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Know the West

Getting high in class

  Taking off from the tiny airport in Glenwood Springs, Colo., with four high school students buckled into his Cessna’s back seats, Bruce Gordon interprets the panorama below: A plaid pattern of golf courses and cul-de-sacs abuts roadless mountains. From the vantage of 2,000 feet, Gordon hopes the students will see the contrast between the developed valley and areas that citizens have proposed for wilderness protection.

"Everybody’s got their short-term agendas," he says over the headsets, referring to oil and gas interests and other development. "But you have to look at the long term. Thirty years ago, I didn’t think anything like this would need to be protected."

Gordon has been piloting small planes for two decades; for 16 years, he flew with the international advocacy group Lighthawk, which flies government officials, scientists and activists over environmentally contentious areas. "But after flying politicians for 20 years," he tells these teenagers, "I’ve got to admit, I got fed up with it."

In 2002, Gordon founded a smaller nonprofit organization, EcoFlight, in Aspen, and took his message into the classroom.

"I’ve had these kids become real advocates," he says. Some have written to local newspapers and to their representatives; some have started environmental clubs.

During his school visits, Gordon usually holds a panel debate on the need for wilderness, then takes the students flying. While it’s impossible to say if he’s made activists out of apathetic teenagers, he’s made an impression on at least one. "We (usually) only see the fronts of the mountains, not behind them," says Lauren Roberts, a junior from Rifle, Colo. "It’s way prettier where there’s no roads."

For details, contact EcoFlight at 970-429-1110 or www.ecoflight.info.