CARBONDALE, Colorado — Perched on a blue exercise ball behind a busy desk, Clare Bastable speaks with a fierce but good-natured energy: “I don’t know what happened. At first it was a really exciting new concept, but over time it’s hard to maintain a level of commitment.” She pauses, and then says wistfully, “God, there was so much excitement around it!”
The 34-year-old program manager for the Western Conservation Foundation, which disburses grants to conservation groups, is talking about the Maroon Corps, a group she helped launch amid fanfare back in 2006, but has since left. Though the Maroon Corps is still alive, it has slipped dangerously close to the crevasse of good intentions. Its leaders continue to struggle with a common challenge: How do you get the younger, recreation-crazed generation involved in environmental activism?
Bastable doesn’t blame disengaged recreationists for the group’s troubles. But she does wonder if a measure of appreciation for the landscape and its ecosystems is lacking in today’s most ardent climbers, mountain bikers and skiers, making them less likely to fight for causes that don’t directly protect their sport of choice.
Bastable has strong ties to both the recreation and conservation camps. A dedicated mountain bike racer and backcountry skier, she has taught environmental issues at the college level. She helped shape the now-defunct Colorado-based Wilderness Education Institute, an outdoor education program designed to instill high school students with an appreciation for conservation issues. She has also served as conservation director for the venerable Colorado Mountain Club. In her experience, she says, it is easier to get gray-haired hikers to call or write Congress or the U.S. Forest Service than 30-something Lycra-clad mountain bikers. “You reach a certain threshold where I think it becomes a little bit less about the experience of enjoying nature and being outside and embracing that context, and a little bit more about being hardcore and beating this time.
“There is almost a void of (environmentally) active people in my generation,” says Bastable. “We like to get quick feedback, instant gratification. We’re an adrenaline generation.”
The Maroon Corps’ founders were well aware of these characteristics when, in the fall of 2005, they were first brought together by The Wilderness Workshop, the Roaring Fork Valley’s oldest conservation group. The original focus group included about 15 people, many of whom were recreation addicts themselves. In addition to Bastable, there was Chris Davenport, an award-wining extreme skier who’s schussed through ski-porn films by such big names as Warren Miller and Matchstick Productions; there was Peter McBride, an accomplished photojournalist, climber and adventurer; and Aron Ralston, then in the national limelight after his harrowing 2003 escape from a Utah slot canyon, during which he had to amputate his own forearm.
The focus group laid the groundwork for an organization based on its own members’ lifestyle: The younger generation does want to get involved, they believed, but it wants causes presented to it – preferably in the context of a party. “There are more than a hundred nonprofit organizations in our valley. I think it’s tough to figure out how to get involved and who to get involved with,” Bastable says. “So we thought, ‘OK, we’re just going to streamline it. We’re going to come to them.’”
Ralston called many of his friends, urging them to come to the first meeting, which was held in April 2006. At least 50 people turned out for cocktails, appetizers and a sales pitch. The group’s steering committee had joined forces with an ad-hoc group called Citizens for Roadless Area Defense, and party attendees were invited to help inventory Colorado land for the state’s roadless rule. Memories are hazy, but somewhere from 20 to 60 people turned out to assist the inventory.