On October 14, Josey Burkett, a freshman at Fort Lewis College participated in the EcoFlight educational trip across the western United States along with other interdisciplinary FLC students.
The route of this non-profit, education-focused airplane flight begins in Aspen, Colorado before flying over the deserts and other regions of the southwest, highlighting a variety of environmental issues from an aerial perspective, Burkett said.
“In mid-October, I was given the opportunity to go on EcoFlight’s 2015 Flight Across America trip in which seven other students and I explored the Colorado River Basin from above,” she said, in a report of her experience.
Burkett said her involvement and interest in participating in the flight was initially inspired by an article she found in the Environmental Center Digest during her first fews weeks at FLC.
“I just thought I should sign up. It sounded like a super neat experience, but I had no idea what I was in store for,” Burke said.
Jane Pargiter, the vice president and head of EcoFlight’s student program said she is hoping the el nino winter will in some way help the southwest's ongoing mega-drought, which has been the EcoFlight's primary focus as an environmental issue since the early 2000's. To effectively track and showcase the effects of the mega-drought, the flight follows the Colorado river, of which most states to the southwest of Colorado significantly depend on, Pargiter said.
On Burkett's trip across these varietal regions, she reported seeing dry tributaries, abandoned towns and empty river beds from above.
“The evaporation ponds falsely attract animals and creates harmful runoff that flows straight to the Colorado River. On the rim of the Grand Canyon, there is uranium mining spoiling the land and polluting the groundwater,” Burkett said.
Amongst the small group of participants was Joe Ben, a Navajo representative from Shiprock who spoke about conflicts pertaining to the recently polluted Animas River as passengers observed the yellow residue following the river downstream from the Gold King Mine, Partiger said.
While the EcoFlight company articulates their original idea of rounding up celebrity pilots to showcase our environmental issues from the air before landing in Washington D.C. to discuss them, the 1997 death celebrity pilot and co-founder of the organization, John Denver, turned the focus over to student pilots, and students’ education became the new focus.
As a condition of participating in the annual flight in the fall, students who fly must then share their experiences so that the weight of the environmental realizations of the flight go as far as possible, Pargiter said.