Yampatika has plans for site

Nonprofit nature organization moving across town

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Simplicity.

That has been the mantra of Yampatika staff and volunteers since they learned they were losing their downtown location to the real estate market.

For 11 years, the nonprofit environmental education organization lived rent-free in a U.S. Forest Service building on the corner of 10th Street and Lincoln Avenue.

Moving elsewhere in the downtown area, given the cost-prohibitive rent scale, wasn't an option. Yampatika has suffered a 63 percent drop in sales in the past two years and its funding sources were drying up because of a slowing economy. "The money we do have goes toward educational programming," Yampatika Executive Director Deb Fuller said. "If we spent that money on rent, we wouldn't be meeting our mission statement."

Before deciding to move into a new location in the lobby of the Forest Service building at 925 Weiss Drive, Yampatika staff and board members considered calling it quits.

"We wondered if there was still a need," Fuller said. "We could close our doors having served 300,000 people."

Yampatika had the offer from the Forest Service to move across town, but such a big part of Yamptika's business came from walk-in traffic, Fuller said. The organization had landscaped its downtown corner into a labeled ecosystem park, complete with art and a park bench.

"We had to figure out some way to make people want to drive four miles to the opposite side of town," Fuller said.

After much discussion, the Yampatika board decided to hire Maureen Kimmel, a graphic designer from Colorado Springs, to design a nature center in the new space.

"It will be an interactive educational exhibit," Fuller said.

Kimmel has designed other visitor centers across the state, including the center at Garden of the Gods outside of Colorado Springs.

"I saw her work at the Garden of the Gods visitor center before I worked at Yampatika," Fuller said. "I was so impressed and I always said that if we decided to do anything like it, that I wanted to find her."

Conceptual drawings will be finished in mid-October and will be on display at banks around Steamboat Springs, Fuller said.

Yampatika would reach the 30,000 visitors a year that pass through the Forest Service lobby on Weiss Drive.

"If funding for educational programs in the field runs out, the visitors center will still answer most of the questions we are asked on nature hikes," Fuller said. "Plus, it is seasonal and can be changed."

A Yampatika naturalist will be available to explain the exhibits.

The grand opening for the nature center is scheduled for April.

Right now, Yampatika is holding its space in the lobby of the Forest Service with sales racks.

Yampatika consolidated its operation by selling most of its retail items and cutting staff.

"We lost our (Great Outdoors Colorado) funding this year, so we really have a skeleton staff," Fuller said. "We relied heavily on volunteers to make this move. It's taken us a month."

Anything remaining in the Yampatika office at 10th Street and Lincoln Avenue is on sale for 50 percent off from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. today and from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Tuesday.

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