Every year, YVSC recognizes local businesses and community members for their efforts and work toward creating a more sustainable future. These individuals, organizations, and businesses have demonstrated what we are capable of achieving through leadership and collaboration. With a record number of 13 awards handed out this year, it is clear that our community is rising to the challenges that we are facing. This year’s categories are Sustainable Business, Shining Star, Sustainable Government Leadership, Partner of the Year, Recycler of the Year, Volunteer of the Year, Sustainable Community Leader, Lifetime Achievement, Environmental Cairn, Educator of the Year, Yampa Valley Connector, and Rising Leader. If you missed the virtual meeting, you can watch the recording here.

Shining Star – Jill Bergman

This year’s Shining Star award goes to local artist Jill Bergman. Our Shining Star award is awarded to those individuals who advance sustainability in impactful and unique ways. In recognition of the ways Jill builds a shared sense of place and community through her work we see her as an ideal recipient for this award. 

All of you – whether you know it or not – have likely found meaningful connection to the places and people of the Yampa Valley through Jill’s work. You might know Jill through her Yampa is Wild mural, the larger-than life portrayal of the ways our Yampa River meanders and flows from the Flattops to Dinosaur, creating connections between habitat, recreation, industry, and livelihoods throughout its reaches. 

Over the past year, Jill has been a vital creator of community connection at a time when isolation and fear threatened to weaken it. Her collaborative project known as the “Commitment” prints have communicated public health messages in personable and comforting ways. I’m sure all of us can attest to the ways looking into the eyes of the young cowgirl asking us to “Wear A Mask” has been a source of comfort, reminding us that, yes, wearing a mask protects ourselves and others, but thankfully we get to weather the COVID storm in Routt County. It is no surprise that the County and Steamboat Creates partnered with Jill to create our community’s COVID communications and we are all the more cohesive because of it.  

In addition to the ways Jill’s work strengthens our shared sense of community and connection to place, we at YVSC recognize and honor the ways Jill has brought her work into the service of communicating the social and ecological benefits of community reforestation and our annual “ReTree” event. Since 2016, Jill has created the annual ReTree event prints, each year focusing on different aspects of how the project builds connection and healthy ecocystems. In 2020, for instance, her print showed a young cowgirl planting a tree in an oxbow that was filled with riparian creatures. In 2021, her print communicated how the Yampa River Forest Restoration Program seeks to grow in scale, in time, providing important shading and thus protection of the river’s health. We are honored to have the opportunity to partner with an artist who is so committed to connecting our community with the valued natural environment around us and she is an important communicator of the ways healthy people and a healthy environment support the growth of one another. 

Sustainable Government Leadership – Northwest Colorado Regional Solar Partners

It is with great pleasure that we recognize the Northwest Colorado Regional Solar Partners with our award for Sustainable Government Leadership.  The Sustainable Government Leadership award recognizes our government partners and initiatives that lead by example and illustrate through action how sustainability advances our community.  This group came together to plan, develop and construct 13 new solar arrays across eight local government agencies throughout the region. Winnie DelliQuadri, Special  Projects/IGS Manager for the City of Steamboat Springs, coordinated this effort.

This amazing project included the City of Steamboat Springs, Routt County, Moffat County, the City of Craig, the Moffat County School District, and the towns of Yampa, Oak Creek, and Hayden.  

The Colorado Energy Office and the Colorado Department of Local Affairs provided critical support to the project partners.

In March 2020, the Northwest Colorado regional partners contracted with McKinstry to perform a feasibility study for solar and resiliency opportunities across 15 different sites throughout the Routt and Moffat County region. The goal of the feasibility study was to investigate opportunities to deploy ground- and roof-mounted solar arrays, and determine the potential of the solar and other resiliency improvements to help the partners accomplish the following goals:

  • Reduce energy and utility costs
  • Improve energy reliability
  • Increase resiliency across sites
  • Offset grid energy usage at each site
  • Advance the renewable energy goals of the state

In January 2021, the Northwest Regional Partners announced receipt of $2.1 million in grant funding from the Colorado Department of Local Affairs (DOLA) Energy Impact Fund to support the region’s use of renewable energy. Each partner received a share of the grant to buy its individual project payback down to 11 years. McKinstry engineered a series of solar arrays and resiliency solutions designed to meet each of the regional partners’ unique priorities, and the projects were constructed through an Energy Savings Performance Contract (EPC) with each partner.

