Heron Szyba, CMC Sustainability Club President | February 28, 2023

The Yampa Valley is extraordinary. Our valley is home to world-renowned snow, natural aesthetic splendor, unique traditions, and Olympic prowess. The mountains, forests, wildlife, geography, and our amazing ecosystems allow this valley to flourish. Awareness and appreciation of our valley’s blessings are foundational for building a sustainable future for the coming generations to enjoy the same gifts. 

These gifts are what drew many of us to the Yampa Valley in the first place. We have so much to be grateful for and a duty to protect it. The Steamboat Springs community is passionate about the outdoors. We spend the winters on our skis, snowboards, and snowmobiles. As the snow melts, we prepare our fly fishing rods, rafts, kayaks, mountain bikes, and camping equipment for our short, but adventure-packed, summers. 

I recently became acquainted with one such community member, Cathy Neelan, a long-time Steamboat resident who recently retired from her career as an Ecologist for the United States Forest Service. Since her retirement, Cathy has continued to contribute to a sustainable future. For Cathy, sustainability is not just an idea, buzzword, or line of work. It permeates the motivation for her day-to-day life. She is passionate about her interests and initiatives in waste diversion, educational outreach, self-sufficiency, and reusing everything that is repairable.

This month, Cathy volunteered at an event hosted by the Colorado Mountain College’s (CMC) Sustainability Club. She brought her sewing machine with various supplies and spent the evening teaching students at CMC how to repair everything from socks to winter coats. After the event, Cathy mentioned, “I was so impressed to see CMC students taking action versus those that just talk about sustainability!” Since then, she has worked with myself, Heron Szyba, the club president, to raise awareness and provide the club with hands-on opportunities to take sustainability-focused actions in the community and on campus. We are grateful for Cathy’s mentorship and are excited to roll up our sleeves and get to work. 

CMC offers a Bachelor of Arts in Sustainability Studies with a robust curriculum developed and taught by inspirational faculty who lead by example. Dr. Tina Evans is the Professor of Sustainability Studies and the Sustainability Club advisor at CMC. When asked for a comment, she said, ” It’s amazing to have the sustainability club operating on our campus. It brings students together informally to learn practical skills, develop friendships and also find their voices for sustainability. It is neat to see that students are making connections in the community as well. The club and larger sustainability studies program offer places for actionable hope for the students involved and others beyond CMC. ” Working within the campus and local community while having the support of professionals like Dr. Evans and Cathy is a great start. 

At the moment, the club is still small but gaining momentum. Their immediate goals are creating a sense of community on campus, hosting engaging events, and building lasting relationships within the local community. The students in the club are passionate about a sustainable future and have a sense of duty to act on what they have been learning from professors like Dr. Evans. Most times learning the nature of our unsustainable world is uncomfortable. It is hard to unsee the obvious daily patterns of ourselves and others that keep contributing to our unsustainable paradigm. Despite this, the club members have been learning to cultivate growth mindsets and are beginning to see overwhelming problems as abundant opportunities. We have been in contact with the United States Forest Service working on hosting a presentation and open discussion to both students and the public in the auditorium before the end of the semester. The club has lots of ideas, and I’m sure we will be seeing and hearing more about them soon.

This unique valley we call our home is worth every effort to protect it. As Cathy and Dr. Evans convey, sustainability is much deeper than the publicly held view. Discussing sustainability, providing education, drafting plans, and dreaming big are essential. However, change necessitates action. We don’t have to solve everything at once, but so long as there are collective actions, there is the possibility for change. As more people learn to take personal actions, like repairing their clothing, it begins to cultivate a more sustainable future by increasing education and awareness of the issues that we are facing on a global scale.

Yes, there are many more significant concerns facing our valley from a sustainability point of view. Cathy and the Sustainability Club’s sphere of influence are still developing. However, educating and motivating the younger generations and local community has effects and potential yet to be seen. Why don’t we root out our mistakes and seek to set future generations on a better path by facing the uncomfortable truths now and acting in the present?