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Earth Day 2005

Tom Boyd

In the 35 years since Earth Day was first celebrated, it’s gone through a roller coaster of popularity. It began with a frenzy of hopeful exuberance in its first year, 1970, then rolled into relative obscurity in the 1980s. It reached another pinnacle in 1990, its 20th anniversary, but now Earth Day is in a lull: demonstrations and parades are small or non-existent, and media coverage is minimal. This is, in part, because there are actually two Earth Days, one celebrated by most of the world on March 20 and one celebrated by most of the United States on April 22 (see sidebar).Whether it’s celebrated worldwide or not, The Vail Trail views Earth Day as a time to recognize the achievements of those who have worked to better our environment. This year we salute the Mauri Nottingham Environmental Quality Award winners, who have shown outstanding environmental stewardship over the past year.The award is given in three categories: Individual Adult, Individual Youth, and Organization. The winners are journalist Allen Best (Individual Adult), Eagle Valley High School sophomore Rudy Olin (Individual Youth), and The Eagle River Watershed Council (Organization).Much like Earth Day itself, the Nottingham Award isn’t carrying the momentum its founders may wish. In a county which prides itself on its natural beauty, event organizers said they were a bit underwhelmed by the number of nominated people and organizations.Eagle Valley Alliance for Sustainability President Matt Scherr, who organizes the event, has pledged to redouble his efforts to get the award into the spotlight. It is certainly the most prestigious local environmental award in existence, and Scherr hopes that, in a county like ours, there will be an overabundance, not a lack, of nominees next year.The honor of winning the award has not dimmed, however, in the eyes of its recipients. The group of winners was brought together for a special ceremony at the Vail Town Council chambers on Tuesday, April 19, and each of the winners interviewed for this story said they were humbled by the distinction.Appreciating your home townA sophomore at Eagle Valley High School, Olin was nominated for the Nottingham Award by Doug Secrist, park manager at Eagle’s Sylvan Lake. Over the course of a year, Olin took Secrist’s idea and turned it into reality: now the nature trail at Sylvan Lake Park has a series of 10 interpretive signs which educate visitors about their surroundings and, Olin hopes, bring them closer to their environment.Olin did the project in order to earn his Eagle Scout ranking from Scoutmaster Wayne Nelson but the project was one of many which have taken Olin into the wilderness. His life in the Boy Scouts, he said, often guides him to do the right thing.”The Boyscouts are a moral compass for bringing up boys in a culture that has lost a good sense of right and wrong,” he said. “It gives you a taste of a bunch of different interests instead of sitting around your house.”Olin, who met Secrist through his local church, is aware that there was a noticeable lack of nominees in the youth category. He thinks it indicates a larger lack of outdoor appreciation among his peers.”Any more, (kids my age) aren’t into it,” he said. “Fishing’s probably the most outdoor thing. You hardly ever hear people talking about going into the wilderness and camping out.”Olin said he feels he is one of the few among his age group who would choose to go on a hike instead of playing Playstation. Furthermore, he believes local schools could do more by bringing the outdoors into the classroom and the classroom into the outdoors.”A lot of people don’t understand how fast some of these non-renewable resources are going,” he said. “The big thing is to get people educated about it, and to realize what a special thing it is to be able to live here.”It’s not that environmental issues aren’t mentioned in the classroom, he said, but teachers need to veer away from generic statistics and bring the focus of environmental studies to the here and now.”What we’re learning (in class) doesn’t really apply to where we are,” he said. “We need to narrow the scope down and talk about Eagle County, Colorado, and what’s going on here.”Beyond his interest in the outdoors, Olin played the role of Lumier the Candlestick in Eagle Valley’s recent performance of “Beauty and the Beast.”He is also a blackbelt in Tae Kwon Do and a green belt in Karate.”We try and encourage the kids to try a lot of things,” said Olin’s mother, Ann. “And we’ve always said that if you want to try something, you have to see it through. That philosophy, or idea, really helps kids to see things through.”Olin’s work can be seen at Sylvan Lake, where his environmental knowledge and skills in graphic design are on permanent display.The mighty pen of Allen BestFor writer Allen Best, it’s been a stellar year for awards. Not only did he recently receive the Nottingham Award, but he also received the highly prestigious Wirth Award, named after former Colorado Senator Tim Wirth. Best also picked up an Associated Press award for best environmental story in Colorado and Wyoming, and an environmental writing award from Coca-Cola.The majority of the awards stem from Best’s seven-part series on global warming, published first in the Vail Daily in the summer of 2004, which detailed the possible coming effects of the globe’s rising average temperatures.Best is known in Eagle County for his work at various papers in the valley, including his role as managing editor of The Vail Trail from 1987 1993. He now lives and works from Denver, and his work appears periodically in the Vail Daily.Writing a piece on something as complicated as global warming, he said, gave him particular journalistic challenges. A writer could easily become lost in the political quagmire which surrounds the topic, but Best cleanly and fairly dealt with global warmings more daunting aspects, while at the same time breaking into new and previously unexplored territory.Best took a bold journalistic stance on his story. Rather than simply reporting the opinions of those on both sides of the issue, Best used narrative to try and accurately portray the realities of global warming and their immediate regional and local impacts.”A lot of times there’s this issue that journalists are supposed to be notetakers, not analysts,” he said. “But built into the reporting process, built into journalism, there’s the idea that there’s a mind working behind the typewriter the observer is part of the process.”Best admits that his analysis wasn’t complete, yet he spent months on the project and became as close to an expert