A problem I have seen in the field of sustainability is that though sustainability is indeed making strides in our society and is becoming more prevalent in the minds of people, I feel that it is not being addressed in enough education and teaching in a creative ways. For sustainable practices to be implemented within our society, our people must have a stronger understanding of its importance; and our youth could be the answer to the long-term preservation of our world. What is difficult about implementation is not just finding a way to relate this information to young people so that they understand how important this work is, but also relaying it in a format that is more relatable. Performing arts could be the solution!
Several studies have shown the positive effects that performing arts offer to communicate sustainability concepts in an academic setting ranging from nursing to language skills. This is a topic that can be intimidating to many students but performing arts-based work has made the topic of sustainability more approachable, relatable, and keeps the message clear. Being someone who has worked in performing arts for roughly a decade, I have performed and helped create many pieces ranging from music to theatre with messages that needed to be heard. As river conservation is a major issue in Colorado, I felt that this topic would indeed be the best to showcase what performing arts can do as well as bring this issue to a younger audience.
What I decided to do with my senior capstone research project at Colorado Mountain College was to investigate methods of performing arts the 12th grade students at Glenwood Springs High School responded to best on the topic of river conservation. I focused on three forms of performance art: a song parody, a poetry slam, and a series of improv games with a river conservation theme. The session received positive reception from all the subjects with unanimous praise going towards the musical elements. It was so rejuvinating to see these young students become so involved in the work taking place and allowing their own true colors and personalities to shine. This was not only a time of learning and epiphanies, but also a time for all of us to look at these ideas and have fun with them in a creative way. The students relayed to me that while the information was not new, it affirmed the importance of river conservation and how perspective is critical to understanding all sides and finding an answer that is suitable for everyone.
This reaction of self-knowledge was exactly the answer I was looking for as many of us in this line of work know that opposition is not the answer, but an opportunity to create relationships and compromises. This demonstrated that performance-based teachings are not only effective in direct results, but ignite critical thinking afterward and if implemented in a large-scale setting could even prove to be more successful that even I would have predicted. In these findings on the merging of performance art and sustainability, I feel that we have again proven how impactful performing arts can be to informing people on imperative messages needed for our world and this research has solidified that notion for me and many others that are intrigued by this field. As one of my favorite singers of all time said, “I believe the children are the future, teach them well and let them lead the way.” It’s to make that statement a reality for sustainability and our world.
Travis Wilson is a recent graduate of Colorado Mountain College with a Bachelor of Arts in Sustainability. He is originally from the Western region of Georgia and has been in Colorado since 2013. Aside from his studies in sustainability, Travis also does various theatre and musical work in the Roaring Fork Valley having been involved in over a dozen productions and performances since living in Glenwood Springs. Currently he works in retail and is looking forward to starting internships and trainings this coming fall that will adhere more to his area of focus in sustainable communication, directing, and development.
By Jessy Stevenson, Wild Rose Education Intern, Spring 2019
When I was 18 months old, my parents snowshoed 32 miles into the heart of the Bob Marshall Wilderness where we spent the months of January through April living next to the South Fork of the Flathead River. I made the journey in a backpack on my mom’s back and spent that winter in a tipi with my parents and our two canine companions. Before I knew that rivers had names, I learned what it was like to fall asleep to the sound of rushing water. Before I understood how rivers shape our landscapes, they shaped experiences that would instill in me a deep love for wild places and eventually form my land ethic.
I spent the rest of my youth on a small homestead in rural, northwest Montana. Growing up surrounded by an abundance of natural resources meant that conflict was also abundant in our small community. My parents worked hard to protect the places they valued, but above all they taught my sister and I to listen. Listen to the land and listen to the people. Seek to understand the things we each value and how they drive us to act the way we do. They taught us that listening is a form of respect and that solving complex problems starts with learning about and developing respect for the things we might not understand. Besides ingraining a love for telling and listening to stories, this lesson has influenced my education and passion for working in conflict resolution and place-based education.
