The fast moving storm approached, the barometer dropped to 28.98, the wind howled and the first flakes of snow turned the horizon opaque as Triangle Mountain disappeared into the void.
How were we going to get our Flight Across America (FLAA) students airborne? After a lengthy selection process we had 8 highly motivated, curious and intelligent students chomping at the bit to get into our 3 planes and learn more about wilderness and the alphabet soup of the numerous designations that protect our public lands. Our Flight Across America 2013, designed to stimulate awareness of the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act next year, was temporarily on hold.
So being the lean, mean, highly flexible and adaptive organization that we are at EcoFlight - we rented a van with our fearless co-pilot Jane at the helm, and the program headed out on the road towards New Mexico, with a stop at the Colorado National Monument on the way.
All this time the pilots paced, the snow fell, and the runways remained quiet. Eventually the sky brightened a bit and we made our stealth departure, and quickly caught up with our student posse in Grand Junction.
What followed was a panoply of events, speakers and locations on a flight route that took us to the wilds of the Canyons of the Ancients on the border of Colorado and Utah, to National Parks threatened by the industrial ground zero of the San Juan Basin, over the incomparable red rock country of Utah and up north to the snowy, cold and windy North Platte basin on the Colorado, Wyoming border. At every stop on our flight tour we met with groups to discuss all types of wild land protections, from NCAs to WSAs, to National Parks, National Monuments, MLPs, RMPs and of course, the big W, Wilderness. Whether it was the proposed Dinè Bikèyah National Conservation Area in Utah promoted by the Navajo Nation, or the Greater Canyonlands proposal to protect spectacular threatened areas of SW Utah, the students learned about the possibilities and appropriateness of land protection. An added bonus was our breakfast discussion and overflights with members of a Navajo school to get more local perspectives.
The meeting in Durango epitomizes EcoFlight's approach to educating young adults. The discussion focused on the Hermosa Creek watershed, bringing together diverse stakeholders and bipartisan ways to create solutions that serve the local community. Presenters included ranchers, bike riders, business leaders, and staff from the offices of Representative Tipton (R-Colorado) and Senator Bennet (D-Colorado). Congressman Tipton and Senator Bennet have introduced companion bills to protect this valuable watershed, including the designation of new wilderness. These bills represent some of the best ideas and ideals accomplished by dialogue and discussion.
Our whirlwind FLAA tour ended with a standing-room only seminar on the value of wilderness, with over 150 high school students from eight different schools. Paul Andersen of Huts for Vets, which brings combat veterans into the wilderness to heal, suggested there is not a legislator in Congress who will deny further expansion of wilderness when the value of it is seen as a healing place for veterans.