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Celebrating a quarter-century of environmental stewardship inspired by education, Yampatika continues to build on its impressive legacy.

In a world where “the environment” can be such a politically charged phrase, Yampatika’s philosophy has always been simple: to connect people with the Yampa Valley in a way that inspires a passion for nature through education—with an extensive offering of programs for virtually everyone.

“Our mission is to connect people to nature, but in a way that’s really science based,” says Joe Haines, Yampatika’s Executive Director. “We like to incorporate education into everything we do. Our goal is to inspire people’s passion for the environment not only for themselves, but for their children and their children’s children.”

That legacy has already had a quarter-century head start. Yampatika offers a wide variety of programs for people of all ages, from environmental literacy in schools and adult seasonal programs to environmental literacy at Legacy Ranch.

We caught up with Haines to talk about the upcoming 25th anniversary celebration, edible plants, and what the word “Yampatika” means.

Let’s start with the obvious: what does Yampatika mean? Tell us a little bit about the history of the organization and how it came into being.

There was a need for environmental education about the Yampa Valley and even though the Forest Service and Parks and Wildlife provided a lot of resources, it became clear they needed a proactive partner to do the outreach. A group of passionate individuals came together to create an organization dedicated to environmental education. Yampatika comes from the Ute word “eater of the Yampa root.” It’s an edible plant that is relatively common in the Yampa Valley and was a staple of the Native American diet.

What are some of your biggest programs? It looks like you cater to most age groups and demographics in the community.

We have three different program areas. Environmental literacy for youth are school-based programs for kindergarten through high school and it’s the largest of our programs. The second area is seasonal programs for adults. We offer everything from wildflower hikes and mineral springs tours to watershed walks and geology hikes with our naturalists. The third component are the programs held at Legacy Ranch. We offer day camps, school programs, walking tours, and we hold events there, like our upcoming 2nd Annual Fall Fest on September 30th. It allows us to have an indoor/outdoor space with true agricultural history, community gardens and more.

Acquiring Legacy Ranch was a big step for Yampatika’s growth. How did that come about?

It’s a historical facility and was an active ranch up until about 15 years ago. The Steamboat community recognized that it had historical agricultural value and there was a need to preserve it. It’s also an important spot in terms of the environment because it’s a choke point between Emerald Mountain and Mt Werner—the shortest distance between the two mountain areas—so it gets a lot of animal traffic. We had 30 elk out there for several weeks this spring. There are bears, coyote, and deer. The city got a series of historical grants to rehabilitate and make it more historically accurate and added Yampatika as an education partner. They did major renovations to the bunkhouse, ranch house and other buildings and restored it back to a more historically accurate state. We’ve been out there doing education programing since 2009.

What are some of the can’t-miss events?

We’re really excited about our upcoming Fall Festival on September 30th out at Legacy Ranch. The Wild, Edible Feast is one of our biggest events of the year and it’s a special chef-prepared meal that takes farm-to-table to the next level with all kinds of edible plants, including yampa root! Our wildflower hikes should not be missed, but we have so many programs depending on your area of interest and we are always willing to create private programs.

How are you planning to celebrate your big 25th anniversary?

We’ve created a hiking companion book called “Come Explore with Us” that highlights 25 different hikes around the region. Hiking is a big part of our education programs and we wanted to share that passion and inspire people to go out and explore nature. The response has been awesome. We have a 25th anniversary hike on August 26th to Three Island Lake in the Mount Zirkel Wilderness that will be tied to the book. Our last 25th anniversary hike is scheduled for September 23rd. We’re also having a big anniversary celebration Monday, September 25th at Chief Theatre and our Fall Harvest Festival is Saturday September 30th. Come celebrate with us!

To learn more about Yampatika, visit www.yampatika.org.