Every few months, Maroon Corps hosted a similar “party with a purpose,” each time working with a different nonprofit to inspire the crowd to concrete action —writing or calling legislators or land-management agencies. The energy went out into the community: Over the first year and a half, attendees spread the word about climate change, organized against gas drilling on the Roan Plateau, rehabilitated riparian areas, attempted to bring a climate change message to the X-Games in Aspen, and taught local students about renewable energy.

But by 2008, that energy was waning. According to Maroon Corps organizers, they never again achieved the numbers or enthusiasm involved in the initial roadless inventory effort. Only about 20 people attended a party in early spring, and a significant portion of them worked for environmental organizations. The party was designed to line up volunteers for trash cleanups on the nearby Crystal and Fryingpan rivers, but few signatures landed on the signup sheets. The evening ended early, and the mostly full keg was hauled back out to someone’s car, destined for a different purpose. A couple of weeks later, only five or six people showed up to help with the river cleanups.

 

The Maroon Corps should have been an overwhelming success. Carbondale sits along the south bank of the Roaring Fork River, which flows past the four resorts owned by the Aspen Ski Company, through popular whitewater rapids, below rock-climbing crags and miles upon miles of mountain bike and hiking trails. The river passes the homes of some of the people who’ve shaped the way non-government organizations influence public-land management. And the Roaring Fork Valley is home to an uncommon number of nonprofit organizations. Sitting in Bastable’s office, you can watch people pass in and out of the headquarters of two outdoor magazines located across the hall: Trail Runner and Rock and Ice; and you can overhear snippets of discussion from the adjoining suite, where the employee of another nonprofit works to protect public parklands.

Accepted wisdom – and many an outdoor gear company’s advertising campaign – holds that there’s a direct link between outdoor recreation and a strong conservation ethic. “Is there a difference between the outdoor recreation community and the lay person in the U.S.?” asks Auden Schendler, sustainability director at Aspen Ski Co. and an avid backcountry skier. “I think there is because, at the very least, whether you’re a skier or a kayaker, you think of yourself as an environmentalist. Now, how you define that and how it’s reflected in your own personal action -- there may be a big gap there.”

And it’s not always easy to bridge that gap. Many locals bring a single-minded focus to their recreational pursuits. But even the most avid skier or biker has to struggle to make a living in a place as expensive as the Roaring Fork Valley. It’s a complex balancing act all too familiar to Randy Young, whom I met at the early spring party. Young – who looked to be about 30 -- said that he’d recently taken a job at a construction site, where he steered a vacuum and listened to news on his iPod. Dire reports on climate change and other environmental disasters had inspired him to devote more time to activism. Rearranging his schedule, however, was proving difficult: He had hoped to attend both river cleanups, but couldn’t make the Fryingpan River cleanup because it conflicted with an already-planned ski trip.

The early leaders of the Maroon Corps have also struggled to fit the group into their lives. Aron Ralston moved away from the Roaring Fork Valley in 2007, taking his fame with him. Clare Bastable left shortly after because of burnout: “It was something I took on outside of work and it was really successful at first. But when we were getting less participation, I did a cost-benefit analysis with my time, and. ... ” She trails off.