Few things are as rewarding and as gratifying as seeing a child react to nature. We are all born with an innate sense of curiosity and wonder, which is accelerated at a young age when a child can get outdoors — especially in a place as beautiful as Colorado and the areas surrounding the Roaring Fork Valley.

Every year, the Environment Foundation provides grants to organizations that advance our community by protecting and preserving our regional environment. And often, the foundation supports causes that inspire the next generation of environmental stewards. This was the case in 2015 and 2016 with the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies and The Buddy Program. Here are their stories.

Aspen Center for Environmental Studies

Aspen Center for Environmental Studies

THE POWER OF FIELD PROGRAMS – 2ND GRADE ON TOP OF ASPEN MOUNTAIN

By Phebe Meyers

Originally published on ACES blog. Republished with permission.

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to lead a group of Aspen Elementary 2nd graders on this journey. It was a cold, overcast day with light wind. Students bundled up as they exited the gondola and headed down the hill to the circle of snowshoes that awaited them. It was nearly half of the group’s first time snowshoeing and many of their first time that year up on the top of Aspen Mountain. Once students tightened the snowshoe straps across their boots, they were up and running around, tripping over each other, and making snow angels. Katie Bird, another ACES Educator, and I asked the group a few questions about winter and what challenges it poses on plants and animals. We then ask for a few examples of survival strategies that plants and animals have or do that help them survive. Then we are off on the challenge course!

Every year, 2nd grade students from Aspen, Basalt, and Crystal River Elementary schools ride up the Silver Queen gondola, duck the ski boundary rope, and head out Richmond Ridge on a snowshoe challenge course. As they walk, signs appear that invite students to try and experience the winter world as one of the winter animal residents that inhabit our local subalpine landscape. They are up there to learn about winter challenges and survival strategies that plants and animals face in our seasonal habitats, and for an experiential lesson on snow safety from the Aspen Mountain Ski Patrol. They are also up there to hopefully have a fun and memorable outdoor learning experience with ACES Educators.

Challenge signs include:


  • Walk like a herd of deer – one behind another directly in each other’s tracks. This saves energy so that only the first deer (person) has to break trail.

  • Find a seed, nut or a bud to eat, like a mouse would!

  • Bound through the snow like a weasel, using all 4 legs to dig a hole down to the grass.

  • Without moving from where you are right now, move your head to find the snowshoe hare camouflaged in the snow, just like an owl!

  • You are a tree with leaves. Hold your branches out. Have a partner put snow on your leaves and branches. Hold up as much snow as you can, then switch and give your partner a turn. Why do many trees lose their leaves in winter?


ACES 2nd graders
ACES 2nd graders

These field programs give the opportunity for ACES educators from the three local elementary schools to switch students for a day. They are opportunities for us to connect with young people across the valley. I teach at Basalt Elementary school. It is always exciting and rewarding to be outside on a field program with the students you teach in the classroom, but it is also very rewarding to see the excitement in students across the whole Roaring Fork valley in learning about the natural world.

The Buddy Program

The Buddy Program

Transformational Outdoor Experiences Made Available to All Children

By Meghan Pearlman, The Buddy Program’s Development Director

In the past three years The Environment Foundation has granted The Buddy Program $15,000 to support their outdoor education program, LEAD – Leadership through Exploration, Action and Discovery. Each spring outdoor leadership at Roaring Fork High School and Basalt High School’s head out on their spring hut trips to the McNamara Hut, and participants from Carbondale Middle School go on their spring break trip (this year they went to Sylvan Lake State Park for three days of snowshoeing). Some highlights included students navigating to the hut and up to Bald Knob using map and compass, planning and cooking their own meals, doing reflective journaling on their experiences, and challenging themselves on the trail under full pack.

Buddy Program outing
Buddy Program outing

Buddy Program outing
Buddy Program outing

One of the many goals of the LEAD Program’s High School Outdoor Leadership Class is to ensure that enrolled students could secure credits from Colorado Mountain College, in addition to the high school credit they are earning. With the certification of Brooke Bockelman and John Brasier, LEAD staff and educators, as CMC Adjunct Faculty that opportunity is one step closer to reality.

Spring is scholarship season and three LEAD Program participants will receive Continuing Education Scholarships from the Buddy Program to attend college. Below is a scholarship essay written by LEAD Programs participant, Francisco P. Francisco’s essay captures how mentoring and positive experiences can change a youth’s life for the better:

Buddy Program outing
Buddy Program outing

I’ve been a part of the Buddy Program for years now. I can’t remember a day that I did not have someone there for me from the Buddy Program. At first I began the program as a little buddy; I loved spending time with Peter. We would go out to eat, watch movies, and go swimming. Having Peter in my life during that time was so helpful because my family and I were going through some major conflicts.

My mom and dad were getting divorced and my two older sisters were always fighting and getting into trouble. I was also getting in trouble myself, but I was guided away from it, through spending time with Peter. He showed me that friends like him don’t come often and when they do, it’s a gift from heaven. Peter did not only become my friend, but also my family's friend. I remember one time when my oldest sister was intoxicated and couldn't control herself. Peter came to the rescue. He took my little sister and I to his house and let us sleep over. I will never forget that night, because no one had ever done anything like that for me before.

Throughout middle school and high school, I participated in all the activities that the Buddy Program had to offer. The most memorable experience I had was going to “Latino Youth Camp,” which is now formally known as “LEAD Youth Camp.” At first I was shy and timid about meeting new people. This did not work out so well with the Buddy Program because the activities required a lot of interaction with the other campers. Through the years I became more comfortable with creating new friendships. I also learned to appreciate all the opportunities that had been presented to me. This camp became so important to me, I attended it for five years and plan to go back as a college peer counselor for Youth Camp in the future. The fourth year I went to the camp, I took the role of being a peer counselor and leader. Becoming a leader was a challenge for me because I had to reach out to those who were quiet and timid, like I once was. I understood them because I once was in their shoes, but I knew I had to push them outside of their comfort zone for them to truly experience the wonders that the trip had to offer.

Coming into high school it was easy to put what I had learned into action; I became open minded to new things in school. I confronted my fears and talked to new people who also seemed to be shy. I found that many of my new friends and I had a lot in common. Little did I know that many of those new friendships would last through high school. My friends helped and supported me in making many of the decisions I made in high school. I owe this knowledge to the Buddy Program.

Participating in a program that accepts everyone has been such a blessing! There aren’t many programs that reach out and give you a hand in your time of need. Being a part of the Buddy Program has made me the person I am today; someone who is very responsible, caring of others, respectful of the law, and most importantly kindhearted. The Buddy Program has taught me three great lessons: to appreciate the help and support I receive from others, to offer the same help to those who need it, and that I am capable of creating my own path in the world.