This project shows the commitment of Northwest regional government agencies to be fiscally efficient and move toward renewable energy collaboratively in support of Colorado’s goal of being powered by 100% renewable energy by 2040.  

Individual projects ranged from $63,500 to nearly $900,000.

Partner of the Year – Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District

We are honored to present our Partner of the Year Award to the Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District in recognition of the district’s commitment to furthering adaptive and innovative water management in the Yampa Valley. Our Partner of the Year award recognizes those entities whose collaborative approach leverages the successes of many to build impacts of scale for our broader community.  

The district has partnered and shown strong leadership on many key water initiatives in the Yampa Valley. To highlight a few; the district has a seat on the steering committee for the Yampa Basin Rendezvous, a collaborative research-based conference, focused on water and climate science in the Basin organized by the district, YVSC, and other partners. The district is also a stakeholder and supporter of the Walton Creek Restoration Project which aims to restore riparian habitat, along with being involved in the Yampa River Scorecard Project and the Yampa River Integrated Water Management Plan. 

The district recently made waves by signing a 10-year contract – the first of its kind in the state of Colorado – with the Colorado Water Trust to provide water releases for environmental, instream, and recreational use in the Yampa River Basin. This contract can be used to boost streamflows in times of critical low flows. Another key project that we would like to recognize the district for, is funding the establishment of a soil moisture and climate monitoring station in the Upper Yampa River Basin. This project is a partnership with the district, YVSC and Center for Western Weather and Water Extremes. The district consistently models innovative water management by engaging and investing in local solutions and a collaborative approach to building resiliency in water resources of the Yampa Valley.

Recycler of the Year – Stantec

It is my honor to present Stantec with the Recycler of the Year award, and to recognize the efforts of Stantec’s Shelly Bonner and Carrie Sabin. Our Recycler of the Year award recognizes those entities who have gone above and beyond to advance recycling in their operations.

During the summer of 2021, Shelly and Carrie worked tirelessly to recycle over 6 tons of Stantec’s office paper from their two storage units. This was a massive effort, requiring that every file be sorted to separate plastic binder materials and metal paperclips from thousands of old paper reports. They had continuous obstacles to overcome throughout the course of the project, and through their persistent determination to recycle the material, they prevailed.

Through Stantec’s efforts, they recycled 6.25 tons of office paper  at Eagle County’s material recovery facility. Metal paper clips and binders were donated to Steamboat Creates for use in youth art programming, and their file cabinets were donated to a local resident for reuse. Stantec’s efforts to recycle the paper, instead of landfilling it, avoided 39.13 MTCo2e (metric tons of CO2 equivalent), which is equivalent to removing 8 passenger vehicles from the road for an entire year, or avoiding emissions from burning 4,404 gallons of gasoline. These impressive results would not have been possible without the determination of Shelly and Carrie to uphold Stantec’s commitment to sustainability and push forward in the face of much adversity. 

Sustainable Business – BAR-U-EAT

This year’s Sustainable Business Award goes to Bar-U-Eat. The Sustainable Business Award is awarded to those businesses that both define and advance sustainability through their ethos, products and process.

Bar-U-Eat, owned by Sam Nelson and Jason Friday, was started in 2019 with the goal of providing healthy, organic snack bars while accomplishing environmentally sustainable practices, making this business a deserving recipient of this year’s award. These bars are not only delicious with locally sourced ingredients, but they come tucked into 100% compostable packaging from the adhesive down to the ink. Their environmental ethics awareness does not end there, Bar-U-Eat donates 1% of their proceeds to environmental nonprofits to keep the goodness flowing in more ways than one. This business is also creating partnerships with big name brands like Prana to advocate for more sustainable packaging.

