Laura Pritchett: Over the Gunnison Valley, airplanes and acronyms converged

Home » News & Media » Laura Pritchett: Over the Gunnison Valley, airplanes and acronyms converged

Laura Pritchett: Over the Gunnison Valley, airplanes and acronyms converged

Date: 08/07/2022     Category: News & Media     Author: Laura Pritchett     Publication: The Colorado Sun    

Original Post ➡️

The aptly named Ruby Range photographed during an EcoFlight over the Gunnison Valley on July 24, 2022. The Ruby Range, located northwest of Crested Butte, Colorado, forms the eastern boundary of the Raggeds Wilderness. The Rubies would be protected under the GORP (Gunnison Outdoor Resources Protection Act) proposal. (Dean Krakel, Special to The Colorado Sun)

Three things are true: 

One: I crush on my birth state and forever state of Colorado. 

Two: I do not crush on acronyms. I loathe them. I loathe them because they generally signal something suspiciously complicated; meetings with too many acronyms make me want a whiskey. 

Three: Yet I crush on my job shepherding students through their MFA (yes, apologies, that’s an acronym for “master of fine arts”) in nature writing.

In a moment of sheer delight and collaboration, I had the honor of blending all three truths last week during an adventure with EcoFlight (a favorite nonprofit of mine, as crushed on in a previous column) where Gary, the pilot and a friend, took all my students up in a Cessna to look at the Gunnison and Crested Butte area, particularly the headwaters of the Gunnison River,  one flight after the other.

We were there to learn about the GORP Act in particular — that’s the Gunnison Outdoor Resources Protection Act —  and environmental reportage and advocacy writing in general. Plus, have a little fun. Plus, wince and close our eyes when Gary banked around the Castle Formations at Mill Creek or mountaintops that didn’t look sufficiently far away. 

I’ll admit that the GORP Act is new to me, as it was to these students, given that most of us do not reside in that particular area of Colorado, but rather come for one week each summer. As tourists. Who overrun this area. And who can often wreck the land. Which is what put this act into motion. 

Indeed, because we are all eventually tourists, we can endeavor to learn about wherever we are, and what locals are working on, and why. Learn we did, primarily about the GORP Act, which might have the best acronym ever, if one is forced to use one, since it conjures M&Ms

Basically, the GORP Act calls for increasing protections on 513,000 acres of land and putting about 125,000 of those acres into wilderness status — yes, the big W controversy. But controversy doesn’t seem to define this baby, as users of the land have a long history of working together.

Indeed, the proposed legislation has involved “serious and sincere collaboration among hunters and anglers, ranchers, water users, motorized and mechanized recreationists, and conservationists,” Matt Reed, public lands director at the High Country Conservation Advocates told us (that’s HCCA). 

The students were accompanied by local experts at nonprofits and some representatives from Western Colorado University, including Jess Young, the provost, and Melanie Armstrong, director of the Center for Public Lands and faculty in the MEM program (that stands for master’s of environmental management, if you need to look that up, as I did when I first came upon it). 

Although we were all treated to a complex review of the area’s history and various stakeholders — I cannot remember any of the acronyms now, because, of course, I was busy holding the plane up with my brain, which is something I have to do on every flight — I did get the take-home message:

Laura Pritchett, Western Colorado University nature writing professor, goes over morning plans for an EcoFlight above the Gunnison Valley with students under the watchful eye of pilot Gary Kraft on Sunday, July 24, 2022. Pritchett invited her students on the flight to give them a different perspective of the landscape they would be writing about for her class. (Dean Krakel, Special to The Colorado Sun)

We love to have fun in Colorado. Playful, joyful fun. We like to recreate, which means we leave traces, whether or not we want to. We hike and bike and fish and camp, all the while chomping on gorp (“good ‘ol raisins and peanuts”— or, this is exciting, there are two acronym options! — “granola, oats, raisins, and peanuts,” depending upon which camp counselor you had, and which is perhaps when you learned the word “acronym” in the first place). But sometimes we can love too hard, and it ruins things. 

“We don’t want this area to turn into Moab,” Lizzy McArthur of Gunnison Public Lands Initiative — or GPLI — told the flyers. “Toilets and parking lots. We have to be careful not to love it to death.”

Indeed, the GORP Act seems to be a very good model for how to build collaborations and manage lands in the future — if it gets through Congress, that is. Sen. Michael Bennet is working on it, and will soon be introducing a bill. The proposed wilderness designations — something this columnist favors — includes adding lands that are mostly adjacent to already-existing wilderness. 

As we flew above the area — or floated, because that’s what it felt like — I could clearly see how the bike and hiking paths (lovely in their own way) gave way to unbroken landscape (also lovely in a different way), and that seemed like a good thing. Something about flying helps you see the landscape as a whole, rather than its various designations or boundaries, and the wholeness seems capital-G good. No acronyms needed. To my mind, love and protect and care all basically mean the same thing, and they are full and beautiful words, words that feel worthy of guiding us. 

Kaila Young (left) and Anita Mumm (right), graduate students in Western Colorado University professor Laura Pritchett’s nature writing course, view the Gunnison Valley from a small plane during an EcoFlight on Sunday, July 24, 2022. EcoFlight uses small aircraft to educate and advocate for the protection of wild lands and wildlife habitat. (Dean Krakel, Special to The Colorado Sun)

Laura Pritchett is the author of five novels and winner of the PEN USA Award for Fiction, the WILLA Award, the Milkweed National Fiction Prize, the High Plains Book Award, and several Colorado Book Awards. She directs the MFA in Nature Writing at Western Colorado University. More at