Over the past two years, opportunities to learn about and work in place-based education and conflict resolution have become entwined with my interest in rivers and the unique challenges they face. In the summer of 2018 I was part of the 4th Biennial Student Congress on Public Policy for Land Management, a group of young people tasked with addressing and providing action-based recommendations for issues faced by our nation’s rivers and trail systems. From there, I received a scholarship to attend the 2018 River Management Society Symposium, a gathering of educators, policy-makers, managers, advocates, guides, recreationists, and people from across the nation with wide-ranging connections to rivers. River stories were traded in place of business cards at the symposium, filling the spaces between forums and presentations. I met Sarah Johnson, founder of Wild Rose Education, after a presentation on the River Studies & Leadership Certificate, quickly striking up a conversation on the value of place-based education before heading off to our afternoon workshops. A few weeks later, in the process of crafting an internship for my last semester as an undergrad, Sarah and I got in touch through the River Management Society. I wanted to work on a meaningful project that combined rivers and either education or conflict resolution, and Sarah had an idea that combined all three. We set up an internship through the University of Montana and created a plan to work virtually on a project - Sarah from her office in Colorado and I from Montana.
Over the next five months Sarah and I worked together to create a deliberative forum guide that focuses on addressing the challenges faced by our nation’s rivers. Deliberation is a method of communication that involves thoughtfully identifying and considering options from multiple perspectives. Recently, a number of frameworks or ‘guides’ have been created to help facilitate deliberative forums, in which interest groups gather to discuss options for addressing challenging issues. The role of deliberation in working to address environmental issues focuses on ensuring that all interest groups contribute to the creation of and can identify with at least one of the options discussed in the forum. In a world where education is growing more specialized and societies are growing more individualized, deliberation can provide an interdisciplinary approach to solving complex problems and building connections between otherwise divided groups of people.
The process of building our own deliberative forum guide began with an anonymous survey that was sent to an array of people across the nation, asking them to discuss their own relationships with rivers as well as their concerns for the future of those rivers. Responses from the survey helped us to shape a working draft of the deliberative forum guide, named Let’s Talk Rivers. The guide introduces the challenges of increasing demands on our nation’s rivers and lists three potential options for addressing those demands, each with a set of possible focus areas and trade-offs. While this guide takes the idea of an open framework one step further by addressing specific issues identified by real people across the nation, it is meant to be adapted.
After developing a comprehensive first draft of the guide and making edits based on comments and suggestions from a number of people throughout the process, we held a practice forum to test the framework. Sarah organized the forum, inviting an array of people with various connections to rivers as well as a trained facilitator with experience moderating deliberative forums. Unable to make the trip to Colorado, I joined the forum virtually. Sarah and I observed, taking detailed notes on parts of the framework that seemed to work well and those that needed improvement. Without a specific, local issue to tackle, the practice forum remained broad and didn’t fully encapsulate the diversity of perspectives usually present in this type of deliberation. Even so, observing the framework in action made it clear that inherent biases are almost always present and can exist in ways that are impossible to see until pointed out by someone else. Overall, participants in practice forum provided crucial feedback and were invaluable to the development of this project. We are honored to have worked with so many incredible people along the way and hope that this tool will be valuable to communities of all types; changed, adapted and shaped to help address the complex challenges faced by their rivers.
Rivers are dynamic systems. They create change and shape the places and people who depend upon them. The same should be true of education and the ways in which we approach solving complex challenges in a changing world. Collaboratively creating Let’s Talk Rivers has been both challenging and inspiring. The process has reminded me that approaching the unknown with humility and listening are still the most valuable steps in solving any problem. I am now a graduate of the University of Montana, having earned a B.S. in Resource Conservation with a double major in Environmental Studies and a minor in Wilderness Studies. I look forward to continuing to learn and work in the fields of education and conflict resolution, using the tools developed during this internship along the way. Rivers and wild places have shaped who I am and will continue to play crucial roles in my work and education.
There is a place, in the rhythmic wildness of rushing water, where there seems to be some balance. There's a clarity there, a constant stillness among the rumble, a quiet as the rest of the world is drowned out. And so, to rivers is where I return, letting opaque green fingers wrap around doubts, fears, stress and uncertainty, listening to the water and, for a few minutes, ceasing to search for truth in the world.
