Conservation for the Adrenaline Crowd

Can the Red Bull generation go green?


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.

Nolan Patrick Veesart
Nolan Patrick Veesart
Sep 30, 2009 09:30 AM
Good article. Thank you. The "Red Bull" generation can and will go green - but probably not many will until they are older. The desire for instant gratification and fast results are not unique to this generation, or to any generation for that matter; it is simply a trait of youth. When you sign up as a conservationist, you are in it for the long haul. It generally takes years - decades - to accomplish anything of great import. Even the victories are temporary and often the same battles get fought over and over and over...Patience is required and patience something you learn. However, it is very important to reach out to the younger generation. By doing so you are laying a foundation upon which future work will be done. All the "geezers" that now attend the public hearings and sit on the obscure committees were once young and impatient too. They remember the adrenaline rush and the sense of fun and adventure of being young in the outdoors, and they want to make sure that every generation has the chance to experience it. This generation will too.
A little off base.
David Downing
David Downing
Oct 05, 2009 10:33 AM
I think the ideas of "this" generation not jumping in and helping b/c of a desire for instant gratification, or to "beat that time" is a bit off. As a mtn biker, but NOT a racer, I'm joining in the fight to save trails that are threatened. Trails are becoming very popular, with numbers increasing at a much faster rate than any non-wilderness trails are allowed to be developed. At this point I have to pick my battles, and that is for trail access, and possibly to alter the wilderness legislation that keeps bikes out. I have never been a huge wilderness advocate as it stands b/c I don't fully agree with their mission. How can i support that?

Additionally, many wilderness advocates and conservationists are as much about personal gain as "this" generation. They are looking to preserve THEIR access to hiking trails, to keep them quiet and primitive. Not to rip on them, but it's just human nature. Otherwise they probably wouldn't care.

To see why I'm concerned about supporting something like hidden gems, research the hundreds of miles of high alpine trails Montana mtn bikers just lost access too with a new policy of managing proposed wilderness as official wilderness. Something like hidden gems is a stepping stone to similar action. Change the bike rule, allowing human powered transport, and you gain so many supporters with no change in impact.
Conservation for the Adrenaline Crowd
Oct 06, 2009 03:21 PM
Here is the heart of what is an old argument - access!

There is a hearty bunch who believe in equality for all and a knowledgeable contingent who have seen the impacts caused by junkies looking to bag their next fixe. Whether a 14'r or secret stash of white powder snow, once access is mainstream there really is no turning back.

Elitist whiner's keep their stashes secret for posterity and bag meaningful conquests without attracting attention of the good intentioned folk working for cause.

The participation problem reflects the tension and friction between public knowledge and access.
Policymakers need a fresh perspective
Daniel Goss
Daniel Goss
Oct 29, 2009 04:52 PM
I appreciate your article and agree on the challenge of getting this generation motivated, as I've helped create the San Miguel Bike Alliance (SMBA), based in Telluride, Colorado. Just before reading your article, I had read Jon Christensen's "Dreaming of a New Deal for Nature" from the July 21, 2008 issue of High Country News where he reviews Neil Maher's book on the history of the Civilian Conservation Corps. One of the points brought up is that there will always be some amount of compromise to help preserve the "outdoor experience" as recreational areas are developed, allowing and/or promoting use by more people. Dave Downing's comment,"A little off base", above touchs on a good example of why these challenges exist. The International Mountain Bike Association has been lobbying congress for more than a decade to revisit the Wilderness Act of 1914, in order to adjust it to allow bicycles in wilderness. A recent battle over wilderness near Durango has revealed some pictures of the Durango Wheelmen riding bikes on trails in the Weminuche Wilderness and the Hermosa Creek trail near the turn of the century, in theory, grandfathering bicycles in wilderness. IMBA's efforts are bolstered by an independent ten year trail study that suggests horses do the most damage to trails. Existing wilderness law allows horses and hikers to go anywhere in wilderness, yet disallows bicycles even if they stay on trails. I'm willing to bet almost every attendee to those initial Maroon Corps meetings owns a mountain bike and became more educated of the consequences of the Hidden Gems wilderness proposal being approved, and therefore lost interest in backing it or possibly motivating them to oppose it. Our negotiations with the Forest Service over biking issues in San Miguel County have revealed that certain land managers allow personal veiws to influence their decisions, limiting development of riding oppurtunities, and thereby exascerbating the issue of "rogue trails" and unauthorized trail building and usage. I believe the clmbers, kayakers, flyfishermen, mountain bikers, backcountry skiers, motorcyclists, atv riders, and hikers of this "red bull generation" are not polarized against each other, they want to work together. Alot of these people fall into more than one group and therefore it's hard to get them behind proposals that favor one usage over another. With a slight shift in land use policies, such as the recent efforts to let usage decisions in the National Parks be influenced by local user groups instead of federal laws and allowing bicycles on existing trails in wilderness, as well as members of these user groups moving into more senior positions with the BLM and USFS, it will become easier to get the diverse adrenaline junkie crowd behind conservation.