They continue to strive for excellence by setting ambitious goals such as powering their manufacturing facility by 100% renewable energies by 2028, and implementing a greywater system to reduce water consumption by 75% by 2025. The bars made by this company are promoted by endless outdoor adventuring done by the many consumers of their snacks that have been gaining popularity far beyond the Yampa Valley. This business is truly doing their part and then some.

Educator of the Year – Kristyl Boies

It is our pleasure to award this year’s Educator of the Year award to Kristyl Boies. Our Educator of the Year award recognizes those educators in our community who go above and beyond their classrooms to bring sustainability alive for our community’s students. Kristyl is in her 21st year as an educator, and her 4th year in Steamboat Springs. Her first 17 years were served in Pueblo, Colorado, and she now serves as the Advanced Learning Coordinator for grades 6-8 at Steamboat Springs Middle School and Sleeping Giant School. Her goal is to inspire and empower all 120 Gifted & Talented middle school students to be agents of positive change, particularly in regard to sustainability. Kristyl partnered with YVSC’s Rising Leaders in Sustainability program because it was the perfect opportunity to promote creative problem solving. 

As the middle school program evolves, she is finding that her advanced learners are concerned about the future and are motivated to help their community and beyond. So far,
some of the 8th grade students have helped to build awareness by doing the following: building a trash sculpture to be displayed with attention-getting statistics; writing an article to hopefully be printed in the Steamboat Pilot & Today; running a recycling competition at lunch; and conducting interviews and creating a documentary-style video. Students will gradually work their way from building awareness to creating prototypes and creative solutions, to putting their ideas into action.  By next school year, who knows where they will take it?

Volunteer of the Year – Mary Ann Ninger

It is our honor to present Mary Ann Ninger with the Volunteer of the Year award. While all of our volunteers are incredibly valuable to our work at YVSC and our community’s sustainability efforts, our Volunteer of the Year award recognizes those individuals who have gone above and beyond the call of service to advance sustainability in the community.

Mary Ann cares deeply about Zero Waste, and it shows through her actions. Volunteering her services to supervise Zero Waste stations at the Mainstreet Steamboat Farmers Market throughout the summer, Mary Ann helped us divert more than 1,500 pounds of materials from the landfill through recycling and composting. She helped to educate Farmers Market attendees about Zero Waste, recycling, and composting by answering countless questions from locals and tourists.

While Mary Ann spent many a Saturday morning (11 to be exact!) at the Farmers Market Zero Waste stations this past summer, her Zero Waste volunteerism goes beyond that. She has volunteered at YVSC’s Recycling Drop-Off events for years and has already offered to help at the new Yampa Valley Recycles Depot. One of the tell-tale signs of a zero-waste enthusiast is that they take photos of innovative Zero Waste infrastructure they see during their travels, which is what Mary Ann did during her travels last year to Iceland. Given her recent retirement, we hope that Mary Ann will continue to travel and keep bringing home Zero Waste ideas to help move us toward our diversion goals. We at YVSC are grateful for your support, Mary Ann, and appreciate all that you do to advance Zero Waste in the Yampa Valley.

Sustainable Community Leader – Brown Ranch Strategic Committee

This year’s Sustainable Community Leader award goes to the Brown Ranch Development Project, with Sheila Henderson accepting the award on behalf of this unique community-based initiative. The Sustainable Community Leader award recognizes those entities who help define and build sustainability in the Yampa Valley by advancing cross-cutting initiatives with sustainability at their core. 

While development and sustainability are often portrayed to be at odds with one another, where no-growth is most frequently heralded as the ideal sustainability outcome, if we recognize the value and strength of community in advancing sustainable futures, we quickly realize the limitations of this assumption. In recent years, the affordable housing crisis has surfaced as a barrier to retaining locals and recruiting professionals and families. From its inception, starting with the purchase and donation of the Brown Ranch land to the Housing Authority, to the strategic decision to make the planning process community-based, Brown Ranch stands to be a groundbreaking illustration of what sustainable development ought to be in the Yampa Valley. 