By Katia Meyer, 2018 Youth Water Leadership Program Intern
I spent last summer working at a summer camp in Connecticut, where I experienced weekly thunderstorms that filled the nearby river so high that it often overflowed as it made its way towards the lake. This could not have been more different from what many people experienced this past summer with the Lake Christine Fire and drought induced water restrictions. When I returned to Colorado and heard these stories from my friends and neighbors, I was reminded of what a precious resource water is. I became curious as to whether or not water restrictions were an effective tool for mitigating the impact of drought on residents and the surrounding ecosystems, and this became the focus of my research project for the 2018 Healthy Rivers Youth Water Summit. My main focus was identifying the differences in how each local town or city handles water restrictions. I was also curious about how residents view water restrictions and whether they adhere to them, and well as their general level of understanding of our watershed, the Colorado River Compact, and the effects of drought. To do this, I interviewed at least one water manager or similar person from Aspen, Snowmass Village, Basalt, Carbondale, and Glenwood Springs. I learned a lot about water restrictions, and I hope this information can help both water leaders and residents gain some new insight.
One of the most interesting things I discovered was the unique way each town or city makes decisions about when to enact water restrictions. In Aspen, the city utility makes the decision and reports to the city council which currently has 5 members. Similarly, the Carbondale utilities director makes the call and is advised by public works, the town manager, and the board of trustees. Glenwood Springs’s City Council decides when to put water restrictions in place (or not to, as was the case this summer). In Basalt, water restrictions are simply put in place yearly from April 1 to October 31 regardless of the water level. Finally, Snowmass Village has 5 board members, advised by an environmental advisory board, who make decisions, although they have a permanent Stage 1 restriction in place. Although each place has a slightly different decision making process, they generally look at the same factors including snowpack, precipitation, consumer demand trends, drought forecasts, and water levels in the rivers or water treatment facilities. They also put similar restrictions in place. This typically focuses on reduced watering of lawns and parks, often on an alternate day watering schedule.
One common misconception about water restrictions is that most people don’t actually follow water restriction guidelines, or that it’s pointless to follow them. This is very untrue. All of the water managers I interviewed said that most people in their towns followed the water restrictions, and that it made a huge difference in the amount of water in their reservoir, well, streams, or other water source. Most towns have some kind of monitoring system so they can see if people are responding to the water restriction and using less water. For example, Snowmass Village, Carbondale, and Glenwood Springs all use water meters to track consumption. In most places, neighbors encourage each other to do the right thing and adhere to the guidelines, so the town doesn’t often have to step in. If they do need to enforce guidelines, there is typically a graduated system of fines a person can incur for repeated violations.
Another misconception is that restrictions mean there isn’t enough water to go around. In reality, you will most likely always have enough water for domestic uses like drinking, showering, brushing your teeth, and washing dishes. Things like watering parks, lawns, or golf courses are unnecessary and use a lot of water, so just reducing those uses saves the town a lot of water. One of the best things citizens can do to help their town conserve water is to stay informed about drought, the Colorado River Compact and other water laws, and how climate change impacts ecosystems like the riparian habitat in local streams and rivers.
Although the decision makers, requirements for enacting restrictions, and methods of enforcement vary from place to place, the goal is generally the same. Everyone wants to ensure that their community and surrounding ecosystem has the water it needs to sustain itself. All of the water leaders I spoke to agreed that increased education is an important factor in getting people to follow drought restrictions and be good stewards of the river. I would also recommend ongoing communication between communities in the Roaring Fork Valley. I think that sharing information between towns and cities could be an extremely valuable tool for increasing the effectiveness of drought restrictions. By hearing what works and what doesn’t, water leaders can avoid repeating each other’s mistakes and make faster progress towards a healthier and more sustainable watershed.
By Erin Flaherty, Coal Ridge High School student
Published in Glenwood Springs Post Independent 12/15/2018
Growing up in Colorado was a dream for me as a little kid. Bountiful forests and streams to play in, mud cakes to make, stick weapons used to wage war against my older siblings. The outdoors were (and still are) a second home to me. My relationship with nature has matured from messing around with bugs to seeking a career protecting the outdoors. I joined a water quality testing group, Colorado River Watch, and participate in community activities outside. While it may be more complicated now, gathering data in the field still means I can splash in streams!
This past year I had the privilege to be part of the with the Youth Water Leadership Program’s Summit Leader Team to assemble the Healthy Rivers Youth Water Summit, which took place on November 15. The side of me that is still a child was thrilled when we went rafting as a team, and the more “adult” side was equally excited to talk about invasive species and droughts. Being a part of the Summit Leader Team not only gave me experience with the outdoors, but also let me take that experience and put it into a form that could be shared with others. I cannot take my colleagues with me when we analyze the quality of rivers, but I can take the information gathered and explain it to them. When I spoke at the Summit, I took my experiences with the Summit Leader Team, River Watch, and childhood to the stage.
