Climbing with Purpose
by Eric Newmark
On a clear, sun-filled day along the Front Range, they are impossible to ignore. They loom over us to the west, as symbols of the beauty and greatness of this nation, and of Colorado in particular. They attract hikers and climbers seeking summits and glory, photographers snapping images and outdoor enthusiasts searching for solitude.
Colorado’s Fourteeners — the 54 peaks with elevations higher than 14,000 feet — appear solid, everlasting and resilient, able to stand unchanged for all time. To the contrary, these peaks are under imminent threat and in desperate need of your help.
In recent years, our state’s Fourteeners have incurred a dramatic increase in popularity. The most recent figures estimate that roughly 500,000 people attempted to hike or climb a Colorado 14,000-foot peak in 2009 alone — up about 10 percent from 2008. With these numbers constantly increasing, many of our state’s highest mountains are suffering severe damage from overuse. Their fragile ecosystems, home to unique wildlife and flora alike, are deteriorating at an alarming rate, unable to maintain a balance with the shear volume of human intrusion.
With the help of the nonprofit Colorado Fourteeners Initiative, we, as attorneys, are in the position to aid these mountains and protect their well-being for future generations to enjoy. Since 1994, this outfit has been working with the U.S. Forest Service to protect and preserve Colorado’s 14,000-foot peaks through active stewardship and public education.
As a Peak Steward and fellow attorney, I invite you to trade in your Blackberry and your overflowing briefcase for a backpack, a sturdy pair of boots and an opportunity to do something great.
Volunteer Peak Stewards are trained in Leave No Trace ethics, alpine ecology and resource preservation. Peak Stewards spend their own time on the mountains educating hikers and climbers on the fragility of the alpine environment and ethical backcountry use. While serving as mountaintop educators, Peak Stewards also perform a vital service to federal land management agencies by documenting trail and resource conditions, visitor usage, wildlife encounters and compliance with specific wilderness regulations. The Peak Steward program is a proven tool in effectuating the preservation of our state’s highest places.
In my experience, the educational work done by Peak Stewards is nothing more than an exercise in alternative dispute resolution, set at higher-than-normal elevations. In their capacities, Peak Stewards serve as informal mediators — attempting to balance the preservation needs of the mountains with the rights of individuals using them. Who better than attorneys to assist this mission? We negotiate and compromise on a daily basis for our clients and their interests — why not do the same for the mountains we reside in?
The Peak Steward program is a unique opportunity for attorneys to put their finely tuned legal skills to good use in the name of preserving the state’s 14,000-foot peaks. The program allows you to climb these mountains with a purpose, get some much needed fresh air and exercise and escape from the day-to-day legal jungle that we all face.
Starting this month, one-day training sessions to become a Peak Steward are being offered every month, and will continue through the summer. Please contact the education and outreach director for the Colorado Fourteener’s Initiative by phone (303) 278-7650 or by e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org to inquire about opportunities. For information on other programs offered or for donation opportunities please visit www.14ers.org.