It is our pleasure to have Sheila Henderson, previously the ED of Integrated Community and currently serving as the Brown Ranch project manager, accept the award on behalf of all contributors to this monumental initiative. We also honor the opportunity to recognize Sheila’s thoughtful and deliberate leadership as a strength in this initiative, where she has been a major thought-leader in creating a process so centered on community, inclusion and diverse representation. She and Jason Peasley, ED of YVHA, have taken many steps to set Brown Ranch on a unique and impactful course: they helped recruit and select a diverse group of Brown Ranch Steering Committee members, which is comprised of 20 locals who range in age, profession and expertise. They have also set up focus teams, each of which are charged with values in relation to opportunities associated with the overarching components of the project, including infrastructure, project economics, housing demand, long-term stewardship and sustainability, and urban design. We have all seen that the decision to make the process so community-centered and anchored in stakeholder feedback can be more time intensive, but as Sheila and Jason say, the Brown Ranch project is about building community, so our community perspectives, needs and values should be integrated throughout the process.

Lifetime Achievement – Geoff and Betsy Blakeslee

Our first Lifetime Achievement award this year goes to Geoff and Betsy Blakeslee. The Lifetime Achievement award recognizes those individuals whose years of professional service have helped build the road we at YVSC and our community continue to walk forward upon in our endeavors to sustain the rich cultural and natural heritage of the Yampa Valley. Geoff and Betsy have contributed more than two decades of service to the people and nature of the Yampa Valley and are thus important recipients of this award and recognition.  

Geoff and Betsy were the stewards and managers of The Nature Conservancy’s Carpenter Ranch outside of Hayden for 23 years before retiring and were true leaders in the community bringing people and nature and agriculture together. Geoff and Betsy returned to the Yampa Valley in 1996 after The Nature Conservancy acquired the historic ranch from the Carpenter family. Their life’s work from that point on was to turn the Carpenter Ranch into a showcase for how ranching and conservation can work together, and how connection to nature can inspire people of all ages to action.  

In their time on the ranch, they hosted thousands of visitors such as school groups, volunteers, civic leaders, birders, and water and wildlife managers.  Colorado Governors and US Senators would make the ranch a regular stop on their northwest Colorado visits. While The Nature Conservancy’s mission was and is centered around conservation, the Blakeslee’s understood that weaving in history and art could also bring people together. They helped restore the ranch buildings and made them into a living museum and classroom.  They brought artists to the ranch to help them be inspired by nature and to spread the wonders of the Yampa River to new audiences.  

Perhaps most important, they focused on inspiring and educating children through the welcoming embrace of the ranch itself.  The chance to learn about the life history of the endangered Colorado pikeminnow, to hear the rattling sound of a sandhill crane or the bugling of an elk, or to follow animal tracks in the snow.  Wonderful windows into the natural world opened by Geoff and Betsy.

Geoff also became a passionate and effective voice for the Yampa River, serving as environmental representative to the Basin Roundtable and becoming the Yampa representative on the Colorado Water Conservation Board and eventually the chair. Geoff’s common sense perspective and roots in the ranching community combined with a true passion for nature made him a most effective advocate for our River basin.

Geoff and Betsy continue to give back to the community from their new adopted homeplace in south Routt County.  They are both wonderful volunteers for YVSC’s Retree event, with Besty showcasing her master gardener skills. Geoff recently stepped up to join the Routt County Climate Action collaborative board. And, while much of their attention is focused on their own growing cohort of grandchildren, we know they will not miss a chance to help other children of all ages find their connection to nature and become her advocates. 

Lifetime Achievement – CJ Mucklow

Our second Lifetime Achievement award goes to CJ Mucklow, who worked as Northwestern Regional Director and Interim Director of Field Operations for CSU Extension prior to his retirement at the end of 2021. Over his 35-year Extension career at the intersections of agriculture and conservation, CJ has left a lasting legacy that so many of us and our future generations will continue to reap the benefits of. In Todd Hagenbuch’s words, who worked with CJ for many years at Extension, “more acres of land in Northwest Colorado have been positively impacted by CJ and his influence than by any individual landowner aside from the US government.” To merit such a statement of recognition is indeed a tremendous and lasting accomplishment, making CJ a deserving recipient of our Lifetime Achievement award.

