An Activist’s Life |

An Activist’s Life

Julie Imada-Howard/Special to the Daily
Vail Daily/ Coreen Sapp

Community activism can be driven by political reasons, social reasons or simply because someone needs help.

There’s no lack of residents activists downvalley who have spent their lives contributing to the community. Following are the stories of just a few:

Save an Eagle…

When Rosie Shearwood moved to Brush Creek with her husband and son in 1969, she had no idea she would become involved in one of the most divisive and important local issues in history of the town and county: Adam’s Rib.

“It was a heartfelt thing. It opened my eyes to a lot of things that go on in the world,” said Shearwood of her first foray into community activism.

In the early 1970s, developer Fred Kummer unveiled plans to develop a ski resort up Brush Creek. So began the Adam’s Rib saga that would last over 30 years and eventually culminate in the creation of Sylvan Lake State Park, where the ski resort was once proposed on East and West Brush Creek.

Numerous local residents, including Shearwood, formed a group called the “Concerned Citizens of Eagle County” to oppose Adam’s Rib. With help from lawyers Luke Danielson, Harold Feder, Gene Lorig and others, they began attending meetings, and reviewing environmental studies and development plans. The activists also went to court to challenge the decision process.

The group broadcast its opposition in various ways, ranging from T-shirts and bumper stickers emblazoned with the slogan “Save an Eagle… Break a Rib” to making their voices heard at countless meetings throughout the country.

The group also published newsletters. A few members once wrapped Kummer’s private plane with toilet paper after a crucial county vote.

“It was pretty amazing. It was a roller coaster ride,” said Shearwood, who pointed out that after every meeting or decision someone would be angry. The issue also prompted an effort to recall several members of the Eagle Town Board for opposing the proposed development.

Today, much of the land that was once destined to be a ski resort is now a part of Sylvan Lake State Park. The efforts of the Concerned Citizens over three decades contributed to that end.

For Shearwood, the fight is not yet over. Citing Kummer’s continued plans to develop a gated community and golf course along Frost Creek and Salt Creek, Shearwood continues to monitor the details of the development through the county approval process.

She has also helped with the creation of guidelines for future growth. Shearwood has served on committees to create the Eagle Area Community Plan as well as the Eagle County Master Plan. She also volunteers at the state park’s visitors center, and is involved with local open space promotion, water conservation and quality issues.

“There is only one huge lesson, and that is you have to stand up for what you believe in,” said Shearwood of her community activism. She noted that the process of saving Brush Creek from development took many people and many organizations working together, compromising and willing to go out on a limb for their beliefs.

Politics, politics, politics

Sara Gregg, campus administrator for Colorado Mountain College’s Eagle site, has been active in causes big and small, most of her life.

During the height of Vietnam War and the social unrest that defined the 1960’s and 70’s, Gregg was a student at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. Her college experience gave Gregg her first taste of activism.

Those experiences taught her the importance of grassroots movements and working to change the world at a local level.

After she married and began a family of her own, Gregg’s community activism shifted to raising her children. She volunteered at her children’s school, and was also involved in youth sports and the Salvation Army holiday baskets program. Today, she serves on the Eagle Cemetery Board and is beginning to become politically active again.

Last spring, Gregg, along with others opposed to the U.S.-led war in Iraq, organized a protest march in Eagle. The demonstration was countered by other local residents, including Eagle artist Jacklyn Clay, who came out in support of U.S. efforts in Iraq.

Clay, like Gregg, was a college student during the Vietnam War and was studying abroad at the height of the anti-war protests. A conservative, Clay’s views were often in direct contrast to many of her peers. Her conservative views were further solidified after reading Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s classic book “The Gulag Archipelago,” which documented the former Soviet Union’s prison camp system.

“I don’t think the 1960s was healthy activism. I don’t think they really knew the issues. They didn’t understand how people from other countries lived,” said Clay.

After college, Clay married and began her family. Her husband at the time, Terence Quinn, also an active conservative, had worked with 1964 presidential candidate and U.S. Sen. Barry Goldwater. Clay noted that she and her then-spouse took their belief in conservatism seriously enough to name their youngest son after Goldwater.

While raising her family, Clay continued to be active in the community, working as an election judge and 4-H leader. She has testified before the Colorado State Legislature regarding gun laws and the importance of the Second Amendment, and continues to be involved in the local Republican party.

Spaghetti dinners and scholarships

Paul Steinfort of Gypsum was also a student during the Vietnam era, although he took a different route.

“I wasn’t involved like I am now. I probably didn’t recognize at that age that I was a part of a community,” said Steinfort.

He began teaching in 1968 and was involved in many school-sanctioned activities. In 1972, he joined the Eagle Lions Club and began focusing his efforts on community service.

“I am not an activist, but I am very active,” said Steinfort.

His definition of “active” includes helping organize the annual 9Health Fair and various Lions Club scholarship fund-raisers, as well as working to preserve Eagle County history as president of the Eagle County Historical Society. He has also been involved with the county’s 4-H program and in church activities.

“I see the term “activist’ as more of a radical term for a more radical agenda. Activists tend to want to get their own way or win the argument. People who are “active’ realize that the doing or the giving is more important than the getting,” said Steinfort. He noted there are many young people making an effort to care for their community.

“We all need help and it comes around. Random acts of kindness will help us establish a way of life. You can make a difference just as well taking small steps as you can doing it all at once,” said Steinfort.

Voting is true activism

No matter what the issue or personal politics, the importance of voting is the one type of activism that everyone agrees is crucial to a community.

“You have to vote. It is the biggest responsibility as a citizen. You can’t be apolitical anymore,” said Gregg, who considers voting and activism signs of patriotism.

Clay agreed that voting makes a difference, and advised all who can cast a ballot to take a stand for their beliefs.

“Don’t depend on other people to speak for you and your beliefs, because they might not say what is in your heart. The beauty of democracy is that you are allowed to say what you want,” said Clay. She sees no excuse for anyone not to vote or to educate themselves about issues that affect them and their community.

“People who complain about things being or not being done have no leg to stand on, unless they are making the effort to make the difference they want to make. There are all kinds of fix-its out there, but nothing works unless we do,” added Steinfort.

Shearwood also encouraged people to run for local office in order to effect changes in the community.

“You have to stand up and do something- not just vote. Get on the boards, serve on committees, especially in the things that affect change in our communities,” she said.

This story first appeared in the Eagle Valley Enterprise.

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