moonlight snowshoe tours and other brushes with nature that have gone along with it.

“It’s very rewarding to see us get this far,” naturalist Karen Vail said at Yampatika’s Legacy Ranch as a crowd of other longtime volunteers and donors to the nonprofit kicked off a 20th anniversary celebration. “We’re looking forward to our 40th birthday.”

Vail served as the founding director for the nature-oriented nonprofit.

Her nature notes grace the pages of the hugely popular “Hiking the ‘Boat” book, and she’s helped countless people identify wildflowers and other aspects of nature while hiking all across Routt County.

On Wednesday, she recalled how a college-age student she taught about skulls several years ago in the fifth grade came back to tell her how the nature lesson influenced the student to become a wildlife biologist.

“That was really cool,” Vail said.

Since its inception in 1992, Yampatika has expanded its reach from simply talking about nature and helping residents safely explore public lands in the early years to more hands-on learning today that comes from nature hikes and gardening at the Legacy Ranch, which serves as Steamboat’s first Environmental Learning Center.

Wearing a shirt adorned with a field guide to wild mushrooms, Yampatika volunteer Bill Emerson walked around the picturesque ranch and marveled at what he saw.

“With this place, Yampatika is not just about getting into the woods anymore,” he said. “Kids are raising livestock here. People are gardening. This place has expanded what Yampatika can do.”

Along with the new Environmental Learning Center, Yampatika has increased its reach in area classrooms.

Executive Director Sonja Macys said Yampatika’s Environmental Literacy Program has grown 600 percent in the past three years and now is held in 42 classrooms, including every classroom in South Routt and Hayden.

“Yampatika is growing and changing, but at the same time, it’s retaining its early history,” Macys said.

To celebrate the nonprofit’s 20th anniversary, attendees of the Steamboat Design Guild’s recent design camp created a new anniversary logo for Yampatika.

It was unveiled Wednesday night to a strong round of applause.

Yampatika’s big birthday celebration continues in the coming months with several other events.

The Tread of Pioneers Museum will add an exhibit detailing Yampatika’s two decades of environmental stewardship in October, and the nonprofit will host a moonlight snowshow tour Nov. 17.

To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210 or email

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