But the Summit wasn’t about me. It was about everyone else there, and hearing their stories about how much they loved being outside and the contributions they had made to keep Colorado’s water healthy. The guest speakers, Sarah Porterfield of Tributaries Consulting LLC and Christa Sadler of This-Earth, told us about their experiences with rafting, outdoor education, and history. It was inspiring to watch them speak about conservation and recognizing the history of water, and from them I know that when I’m an adult, I can still enjoy the outdoors. In addition to the guest speakers, organizational booths were scattered around with representatives talking to kids. These organizations offered internships, summer programs, and activities aimed at teenagers. Similar to the guest speakers, they offered valuable insight for people looking for a future in the environment, biology, and chemistry fields. I can get a job that revolves around being outside or snag an internship that will take me into the heart of this region’s wilderness. Incredible, isn’t it? There’s no need to fulfill my nightmare of getting a desk job, suitable for some, but definitely not me. I and countless others who love the outdoors and science experienced, through the Summit, that there are ways to apply what we are passionate about to real life. The Summit gathered kids who were interested in the environment and showed us career paths we could take. I think it’s normal to grow up. It’s normal to have changing interests as we age. But at the same time, it isn’t a bad thing to love something for our entire lives. A childhood love of dinosaurs can lead to a career in paleontology, or a love of space can lead to a career in aeronautical engineering. Pursuing a path that started when I first climbed a tree has brought me to the Healthy Rivers Youth Water Summit, and I hope it takes me to new people, new adventures, and new places to explore. I hope I can take what I learned from the Summit and the things I will learn in the future with me to help the environment of this planet. I’ve always loved being outside. Why not turn that love into something more?
Author Erin Flaherty attends Coal Ridge High School as a junior. She volunteers on a Colorado River Watch and has presented at the 2017 and 2018 Youth Water Summit.
By: Aidan Boyd, Coal Ridge High School Student
Published 12/14/18 as Letter to Editor in Aspen Daily News
Since I was a little kid, I’ve known I wanted to study the sciences. I always pictured myself in a lab coat, silently working away until I found a cure for cancer. I never understood the often gritty, behind-the-scenes jobs required for science to be useful. My freshman year I started on a simple citizen science project with my friends, collecting basic water quality data from Elk Creek for Colorado River Watch. I never thought about how this data could be used to educate or change the world. That is, until I was put into touch with Wild Rose Education’s Sarah Johnson and learned about the Youth Water Leadership Program.
The following year, 2017, my friends and I created an entire independent research project, educating a primarily up-valley audience about a New Castle stream and the issues that it faces. I had never really shared research outside of a school setting before, so it was terrifying. I stood on stage, petrified as an audience of people from local high schools as well as local environmental groups listened intently. But when I began to talk and saw their interest and engaged with them in their questions, I truly began to understand why involving citizens in science is so important. Without this event, youth from Aspen wouldn’t know about the impact of mining on a creek in New Castle. Without this event, I never would have known about issues upstream, facing the Roaring Fork Watershed.
In 2018, with my newfound confidence, I wanted to take it one step further and help organize the Summit. The work I did was not the lab coat and pipette sort of work science often gets portrayed as. Instead, it was calling keynote speakers, giving introductions, setting a master schedule, and figuring out water bottle designs, all of which were essential to allowing the data collected to be shared. I never really understood the fact that for every hour of scientific data collection, hundreds of hours of organization has to be put in to make the data meaningful.
I think this is something that more people going into the sciences need to understand: you could have the best designed study in the world that has the potential to completely revolutionize your field, but if you can’t communicate your thoughts or coordinate events like the Healthy Rivers Youth Water Summit, then you won’t be as successful. Often the lack of communication has to do with how science classes are taught. Too often science is purely in the classroom, with academic lectures and memorization. Of course factual scientific knowledge is important, but getting classes outside and engaging with their communities helps teach these skills, made more important by the Age of Misinformation we are in today. I truly hope that every student can have an experience like the Healthy Rivers Youth Water Summit to truly appreciate the behind-the-scenes efforts so critical to making the world work.
Author Aidan Boyd is a junior at Coal Ridge High School. He has been on a Colorado River Watch for two years, and participated in the 2018 Youth Water Leadership Program. Additionally, he presented the talks "Elk Creek: Past, Present, and Future" (2017) and "South Canyon Development" (2018) in the Healthy Rivers Youth Water Summit.