Don’t send a check, send yourself


When I first visited “Carnage Canyon” in the 1970s, it was clear to me how it got its name. The place was a mess. It had become a racetrack for racing bikes and motorcycles that zipped up and down the sides of the canyon. A few years later, people dragged in old refrigerators, cars and other junk as an alternative to taking it all to the dump. That attracted more people, who came to shoot guns, sight rifles and explode stuff, while the junk remained, collecting bullet holes.

The next time I visited the slopes of Carnage Canyon, it was to the site of a multiple murder of some guys who happened to be there when an ex-con was hiding from the police. I was making a scale model of the canyon for the district attorney’s office in Boulder County, Colo., to show where the criminal’s car was parked and where the bodies were found.

Carnage Canyon was a typical, accessible mountain canyon not too far from a large city and owned by nobody, it seemed. Then a few years ago, it became public land administered by the U.S. Forest Service, and I started working with other people to restore the canyon to what it was before it got named for carnage.

Most of the junk had already been removed before my group put down erosion mats and planted grass and ponderosa pine seedlings. We stopped up erosion channels and eliminated racing routes. I did all this as a volunteer for an organization called Wildlands Restoration Volunteers. It was hard work, and it was fun.

Carnage Canyon was one of five volunteer projects I worked on last summer. I also pulled weeds at Phantom Ranch near Fort Collins and collected wildflower seeds to be planted later in disturbed lands. This was followed by replanting grass and trees at Mud Lake, near the mountain town of Nederland, Colo. We put in water bars and dams there to reduce erosion, and restored logging and mining roads to their natural states.

I also helped replant a forest along the St. Vrain River. These river bosques, or woodlands, provide a habitat for enormous numbers of animals and plants, and when they are destroyed, invasives like tamarisks step in and settle down. We planted native trees, sloshed around in the water planting reeds and other water plants, and covered over an RV parking lot that was pretty trashed.

Over the years, I have cut back on the money I have sent to various save-the-earth organizations. Part of the reason was that there were too many of them, each begging for my dollars for some excellent reason. My mailbox was the regular stop for saving whales, railroad rights-of-way, farmlands, gorillas, oceans, deserts, mountains, wetlands and countless other animals or places. All were worthy organizations with honest hardworking supporters and staff. But I often wondered why they couldn’t combine their efforts into an Environmental United Way.

The other reason I shrank my donations — besides the money drain — was that I started thinking about the old slogan “Think globally, act locally.” The conclusion I came to: I didn’t need to go to a distant Third World country to save children or to help environments; there were plenty of places nearby that needed help. If we all did our thing locally, the big picture might begin to take care of itself.

Working with Wilderness Restoration Volunteers also felt more satisfying than sending a check. When I wrote checks, I never saw where the money went, and I’d read warnings about outrageous overhead and how only pennies of the dollars you sent ended up going to where you thought they would.

As a volunteer with Wilderness Restoration, I could go back later and see the results of what I had done: Roads would be gone, grass and wildflowers would be growing, and ugly erosion channels would be filling with dirt. I also met some nifty folks, exercised my muscles, and got to be outside in the mountains I love. Next summer, I’ll be a volunteer again.

“Think globally, act locally” may not be for everyone. But I can’t think, for the life of me, why not.

Rob Pudim draws, explores and writes in Boulder, Colorado.

Note: the opinions expressed in this column are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of High Country News, its board or staff. If you'd like to share an opinion piece of your own, please write Betsy Marston at [email protected].

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