Current Happenings

Montezuma Land Conservancy – Fozzie’s Farm Ag Immersion Program

Be part of the future of agriculture – join Fozzie Farm’s Ag Immersion Program! June 6 – 30th, 2022. Montezuma County high school students will: earn a stipend and school credit; meet new friends; explore careers in ag and conservation; visit regional farms and ranches. Learn more and apply today – space is limited!

Dolores River Boating Advocates- Youth & Family Boating Trips

Want to go boating? Join DRBA for day trips on the Dolores River! This program’s focus is to provide opportunities for children and families in our community to boat and learn about the Dolores. Experience the natural beauty of the river first hand, learn about responsible recreational use, and the value of the beautiful Dolores River! Sign up at the Cortez Recreation Center. Cost is $15. 2022 trips are scheduled for April 30th, May 1st and May 7th.
**NOTE: these dates are tentative and dependent on boatable river flows. Trips may be cancelled if water levels are too low.**

SJMA Adventure Camp

August 1st – 5th
Engage in a week long adventure with San Juan Mountain Association! Middle and High School students will explore surrounding trails and waterways. In addition to spending days packed full of exploration of the rugged terrain of the San Juan Mountains, students will have the opportunity to spend the night in the backcountry. Participants will also learn about plants, flowers, local forests, camping basics, and Leave No Trace ethics. They 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 learn a little bit more about themselves. Learn more HERE.

Montezuma School to Farm – MSTFP Garden Explorers

In this two week summer program, students will enjoy four days of hands-on activities like planting, harvesting, cooking and games. Sessions run June 6th – 17th at Cortez Middle School and June 20th – July 1st at the Mancos School Garden, 8:00am-3pm. Please see the registration link below for more details. It is open to Kindergarten through 8th graders. Space is limited so register early! Please click HERE for more information!

Medicine Horse Center – Summer Enrichment

Join Medicine Horse Center this summer in their beautiful outdoor setting for a series of Summer Programs! Programs available for ages 7 – 10 include Creative Outdoors on June 14 and Adventure Arts on June 29. For ages 11 – 14, programs include Ranch Days June 8 & 9, Hide & Stitch June 22 & 23, and Creative with Clay July 13 & 14. Please visit their website for more details and to register!

Paddlesports Clinic with DRBA & The Gear Lending Library

Did you know Cortez has a gear lending library? Learn how to use kayaks and paddle boards on flat water at our paddlesports clinic! DRBA will provide some instruction on paddling, water safety, and responsible recreating. GLL provides the gear. Scheduled for July 16, 2022. Contact Alana Bond at or Kristen Tworek at for more info.

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.”