A school in Vail’s backyard
When Kim Langmaid was a child, she played in a huge backyard.
That backyard is Vail, and much of it has been filled with hotels, shops, and possibly the world’s most famous ski area. The forest playground is still there, but often, children abandon the natural beauty in favor for more “instant” pleasure; Playstation, television, a computer game.
“There’s not (as) easy access to the natural world as it was growing up here,” she explained. “Today, there’s more structure. Growing up in the valley, I walked to the bus every day. We got off the bus and played until it was dark. Vail was my playground. Nature was everywhere. It had a different feel than today.
“There weren’t as many opportunities for kids,” she added, “so the structure is an asset in many ways, but growing up here was an amazing opportunity to have that sense of freedom in the mountains.”
Langmaid founded the Gore Range Natural Science School in her early 30s.
“After college, I was working at the Vail Nature Center and the programs were very limited and offered only to school groups in kindergarten and first grade, and it was only for a couple of months during the summer,” she said. “I thought, ‘Wow! There are a lot of kids growing up in this valley that deserve the opportunity, exposure and education about the world around them.”
Her vision was combined with her experiences growing up in Vail and witnessing the dramatic changes that were occurring around her.
“I wanted to help kids growing up here to have the same opportunity that I had as a child exploring the natural world,” she added.
While working in the Nature Center, she decided to do something bigger for the community, but didn’t have the expertise and knowledge to determine what that could be or how to go about doing it. In 1995, she attended the Teton Science School in Jackson Hole. There she learned the nuts and bolts of what it takes to open an outdoor science school.
She formed a team of educators she met while attending the Teton Science School and some locals who supported her dream. One of her first teachers was Caroline Bradford, who began as a volunteer and eventually became the first development director for the newly formed Gore Range Natural Science School.
“I had been active during the White River National Forest Land Use Management Revision, which involved the rezoning of the forest service land throughout the White River Forest,” Bradford said. “At a meeting, the people seemed to want the informed public to tell them what to do with the forest, but we didn’t speak the same language.”
The Forest Service and the community wanted to preserve the natural ecosystem in the mountains, but the knowledge base and structure weren’t there.
“I realized the best way to do this is to educate the children,” she said. “Kim and I sat at each other’s kitchen tables and said ‘this is what we’re going to do.'”
Bradford brought in the sales and fundraising aspect to Langmaid’s educational knowledge and they were up and running.
Both Bradford and Langmaid give credit to their supporters during the early years, including Tony O’Rourke and the Beaver Creek Resort Company, Jim Flaum and Ric Souto at Slifer, Smith and Frampton, the Vail Rotary Club and some foundations, including the Berger Foundation, to whom she was introduced by the Kathy and Erik Borgen. The early days were very grassroots, going from door to door around Vail and using Langmaid’s surname to open doors. The Langmaid family had been around since the first year Vail began operations and is known for their integrity.
“We were creating something from scratch that was very community based. We knew if we did a good job, we were building something that would change the valley in a positive way,” Bradford added.
The school opened in September 1998. The first year, 900 children participated in Gore Range programs through local schools. The fifth-graders at Red Sandstone Elementary were the first class, and, for the first years, only fifth- and seventh-graders had the opportunity to take courses through the school. Langmaid worked with a team from the science curriculum committee in the Eagle County School District to develop a field curriculum that would complement and augment the fifth- and seventh-grade classes across the valley. Summer classes the first year were held at Red Tail camp in Beaver Creek.
Since then, the programming has diversified and grown. This past year, Gore Range Natural Science School enriched the science education of more than 2,000 students from public and private schools from East Vail to Gypsum.
Tom Gaylord was on the first board of directors.
“I worked with the Vail Recreation District and the Vail Nature Center, and Kim was the director there. We met around 1992. She was extremely passionate about the environment and a very thoughtful person with foresight. She worked extremely hard … you could never say no to her.”
“After we started our programs, we read in the Vail Daily that the Red Cliff School was up for grabs,” Langmaid said of the first permanent structure that housed the school. “After eight months of negotiations with the school district and Red Cliff, we reached a lease agreement to rent the school for $1 per year plus maintenance and utilities.”
When the residents of Red Cliff heard the abandoned school was being reopened to house Gore Range Natural Science School, they grabbed their brooms and mops and pitched in to welcome the school into their community.
“I was met by the residents of Red Cliff with open arms,” reminisced Langmaid. “They made it possible to reopen the school where multiple generations of the residents had gone to school. We had families from three generations pitching in to help.”
Initially, people were excited to have the excuse to go to Red Cliff. The trip was novel, the location unique. Eventually, folks started finding the location inconvenient, so when the opportunity came to move to their current location in Avon, the decision was relatively easy. Also, right around the time of that move, Oscar Tang offered a deal that was impossible to refuse; a parcel of land in Buck Creek that could be used to create a true campus for the school, a gift that created a foundation and permanence for the school’s future.
“It was a great beginning,” Gaylord said, “with Kim’s personality, vision and drive. She worked so hard to get things going, though it took several years before it evolved into what it has become today.”
“School should give a sense of comfort and empowerment and that we’re a part of the natural world here in the mountains,” summed up Langmaid. “The mountains aren’t something to be feared or thought of as something separate; they aren’t just scenery or a background. It’s what makes us who we are. What the science school tries to do is help children get a sense of how they are interconnected with the mountain ecosystem.”
For more information on The Gore Range Natural Science School, visit their Web site at http://www.gorerange.org or call the school at 970-827-9725.
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