Current Happenings

River Camp with Dolores River Boating Advocates

7th – 9th graders

Overnight camp (3 days, 2 nights – June 3-5 OR June 6-8) along the West Fork of the Dolores River. Raft, camp, fish, hike, and explore the beautiful Dolores River Valley. Learn about the natural ecosystem, history and culture of the area. FREE to youth entering 7th, 8th and 9th grades in Fall 2024 in Montezuma and Dolores counties. No experience or gear necessary to participate – all gear, food and activities are included. A great opportunity to build friendships, learn, grow, and have fun outdoors this summer! Apply today – space is limited! To learn more contact Alana, 808-443-9250. Application deadline: April 30.

Fozzie’s Farm ARC Internships – High School

Fozzie’s Farm ARC – Agriculture, Recreation & Conservation – Internships provide local high school students the opportunity to engage in paid, hands-on learning experiences at Fozzie’s Farm and other sites throughout the area. Program includes career exploration in outdoor industries including agriculture, resource management, recreation and conservation. All youth in Montezuma County are invited to apply.

2 week options include:

  • June 10-21 for Native American students of all tribal affiliations
  • July 22-Aug 2 open to all high school students

Students will gain valuable leadership skills, explore local farms and conservation sites, learn about outdoor recreation opportunities, meet local professionals, and gain insight into careers and education.

For full participation, students earn a weekly stipend of $135 and may be eligible to earn school credit.

Deadline to apply is April 19, 2024. Apply here! Space is limited!

Southwest Conservation Corps Middle School Crew

Southwest Conservation Corps is offering a 2-week Service Learning Crew (SLC), which connects youth to their communities through meaningful outdoor-based service projects, education, and group recreation activities. Youth volunteer their time on a crew led by 2 adult crew leaders.

Dates:  July 8-18 or July 22-Aug 1.

Requirements:  Youth must commit to a two-week session. Paperwork and volunteer forms must be completed prior to program start. Preference given to residents of Montezuma County.

Click here to apply!

SJMA Junior Naturalist Field Camp

1st – 6th graders

July 22nd – July 26th, 2024

SJMA Junior Naturalist Field Camps (JNFC) are week-long camps where elementary-aged children (rising 1st – 6th graders) will spend time learning about the natural world. They get to play with old friends and make new ones, too. Campers leave with memories, new friends, and a better understanding of the world in which they live.

Learn more HERE.

SJMA Adventure Camp:  Desert to Tundra Expedition

Middle & High School

July 29th – August 2nd, 2024

This 5-day Summer Adventure Camp is for middle and high school students to explore surrounding trails and waterways. Students will have the opportunity to connect with like-minded friends, explore the rugged terrain of the San Juan Mountains, and spend a night camping in the mountains.

In addition to learning about plants, flowers and local forests, camping basics and Leave No Trace ethics, kids will have the opportunity to gain leadership and communication skills while connecting with like-minded friends and SJMA Naturalists. And who knows? Maybe they will even learn a little more about themselves.

Learn more HERE.

High Desert Devo Mountain Biking Programs 

All youth

High Desert Devo High Desert Devo is offers coached, group mountain bike rides for youth in Montezuma County ages 5 through high school from April to October. They offer scholarships for registration, and for all gear! If you have a youth interested in learning how to mountain bike, check out their website for more information and to register.

Dolores River Boating Advocates offers in-class, virtual, or field trip learning opportunities about the Dolores River Watershed. They offer tailored lessons for upper elementary, middle and high school students. Programs are facilitated by quality educators and experts in the field. Learn more HERE, or contact Alana.

San Juan Mountains Association School Programs

SJMA provides authentic learning experiences for all grade levels, preschool through college. They connect classrooms to the outdoors, knowing that we learn themost from experiences that reach us deeply. Classroom presentations and field trips to public lands available – choose from a preset curriculum or design your own! Learn more about SJMA’s School Programs HERE.

Medicine Horse Center offers programs for all ages, all of which include partnering with horses, expressive arts and stewardship projects. A.W.A.R.E/Youth Leadership works with middle school students to cultivate awareness, strengthen positive behaviors, and build collaboration, trust, and effective communication skills. In Transitions, youth transitioning from 5th to 6th grades or 8th to 9th grades work with the group and horses to learn coping and stress regulation skills, practice ways to make new friends and relate to others, and acquire new life skills to help navigate the challenges of a new school environment. Book Buddies is an outdoor animal-facilitated literacy program. Learn more HERE, or contact Medicine Horse Center.

Fozzie’s Farm, a program of Montezuma Land Conservancy, connects people to the land and our agricultural heritage and inspires them to take action to protect and enhance it. Fozzie’s Farm staff and educators collaborate to design standards-based, experiential field lessons for all ages. Topics and programs can include:  farming and conservation practices that support soil health, supporting biodiversity and wildlife habitat, efficient use of natural resources, weather and climate change monitoring, and so much more! Learn more HERE, or contact Jay.

