Outdoor Alliance is a coalition of groups that represent human-powered outdoor recreation across the country. Paddlers, hikers, climbers, mountain bikers, and backcountry skiers come together to protect the places they care about. Our new blog series looks at how each of these groups is looking at public lands today, what they think are the biggest threats, what people who love the outdoors are doing well, and where we go from here.
The Colorado Mountain Club is a non-profit organization dedicated to outdoor recreation, conservation, and education. Founded in 1912, the CMC acts as a gateway to the mountains for novices and experts alike, offering over 3000 year-round activities, events, and schools centered on outdoor recreation for its 6500 members. The Colorado Mountain Club helps individuals maximize living in an outdoor playground and connects people with other adventure-loving outdoor enthusiasts creating a tight-knit community of responsible outdoorists ready to play in and protect the beautiful Colorado wilderness.
How did CMC get started?
On April 3, 1912, Mary Sabin and James Grafton Rogers invited a group of individuals together to discuss forming a club that would celebrate Colorado’s major resource – its mountains. In the weeks that followed, they each recruited friends and family and on April 26, 1912, a total of 25 people gathered to formally establish the Colorado Mountain Club. The first outing was to Chessman Park in what is now downtown Denver. Then on May 30, 1912, the club completed its first trip – a climb up to the top of South Boulder Peak.
Since then, the Colorado Mountain Club has grown to over 6500 members in 13 groups around the state that go on nearly 3000 outings annually. Our trips and schools are led by volunteers that are dedicated to creating responsible outdoorists in the state of Colorado. In 2017, our club members went to 19 locations around the globe and hiked a combined 101,222 miles – which amounts to thru-hiking and summiting all the Colorado 14ers a total of 78 times!
For CMC, what are the biggest public lands policy issues?
CMC focuses on public land policy issues that directly impact hiking, climbing and backcountry skiing in Colorado. We work with land management agencies like the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management to balance responsible recreational use and protection for public lands.
In the conservation department, stewardship is CMC’s other main focus area and is as essential, and perhaps more immediately impactful, than our policy work. With seasonal trail crews and volunteer projects across the state, CMC is helping to fill gaps in agency capacity to maintain trails and meet the increasing demand for recreation. In 2017, our volunteer stewardship crew helped clear 384 downed trees, maintain 81 miles of trail, and restored 13.2 thousand square feet of habitat.
What’s a recent success for CMC?
This year, three Colorado Wilderness bills have been introduced in Congress. It’s a testament to the collaborative efforts among diverse stakeholders in Colorado , to protect important places.
With so many new people moving into Colorado, it is essential that we teach them how to safely enjoy all that the Colorado outdoors has to offer. We have been really pleased to see CMC membership grow nearly 20%, especially among young people. We hope that cultivating this younger, more diverse demographic ultimately protects more public lands as people are telling their lawmakers that the outdoors are a priority.
What’s one of your inspirations for protecting public lands?
Protecting public lands is in our DNA as a Club. James Grafton Rogers, one of our founders, was instrumental in creating Rocky Mountain National Park with other CMC members; in fact, the Colorado Mountain Club drew the first boundaries of what would become the park in 1915.
They also enthusiastically spoke out against the 1920 Federal Power Act, which would have allowed construction of dams on National Park Land. Their actions, combined with other outspoken conservationists, led to an amendment to the Act prohibiting dam construction on national park land. We are inspired to live up to our founders’ standards and to protect the environment that we recreate in so future generations can continue to enjoy it. And, these days, we are inspired to maintain opportunities for primitive and remote experiences in a world overrun by technology.
What do you think the future of public lands looks like?
The increased demand for recreation is already apparent in Colorado and has led to more hands-on management through restricted access, permitting, and fees in many of the state’s highly sought-after destinations (Maroon Bells, Hanging Lake, 14ers, and more). Without increased funding for maintenance, management of resources, and infrastructure on public lands, we will (and perhaps already have) outpace the land’s carrying capacity for human visitation and irreparably damage the mountain landscapes we cherish.
The future protection of public lands is going to be a defining moment for the Millennial and GenZ generations, which is bittersweet, since the fight is similar to what it was 100 years ago.
What’s the most important thing that people who love the outdoors need to know about how to make a difference?
Stay informed and engaged, and get involved however you can. You can make the most difference by volunteering in your own backyard. Become politically engaged by writing letters to your legislators. Attend public meetings on environmental issues and voice your concerns. Volunteer or a local trail maintenance project. Use your network to leverage support and funding for non-profits and for the land managers helping to protect the places you love.
And it’s increasingly important for all public land advocates to become more inclusive, increase access, and create a more welcoming environment for people that are not currently involved in outdoor recreation. By that we mean inviting more young people, women, people of color, and people with disabilities, to join the outdoor community.