Funder Spotlight: Celebrating Colorado’s Rivers and The VF Foundation’s Commitment to Community Impact

Erika Winton
|March 14, 2022

In celebration of International Day of Action For Rivers the Conservation Lands Foundation shines our Funder Spotlight on The VF Foundation. Thanks to their financial support, our grassroots partners engage local communities to help ensure Colorado’s rivers continue to provide clean water, protect wildlife, and offer recreational opportunities so that people from all backgrounds have the opportunity to experience and enjoy them.

The VF Foundation has supported our Colorado-based work since 2019. This includes advancing community-based conservation across the West Slope with our partners including the Dolores River Boating Advocates, Southwest Colorado Canyons Alliance, Western Slope Conservation Center, San Luis Valley Ecosystem Council, Colorado Canyons Association, Friends of Browns Canyon, and Friends of the Yampa.

The VF Foundation’s investments in movements that create a more equitable and sustainable world is creating a “ripple effect for good” on Colorado’s rivers. Here’s how:

Dolores River Boating Advocates: Dolores River, Southwestern Colorado

Dolores River Boating Advocates River School

In 2021, Dolores River Boating Advocates received an Innovative Environmental Education Program Award from the Colorado Alliance for Environmental Education for its River School program. Serving youth and families from Colorado’s Montezuma and Dolores Counties, this program offers opportunities to experience the Dolores River through one-day river trips, in class lessons, and field trips. Youth learn river safety skills and Leave-No-Trace ethics, are introduced to river ecology, aquatic species and watersheds, see how local communities are tied to the Dolores River, and experience whitewater rafting in a thrilling yet safe environment.

The River School starts with the premise that river rafting in Colorado—an iconic outdoor activity—is not just for people who can afford specialized equipment and skills. This program is designed to remove these barriers, create access to the river, and help foster new river stewards among a broader demographic. Since 2018, the River School has engaged more than 250 youth and family members from the communities of Cortez, Dolores, Mancos, Towaoc, and Dove Creek. Recently, the program expanded to engage a high school youth leadership group and the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe to incorporate Indigenous knowledge and perspective.

Colorado Canyons Association: Dominguez-Escalante, McInnis Canyons and Gunnison Gorge National Conservation Areas

Colorado Canyons Association

The Colorado Canyons Association inspires an appreciation for the outdoors with place-based experiential youth education programs. Founded in 2017, the Colorado Canyons Association’s river program focuses on STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and math) and helping to develop key life skills such as team building, self-confidence, and leadership abilities. With a priority on reaching students who may not otherwise be able to access public lands and waters, STEAM has expanded exponentially, featuring Spanish-speaking guides and serving 555 students in 2021 (no small feat given the pandemic!).

The river program was recently enhanced through the creation of Catalpa Camp, a fully functioning outdoor education camp along the Ruby-Horsethief stretch of the Colorado River. Designed to bring largely under-resourced high school students into the outdoors for leadership development and STEAM-based outdoor education, the space serves as a literal outdoor classroom and shelter from potential storms, so the learning (and fun) can continue regardless of the weather.

Western Slope Conservation Center: North Fork Valley

The Western Slope Conservation Center sustains a team of River Watch volunteers who collect and test North Fork River water samples from an established network of stream stations every month. A Colorado Parks and Wildlife lab analyzes the samples for various chemicals including those that have been associated with mining, wastewater treatment, and agriculture, such as arsenic, ammonia and selenium.

This work is critically important in the North Fork Valley, a region sometimes referred to as Colorado’s “Provence,” due to the area’s organic farms, wineries, and sustainable agriculture traditions connected to public lands. The data helps community members understand various changes in the watershed, how North Fork water quality compares to state stream standards, and identify possible solutions for long-term protection of water quality in the North Fork and Lower Gunnison watersheds. “Keep the North Fork Fruitful” is one of the group’s recent initiatives designed to do just that--grow a broad coalition of people to diversifying the local economy, advance renewable energy, foster outdoor recreation and protect public lands for the long-term.