MIC Recommendations for Employers working with Youth – Do you have youth working for you in paid, volunteer, or intern positions? MIC has come up with some recommendations for hiring, onboarding, and hosting youth that you may find helpful. Check out the link above and let us know what you think!

Stories of the Coalition

San Juan Mountains Association Adventure Camp & Forest Fridays
Adriana Stimax, Education Program Director

It’s the end of the week, I’m bone tired, there’s smoke in the air and everyone has huge grins stretching ear to ear. It was the last Friday of summer before school and I was on top of Centennial Peak with my coworker and a group of teenagers. It was the finale of our week long Adventure Camp. We had spent the week learning, hiking, and paddling through the landscape of the La Plata Mountains while connecting these teens to the public lands that are practically out their back door.

There were a lot of firsts for all of us that week – first time on a paddleboard, first time on top of a mountain, first time launching a summer camp for Montezuma county. I had been so worried about how I would be able to launch a brand new program in the time of a pandemic. I realized, however, that these types of activities are needed now more than ever. The pandemic has driven many of us to the outdoors seeking safe ways to interact, but I’m not talking about that.

Before any of us had ever heard of “social distancing” or associated ‘Corona’ with anything other than an adult beverage, researchers demonstrated the importance of kids spending active time outside. One sobering study found that American children spend on average only 4-7 minutes a day being active outdoors while another found they are healthiest when they spend 4-6 hours outside. This discrepancy is alarming. Some economists estimate the health effects from such a sedentary lifestyle so early on could cost our nation billions of dollars in health care.

In this way, the pandemic has created an opportunity for positive change. Across the country, thousands of teachers have taken their classes outside. Schools have started to invest in “outdoor classrooms”. In our little corner of Colorado, San Juan Mountains Association has been partnering with Montezuma Land Conservancy and the Montezuma Inspire Coalition to bring outdoor education and recreation to kids throughout Montezuma County. We’ve launched weekly programs such as Forest Fridays in Mancos when local schools are not in session, with more programs in the works. Access to high quality outdoor activities should not be a privilege, but rather a fundamental part of being human. I am hopeful that when it’s finally time to put the masks away that we continue on the trail to an outdoor oriented community.

Medicine Horse Center  – Why Horses?
Lynn Howarth, Executive Director 

Through Montezuma Inspire Coalition (MIC), Medicine Horse Center has added the Natural Leaders Program to its family of youth programs offered to our local community. This equine-assisted experiential learning program partners with local middle schools to bring students out to the ranch to learn about themselves and challenges students to improve communication skills, build on strengths, demonstrate respect and empathy, focus on accountability and engage in critical thinking.

Why Horses You May Ask?
Horses respond to our behavior patterns and provide us with clear and honest feedback. Horses also impart physical changes to our bodies naturally lowing our heart rate and blood pressure while requiring us to be calm and in the moment. When students interact with horses they also learn important lessons about relationships and non-verbal communication in a non-judgmental and patient way.

Each week students join the staff and horses at Medicine Horse to explore who they are and what they bring to this world,. By empowering each individual with skills related to communication, connection and consent, students learn to develop the tools necessary to recognize and process emotions in a safe outdoor environment.

In order for a horse to willingly be in the presence of a human, we humans must be congruent between our feelings and our actions. We can ‘put a happy face on’ when we deal with each other, but a horse knows what we truly feel inside and responds to those emotions. Many middle school students who participate in our programs share that they feel stressed, alone and judged; they are afraid to be their ‘authentic self’ with others. By interacting with horses we can gain profound insights into ourselves. We can explore our strengths and our challenges, our alignment with our values and intentions, and the intrusion of old thinking and behavior habits. Through our programs, staff and horses help youth explore and build healthy behaviors and thoughts.

Through this and other programs at Medicine Horse, youth learn that caring for animals and our environment translates to caring for oneself and for each other. The empathic connection between horses and youth builds upon the values of shared experience and emotional responsibility. The Natural Leaders Program helps build a path to a hopeful, connected future.

Growing Relationships at Fozzie’s Farm
Jay Loschert, Outreach and Education Coordinator

In conservation, things rarely go according to plan. When Montezuma Land Conservancy (MLC) first devised the Agriculture Immersion Program for youth, the goal was to provide hands-on farm and ranch experiences at Fozzie’s Farm, which is owned and managed by MLC for education and outreach. It seemed like a great way to introduce young people to jobs in the outdoors and begin to instill in them a sense of why land conservation matters. Thankfully we were not so focused that we missed a much larger, more valuable opportunity.