CJ’s career in the Yampa Valley began with an internship at a ranch known as Frye Place near Steamboat Lake while he was an undergraduate at CSU. After obtaining his undergraduate degree in Animal Science and Master’s of Agriculture, CJ soon moved back to Routt County to begin his 20-year stretch at CSU Extension as an Agricultural Agent. One of his early accomplishments in that role was his facilitation of research with an agricultural economist at a time when the County Commissioners were grappling with how best to preserve family agricultural lands at a time when local housing prices were increasing, and there was real incentive for cash poor and land rich ranchers to sell parcels to a developer. Called the “value of the view,” the research project examined the value tourists place on the “valley view” – the iconic connected open-spaces of the Yampa Valley –  when they visit our valley. The research project suggested that guests are willing to spend more in a community that values conserved lands, and the actual value these tourists place on that ‘view’ surpassed the economic value derived from the land by the landowner. This project helped start a conversation that asked, “How do we help landowners capture some of this ‘value of the view’ in order to afford to keep the lands working and undeveloped?” This question went on to create the lasting legacy of conserved lands through the Purchase of Development Rights program – in place through 2025 – which since its inception has played a critical role in the completion of 65 conservation easements, conserving more than 60,000 acres throughout the county.  

In addition to these incredible contributions to land conservation throughout the valley, CJ also created the first “A Guide to Rural Living and Small Scale Agriculture” in 1992, which is now in its third printing. Seeing the impacts new residents were having on the land and people of the valley, CJ created the first Guide to help educate new landowners. While the information lives online now, these printed books were the first ‘textbooks’ many new landowners had to refer to. Topics included: How to plan your septic tank, what the fence laws were, how water rights worked, and how to care for your land, all significant topics that helped promote sustainability in the Yampa Valley. CSU Extension continues to share this important resource with people moving into the Yampa Valley today.

Mucklow also helped create, and initially managed, the Yampa Valley Beef Co-op, which was created to keep beef in the valley and promote a grass-fed product to tourists and locals alike. At one time, the Co-op was selling hamburger meat to buyers like Steamboat Resort, and part of the proceeds of every sale went back to conservation and the members who sold beef into the program and had a commitment to land preservation. While the co-op isn’t around anymore, ranchers continue to talk about how great it would be to have this in place today.

What is noteworthy about these accomplishments is their ongoing contribution to all of our shared efforts to sustain the cultural and natural heritage of the Yampa Valley. What is noteworthy about CJ, as a person, is how through his years of work, his humility and his careful attention to working with individual landowners throughout the Yampa Valley and beyond, CJ illustrated that you don’t have to have been born here or actually own a big piece of property in the area to be one of the foremost stewards of the local landscape: one can, through their teachings and actions, influence conservation and sustainability projects in a huge way. 

Environmental Cairn – Yampa River Fund

Our 2021 Environmental Cairn award goes to the Yampa River Fund. The Environmental Cairn Award recognizes projects or initiatives that help chart a path forward for a sustainable future in the Yampa Valley.  The Yampa River Fund is helping to chart the path forward for a healthy and vibrant Yampa River.

The Yampa River Fund was launched in 2019 as a collaborative effort involving more than 20 partners in the Yampa Valley. The Fund was established to create a sustainable funding source for river restoration efforts, addressing the challenges facing the river and the people who use it and value it. Climate change and increasing development and human use have led to decreasing flows and increasing water temperatures, forcing more regular closures of the river to recreational use and threatening fish and other aquatic life.  The Yampa River Fund makes grants each year to priority conservation and restoration projects that help maintain and improve river health. Projects such as purchasing water to release from Stagecoach reservoir at times of low flows, planting trees to help shade the river, improving recreational facilities, and supporting river restoration projects on the mainstem of the Yampa and on its tributaries.

More than 20 local organizations currently  serve on the Board of the River Fund, representing an “all of community” approach to protecting the River.  And perhaps most inspiring, local community donors and organizations stepped up to capitalize the endowment for the Fund, helping to guarantee a sustained investment in the River’s health for years to come.  