on the topic of global warming as possible. After educating himself, he said, he decided that the standard “he said, she said” method wasn’t the right way to tell the story.Best doesn’t hide his strong beliefs about the environment. He openly called himself an “advocate,” for certain environmental causes, especially when it comes to public lands. When asked if he thought that certain readers may see his byline and automatically infer a environmentalist bias, he responded this way:”The best journalism is where you don’t know where the writer is going to take you. If you look at a byline and you think, ‘He’s going to say this, she’s going to say this,’ then who wants to read it?”Objectivity isn’t the goal of journalism, Best said. Fairness is the term he chooses to use, and curiosity is the driver of that fairness. If his curiosity leads him to discover something which flies in the face of everything he’s learned to this point, he said he wouldn’t be shy about including that in his next piece.Best also gave ample praise to the Vail Daily, which funded the intense study required to write an in-depth, seven-part series on the topic. The Daily has come a long way, he said, since its early days, when it was essentially a Vail promotional paper.”I really commend (Vail Daily editor) Don Rogers on that,” Best said. “He actually found the money to pay me on this. Writers don’t work for free, you don’t do a story like that simply on your own time. Credit needs to be shared with Colorado Mountain News Media.”Colorado Mountain News Media is the parent company of The Vail Trail and the Vail Daily.Rogers said that, over the past several decades, finding funding for environmental reporting has become a bit easier.”It seems to me that every major paper now has reporters dedicated to environmental reporting,” he said. “Vail Daily readers in particular have always shown a keen interest in environmental issues, although we certainly have our segment that thinks drilling in ANWR (Arctic National Wildlife Refuge) is great, global warming is overblown and don’t you dare run down my love for SUV’s.”Rogers said there is more interest here, in the mountains, in environmental stories than in other parts of the state.Stories are one thing, action is another. Best said there are miles to go before Eagle County achieves the kind of environmental stewardship it needs to sustain the quality of its surroundings, and he didn’t shy away from voicing his criticism of the apathy he perceives in Eagle County.When asked where the county could improve, he said that the problems caused by I-70 need to be remedied, though he admits that he doesn’t have a ready solution.Other issues he thinks Eagle County should take action on are the “ecological footprint” of the resort industry and the untapped potential of small hydroelectric power. Best points out that water wheels and small generators placed in mountain creeks and stream are a non-polluting, renewable source of energy.A river runs through itWhen asked what she’d like to see taken care of in the next year, environmentally speaking, the Eagle River Watershed Council’s Caroline Bradford had several answers.One, however, was the removal of the non-indigenous and domineering tamarisk plant from the Eagle River watershed’s shorelines. The tamarisk, originally brought to the West by farmers looking to control river bank erosion, has the tendency to overtake an area and kill off native species.This isn’t just a goal that the ERWC wants to see accomplished it’s something they’re taking care of right now.”We expect to have tamarisk eliminated from our watershed by December,” Bradford said.These kinds of results are what people have come to expect from the ERWC which is a big part of the reason why they were named the winner of the Nottingham Award for an organization or business.”The Watershed Council is an extraordinary example of a well-run business,” Sherr said. “With the Watershed Council, there’s so many on-the-ground achievements.”Among those achievements are the annual river cleanup and highway cleanup. On April 30 the ERWC will hold its annual highway cleanup, which has grown to encompass 120 miles of highway in Eagle County. This year’s river cleanup will take place September 19.The ERWC originally came out of the amalgamation of several different local environmental groups. Formed in 2000, Bradford was its first staffer. Now the staff includes Tom Page (a Nottingham Award winner in 2004) and Mary-Clare Van Dyke.But the people involved in the ERWC span beyond its staffers. Its volunteer board of directors includes: Joe Macy, Dr. Tom Steinburg, Bill Heicher, Kerry Donovan, Anne Esson, Bill Perry, and Arlene Quenon. Plus, Bradford said, there are dozens of people who consult and advise the staff.The synergy of everyone involved in the ERWC has given the organization significant political sway in Colorado water politics. They were recently given a 15-minute window to speak to United States congressional staff members, and they are quick to get an audience with powerful water entities like the Denver Water Board and the Colorado River Water Conservation District.While much of their accomplishments are hands-on and tangible, they also have much to say about municipal, regional, state and even national governing water policy.”The Watershed Council has the strength of the community behind us,” Bradford said. “And people know that, when they’re inviting us to a meeting, they’re inviting the whole community to come to that discussion.”And most of the pressing water topics in Colorado are discussed at the ERWC’s own meetings, including their Waterwise Wednesday speaker series. The series, which brings panels of experts to the county to discuss pertinent water topics, has its last meeting of the season May 11.In the meantime, the organization, and its impact on the community’s most precious resource, is sure to grow as the valley moves into a new year.For more information on the Eagle River Watershed Council, or to take part in the April 30 highway cleanup, email the staff at info@eagleriverwatershedcouncil.org. VTTom Boyd can be reached for comment at tboyd@vailtrail.com.The Mauri Nottingham Environmental Quality Award committee members:Caroline Bradford Eagle River Watershed Council (did not vote for group winner)Diana Donovan TOV councilAdam Palmer County plannerLuke Cartin Vail Resort Environmental CoordinatorMauri Nottingham IconRuss Forrest TOV Community Development DirectorSusan Pollack TOV citizenBill Carlson TOV environmental health officer (non-voting)Matt Scherr President; Eagle Valley Alliance for Sustainability (non-voting)


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