With trip to Costa Rica out, group of local teen conservationists turns focus to building a new trail in Eagle County
International Youth Conservation Coalition is working on a new multi-use trail in county open space
Storm clouds brewed as the students from the International Youth Conservation Coalition volunteered Tuesday to make the world a better place. However, they weren’t the tropical storm clouds that would have built overhead if the students were in Costa Rica like they’d originally planned.
As the world changes, people adapt. That’s exactly what these teenagers did.
The students were supposed to be taking their conservation volunteer trip to Costa Rica at the end of July. Even though they can’t currently help in another country, due to travel restrictions, they weren’t going to let a pandemic stop them from helping in whatever way they can.
The group is instead helping build a new trail in a new county open space in Eagle. The group is working with Eagle County and Vail Valley Mountain Trails Alliance to develop this new multi-use trail. The hope is to have the trail open to the public in the fall.
The students are the third group to work on the new trail, which is being constructed in the 1,670-acre Brush Creek Valley Ranch and Open Space in Eagle. The property was acquired by the county in 2018 for open space. The original intent of the land was development, but decades of community support for different use of the parcel placed it in the public’s hands.
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“We are trying to balance the recreation needs, the agriculture needs with wildlife needs,” said Peter Suneson, the open space education and outreach specialist for Eagle County.
The trail will be open to all non-motorized uses, and have one of the longest wildlife closures in the county from Dec. 1 to July 1.
A coalition to conserve
The IYCC, a nonprofit, was founded in 2019 by Jenn Rose to teach and inspire kids to be environmental leaders. It currently has 13 students enrolled. Rose graduated from Michigan State University with a degree in Natural Resource Based Recreation Management, and since then has wanted to do more to make a difference.
Through a variety of different jobs and experiences such as program coordinator at the Eagle County Youth Conservation Corps in 2004 and working with youth throughout her career, Rose finally was able to create the IYCC last year.
She hopes to instill values of conservation and land conservation in local youth through local and global conservation volunteer opportunities. Along with volunteerism, the year-long program, in which the students meet once a month, includes leadership workshops and classes geared towards environmental leadership. It’s then normally culminated by an international volunteer trip.
Helping out in their backyard
Yet with the pandemic, it’s changed how things work. Rose hopes to add future international programs in the future and expand programing when students are forced to stay stateside.
So instead of Costa Rica, either helping at a rainforest research site or researching endangered sea turtles, the group is here.
“Of course because of COVID that didn’t happen,” Rose said.
With hopes of travel put off until at least next year, the attention was turned locally. Instead of being down and negative, she said the group of students remained positive and got to work figuring out how to help in their backyard.
Along with a fundraiser, the students recently started to send money down to the organizations in Costa Rica, and brainstormed ways they could physically help in Eagle County.
Karlie Fritzlei, who is going into her senior year of high school, got the ball rolling on trail work. She said her thought process was to find a project that had a bit of hard work involved but could be done as a group. That’s when she reached out to Ernest Saeger at VVMTA.
‘It feels like we are actually doing something’
Saeger is the Executive Director at VVMTA and says it allows kids to become stewards of the land they are working on and understand what they are helping with. They then hopefully will take that knowledge and passion and pass it on.
Suneson agrees that’s it’s not just the free labor that’s benefiting them.
“We’re really excited to have local use, not only experiencing public land but also having that conversation on balancing conservation needs and recreation needs,” he said. “It’s important to the Open Space program to partner with youth to get them out on their public land and see what it takes to build sustainable trails.”
He said by engaging with them they can have the discussion on the whys — why is that trail being built there and why not other places? Mix in addressing the needs of the wildlife in the area and other factors, and it becomes a balancing act.
“We want to put in trails that folks are going to use and not put in trails folks won’t use,” Suneson said. “It’s a tough job trying to balance all those needs but it’s really fun and it’s what we like to do.”
For high school senior-to-be Kaelin Enga, she’s proud to help in an area that’s not even hers. From Colorado Springs, Enga said she found out about IYCC through friends and wanted to join since there is nothing like it in her hometown. To be around like-minded people with the same aspirations and goals is fun, she said.
“I thought it was a really cool opportunity,” Enga said.
Like all of her peers, she would rather be in Costa Rica, but she said the opportunity to give back feels good.
“It feels like we are actually doing something,” she said. “When you’re in high school you don’t feel like you’re going to make a big impact.”
Providing that opportunity is exactly wht Rose said she wants to try and bring forward to the students, because given that opportunity, they will run with it.
“Teenagers are capable of extraordinary things if given the opportunity,” Rose said. “They want to do something, they want those opportunities.”
She also added teenagers have had disappointment after disappointment given the current circumstances, but continue to rise to the occasion.
“They blow my mind every day,” she said.