The Yampa River is one of the most treasured assets in the Yampa Valley for residents and visitors alike. Thanks to the foresight of the funders and organizers of the Yampa River Fund, we can see a path to a sustainable, healthy River. The Nature Conservancy was the driving force for establishing the fund, and we also salute them for all their efforts. 

Yampa Valley Connector – Sasha Nelson

Sasha Nelson, a Yampa Valley native, is our recipient of this year’s Yampa Valley Connector Award. The Yampa Valley Connector award recognizes those individuals and entities that strengthen connections and collaborations throughout the Yampa Valley region through their work and service. Sasha is deserving of this award in recognition of her leadership and impact on a just workforce transition and economic development in a rapidly evolving post carbon regional economy.  

Sasha is the Director of Workforce Training and Community Programming at the Colorado Northwestern Community College in Craig. One of the core values of the college is community involvement and development with a goal of creating and nurturing meaningful and mutually beneficial partnerships with the Northwest Colorado community and beyond.  Sasha lives this value!  

Sasha is an inspirational influencer, change maker and community builder! She is extremely knowledgeable about economic activities and is an amazing connector for those essential one-on-one relationships that make our region so wonderful.   

As we know, the Yampa Valley is home to two coal-fired power plants and four coal mines that collectively employ almost 1,000 workers and pay nearly $20 million in property taxes annually to local districts. With these facilities expected to close between 2025 and 2031, Sasha is dedicated to helping our coal communities and workers transition to a prosperous future.  

Sasha’s leadership and dedication to community was exhibited in her taking on the Region’s Upskilling, Reskilling, and Next-skilling Workers Grant application funded through Colorado HB21-1264. Sasha recognized the need for an inter-agency agreement between CNCC and CMC to make sure institutional boundaries would not restrict opportunities for all of the Yampa Valley’s workforce development. While this grant application was not approved, Sasha’s work has set the stage for future workforce development opportunities when they arise.

Sasha is also an insightful partner in the ongoing U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA) grant funded Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade (OEDIT) and the Colorado Department of Local Affairs (DOLA) Rural Resiliency and Recovery Roadmaps Northwest Colorado Regional Team. A working group focused on ways the region can advance and realize it’s short- and long-term economic resiliency strategies.

Sasha also serves on the board of our Yampa Valley electric provider, the Yampa Valley Electric Association.

Rising Leader – Sidney Barbier

We are honored to announce the recipient of YVSC’s first-ever “Rising Leader” award, this award recognizes young members of the Yampa Valley community who have demonstrated outstanding leadership and commitment to local climate action and sustainability initiatives. 

Our 2021 Rising Leader is Sidney Barbier. This award is in recognition of her exceptional leadership and dedication to pushing forward zero-waste initiatives in the Yampa Valley community. During the Summer of 2021, Sidney joined YVSC as a summer intern where she worked under the mentorship of YVSC Waste Diversion Director, Winn Cowman, to increase waste diversion rates at zero-waste events throughout the summer. Across 20 events, Sidney helped Yampa Valley Sustainability Council divert over 2,000 pounds of waste and achieve an average waste diversion rate of 70%. Sidney’s internship project focused on monitoring waste diversion behavior, improving signage at waste bins, educating vendors about compostable/recyclable products, and creating a volunteer training video. Not to mention hours spent on-the-ground manning waste stations and volunteers during the Steamboat Springs Farmer’s Markets and other events throughout the past summer.

Beyond Sidney’s work with YVSC, she earned a Girl Scout Gold Award for her project that focused on improving waste diversion at local Colorado State Parks through staff orientation, developing new signage, and public education campaigns. Additionally, for her Senior Capstone project at Steamboat Mountain School Sidney produced a mini docuseries that detailed the product life cycle and environmental/societal impacts of petroleum based ski-wax. Sidney is now in her first year at the University of Denver where she is skiing collegiately for their Cross Country Ski Team, studying viola at the Lamont School of Music, all while working to pursue her passion in environmental science. This is an impressive sustainability resume to date, and at 18 years old it makes these accomplishments all the more impressive.