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.