High Country Speaker Series continues with panel discussion about protecting places we play | VailDaily.com

High Country Speaker Series continues with panel discussion about protecting places we play

Krista Driscoll
Zach Mahone | Special to the Daily
Zach Mahone |

If you go …

What: “Protecting the Places We Play,” a panel discussion with Kat Sedillo, vice president of the Vail Valley Mountain Bike Association; Alix Berglund, First Descents program participant and cancer survivor; and Kelli Rohrig, local avalanche educator.

When: 5:30 p.m. Friday, March 18.

Where: Walking Mountains Science Center, 318 Walking Mountains Lane, Avon.

Cost: Free; $10 suggested donation.

More information: Visit http://www.walkingmountains.org.

Walking Mountains Science Center will host its first-ever High Country Speaker Series panel discussion today, titled “Protecting the Places We Play.” The goal of the event is to generate new conversations and collaborations to conserve our local outdoor resources for generations to come.

“We have shared values for a place, but we manifest them differently. I want to talk about what value we see in these places,” said Peter Suneson, Walking Mountains Science Center community outreach coordinator, who will moderate the discussion. “Yes, we all value them, but how can we, as different organizations with means and motives, come together and protect them so they continue to stay available for us to play on?”

Joining Suneson is a trio of panelists, each representing a different facet of the outdoor experience, including Kat Sedillo, vice president of the Vail Valley Mountain Bike Association; Alix Berglund, First Descents program participant and cancer survivor; and Kelly Rohrig, local avalanche educator. The event will build on this year’s Speaker Series theme of creating a sense of “place.”

“I’m planning to introduce the panelists, giving them a brief chance to introduce themselves, why they are connected to the environment, how they use the ‘place’ for themselves during their programs,” Suneson said. “We hope to have tons and tons of audience involvement.”

Finding common ground

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Each of the panelists embraces her own vision of Eagle County’s outdoor potential. The nonprofit Vail Valley Mountain Bike Association has a mission to establish Eagle County as a premier global mountain biking destination, Sedillo said.

“Everyone’s front door can be a trailhead,” she said. “Connecting communities on soft-surface trails is a really big goal of ours. It’s vital to our area. Where as Eagle County is already know as a world-class ski resort in the winter, we want to become a world-class destination in the summer.”

A key component of that mission is building and maintaining a soft-surface recreational trail system that connects the communities within Eagle County. In order to accomplish that, the association is encouraging various user groups — land owners, trail runners, mountain bikers, dog walkers — to work together and take ownership of the trail system.

“There’s only so much land,” Sedillo said. “We all need to learn how to play on it together and take care of it together. It’s not an obstacle, but an opportunity. How can we be the drivers of that strong culture of multi-use and getting out there and getting more folks and volunteers involved?”

First Descents offers outdoor adventure experiences for young adults who have been impacted by cancer. The core programming is weeklong surfing, kayaking or rock climbing camps for people diagnosed with cancer between the ages of 18 and 39, and Berglund said the benefits are multifaceted.

“It allows people to spend a week with their peers, young adults who have never met someone else their age with cancer,” she said. “It takes them into the outdoors, those who have not experienced the incredible healing benefits of the outdoors. Taking part in these activities they’ve never done is incredibly empowering.”

Berglund said she hopes the panel discussion encourages more people to come together and generate ideas for ways to protect where we play.

“Making a living here, what we have to offer is nature and our natural resources, so protecting that is essential to protecting our livelihoods and our economy,” she said. “Any visitor who comes says, ‘oh, in Vail you have a little piece of paradise here.’ It’s important that we maintain that.”

It’s important to encourage outdoor access but also to balance that with our responsibility to take care of public lands and reduce our ever-expanding carbon footprint, Rohrig said.

“I think it’s an amazing opportunity to demonstrate to people that we do have this nature but it needs to be tended to, we can’t just trash it,” she said.

Accessing nature

All three panelists stressed the importance of connecting people with nature. Sedillo said when you make outdoor recreation access easier for a wider range of age groups and demographics, the appreciation for those natural resources multiplies.

“How many folks do we know that we see up at Piney River Ranch on that trail up there? They get out there and they are in awe,” she said. “They wouldn’t be able to experience that if there weren’t trails out there around that lake. They would drive in their car, look at the lake and leave.”

Our outdoor environment here in Eagle County is a gem. It allows people to disconnect and get back into nature, something they can’t do in cities and metropolitan areas, and to be able to share that with locals and visitors alike is important, Sedillo said.

“Strip away the pretense and the fear, the self-doubts about ourselves,” Berglund said. “You take away all the trappings of society and you can just be out there and be at peace. I think nature is medicine. It’s important to have those places to escape to.”

Berglund said the First Descents model of reclaiming your life through outdoor experiences works for everyone, whether they have cancer, depression, emotional or financial distress or feel overwhelmed by life.

“Our lives have become more urbanized and technology focused, sitting at a desk and sitting at a computer,” she said. “We’re not working outdoors, so it’s essential that we have a place to play, essential to save those places and make them as accessible as possible to people.”

Bringing together organizations such as those represented in this High Country Speaker Series panel is essential to find common ground to develop a platform of preservation for the places we play, Rohrig said.

“For us to be bonded as a larger group with more say, we can hopefully establish a stronger word and help keep growing the forest,” she said.

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