Marissa Moore is a student at Southwest Open School (SWOS) in Cortez, an alternative charter school that offers students experiential learning and a real sense of community. In the first year of the summer Agriculture Immersion Program, Marissa struck me as someone ready to participate and learn. Several weeks into the six-week program, she and I were walking across a pasture en route to adjust the irrigation water. Out of curiosity I asked her how she came to be a SWOS-ian. Her story and her quiet, thoughtful leadership style impressed me.

In the following weeks MLC staff began formulating a plan with Marissa to expand opportunities for her. She shared her passion for education and improving the lives of tribal youth on the Ute Mountain Ute reservation. Though an enrolled member of the Northern Cheyenne and Missouri-Otoe tribes, her time spent in Towoac, the only town on the reservation, created a desire to instill hope in youth there. Working closely with SWOS staff, we settled on a plan for a part-time internship for Marissa that helped her meet graduation requirements, pursue her interests, and provided MLC with brand new perspectives on our youth programs.

Thanks to Marissa’s input and the culture of SWOS that emphasizes social/emotional skills and character development, our focus for the summer Ag Immersion Program has changed dramatically. Yes, we still provide youth with job skills, exposure to careers in science and agriculture, and teach the value of conservation. But now our goal is to build relationships, discover hidden potential, and foster personal growth. The farming and connecting with the land are important parts of our work, but it’s not the priority. When young people have the chance to take on a challenge with a supportive team and caring adults, amazing things happen, especially when caring for the land is involved.

After working with Marissa and the other youth from SWOS, we found our original plan wasn’t big enough. We’ve since learned to dream big, to focus on relationships, and to always be ready to listen. Sometimes plans get tossed out the window, and that’s okay.

A Rancher on the Rise – Southwest Conservation Corps Internship
By Erika Alvero

Leila Watkins has known she wants to pursue agriculture for as long as she can remember.

So this past summer, she spent her days fencing and herding cattle and goats out on the McAfees’ family farm in Lewis, through an internship offered by the Southwest Conservation Corps. It was physical labor, but she loved every second.

“This internship that I did over the summer, it really just drove that home, that’s what I want to do with my life,” she said.

The idea for this particular internship came about through the Montezuma Inspire Coalition as a means of offering “progressive successive opportunities,” said Teresa DiTore, youth programs manager for SCC, a MIC partner. It was primarily funded through Great Outdoors Colorado, although the McAfees brought Leila on a bit earlier on a contractual basis.

Chuck McAfee was especially keen on giving a young woman the change to assist with ranching operations on their 2,300-acre parcel, where they now focus on growing grasses for grazing.

“I think it’s an opportunity for young women to learn more about ranching and farming,” he said.

Leila had been around livestock and cattle since she was young, helping out around her uncle’s ranch in Mancos. Matt Keefauver, the principal at SWOS, approached her last spring about the internship opportunity, and after interviewing with her new employers, she got the job.
Although the internship gave her a lot of autonomy and responsibility, Leila also was able to learn from two other ranching pros: Sheldonna
Zwicker and Sarah Bangert. Their day-to-day operations varied, ranging from working with Sarah’s goats to herding cattle and fencing with Sheldonna. Sometimes they would work on foot, while other times Leila could be found on horseback.

Leila was hard-working and resourceful, Sheldonna said. Serving as a mentor also made Sheldonna realize the value of passing on skills — even those that can seem like second nature to a seasoned rancher.

“They’re skills they can take somewhere else,” Sheldonna said.

Leila also helped Sarah monitor utilization cages, small wire enclosures that allow farmers to evaluate plant growth and soil fertility without fear of deer or other grazers destroying the crop.

“It was definitely a little drier this year than what past years’ data has shown,” she said. “And so I learned how to look for that, and what to look for, like look for the coverage, the different kinds of plants that are in the cage that are doing better than others.”

Sarah Bangert, who does environmental consulting along with running a goat grazing business, said that Leila’s drive and ability to self-manage were crucial.

“Both of us do a lot of work by ourselves, and so really what we need is someone who can come in here, we can give them a task and they can use their deductive reasoning to get said task done,” she said. “Even if it’s not a system that’s totally spelled out in a manual, they can still figure it out. And Leila was definitely that person.”

Finding ranching and farming opportunities for young people is especially critical at this juncture in time, Sarah said.

“The agriculture world is facing basically an emergency, where the average age of a rancher is over 65 years old,” she said. “We’re not going to be able to continue to support a growing human population and grow the food that we need if the younger generation can’t get into ranching.”

Leila’s now in her senior year at SWOS, and continues to work part-time at the McAfees’ farm when she is free. She’s planning on someday pursuing equine science.

“I want to be able to help other people get through the things that life brings, using pet therapy or animal therapy, but mostly using horses because they really, really do help,” Leila said. “I want to pursue that as a career and pursue horse work as a career.”